Rumors of Russian Internet services degrading have been greatly exaggerated, despite unprecedented announcements recently from two of the world’s biggest backbone providers that they were exiting the country following its invasion of Ukraine.
Just as ISPs provide links connecting individuals or organizations to the Internet, backbone services are the service providers that connect ISPs in one part of the world with those elsewhere. These so-called transit providers route massive amounts of traffic from one ISP or backbone to another. Earlier this week Russian ISPs saw the exit of two of their biggest providers. One was Lumen, the top Internet transit provider to Russia. The other was Cogent, one of the biggest Internet backbone carriers in the world.
A transit provider disconnecting its customers in a country as big as Russia has never happened before, Doug Madori, the director of Internet analysis at network analytics company Kentik, said earlier this week. He and others said the move would constrain the overall amount of bandwidth coming into and out of Russia.
“This reduction in bandwidth may lead to congestion as the remaining international carriers try to pick up the slack,” he added. Some people predicted Russia might even find itself effectively severed from the global Internet.
But so far, that hasn’t happened, researchers from network intelligence firm ThousandEyes said on Friday. Network metrics show that connectivity continues as it has historically.
There are several reasons for this. One is that the exit of a single transit provider from a country the size of Russia—or two in this case—doesn’t have enough of an impact to degrade overall service. Another reason is that both Lumen and Cogent continue to provide transit services to the outposts of major Russian ISPs as long as those outposts aren’t located inside Russia.
“Despite the notion that some US-based transit providers would ‘disconnect’ Russia from the Internet—no single transit provider severing ties with Russian ISPs would achieve such an aim,” members of the ThousandEyes Internet research team wrote. “That said, many transit providers, both US-based and non US-based, continue to connect their global customers to one another—that may include providing transit to and from Russian users via major Russian ISPs located at exchange points not on Russian soil.”
The post included images showing that Cogent continues to provide a major pipeline into and out of Russia through its relationship with Russian backbone providers JSC Rostelecom (AS 12389) and CJSC Rascom (AS 20764).
The researchers also showed how both Cogent and Lumen (referred to by its former name Level 3 by ThousandEyes) continue to supply bandwidth courtesy of a border gateway protocol announcement by JSC Rostelecom advertising routes from one of its Russian ISP customers, RSNET (AS 8291), to Cogent, Lumen, and TeliaNet.
“Much has been speculated recently about their potential role in disconnecting Russia from the rest of the global Internet,” the researchers added, referring to Cogent and Lumen. “However, Russia’s connection to the rest of the world via these vital networks remains intact, with major Russian ISPs, such as JSC Rostelecom, continuing to peer with global transit providers outside of Russia, just as they did long before recent events. As a result, the Russian people continue to have access to the global Internet—at least at an infrastructure level.”
Preventing Russian cyberattacks
Both Lumen and Cogent told CNN on Friday that they were trying to balance the need to prevent their networks from carrying cyberattacks backed by Russia with their convictions for a free and open Internet. Cogent’s CEO told the news network that his company had limited its action to around 25 customers incorporated in Russia and directly on Russian networks. Russian businesses that rely on Cogent’s network outside the country through non-Russian state providers remain unaffected.
“We felt that the downside of having the possibility that these connections could be used offensively outweighed the negative of terminating some services,” Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer said.
Lumen cited a similar rationale for its limited move.
“We decided to disconnect the network due to increased security risk inside Russia,” Mark Molzen, the company’s global issues director, told CNN. “We have not yet experienced network disruptions, but given the increasingly uncertain environment and the heightened risk of state action, we took this move to ensure the security of our and our customers’ networks, as well as the ongoing integrity of the global Internet.”
The ThousandEyes post was published before the London Internet Exchange—one of the Internet’s biggest exchanges for networks around the world to swap or “peer” traffic with each other—would stop routing for Rostelecom and MegaFon, Russia’s No. 2 mobile phone operator and a top ISP. It’s not clear how that termination will affect transit service for the country.
ThousandEyes said that while wholesale traffic going into and out of Russia is currently normal, traffic to select Russian sites—both from inside and outside the country—was spotty. Much of the disruption—coming in the form of dropped traffic that often reached a 100-percent loss of packets—was the result of distributed denial-of-service attacks or attempts by Russian networks to fend off the attacks.
“Russian sites have also shown evidence of distressed network conditions indicative of DDoS attacks, as well as behavior consistent with route filtering, firewalling of traffic and, in some cases, cloud-based DDoS mitigation,” company researchers wrote. “The latter blocking mechanisms have predominantly impacted users external to Russia.”