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RuNet Freedom: a Pirate's Revenge

Amid brazen attempts [GV] to censor the RuNet, one group is fighting back. On February 4, the Pirate Party of Russia has announced [ru] a new specialized internet hosting service, called the PirateHost [ru], created in retaliation to attacks on Russian internet freedoms.

About Us section of the PirateHost website, complete with "Anonymous" iconograhy. Screenshot. February 6, 2013.

About Us section of the PirateHost website, complete with “Anonymous” iconograhy. Screenshot. February 6, 2013.

Russia's “pirates” have been vocal in their opposition to internet censorship — the Pirate Party currently runs rublacklist.net [ru], an information clearinghouse that keeps track of websites blacklisted by Russian ISPs at the behest of Roskomnadzor [ru]. The PirateHost, however, goes a step beyond advocacy. In addition to offering its users protection from DDoS attacks, the new hosting service is legally savvy [ru]:

В зависимости от вида публикуемого контента мы специально подбираем площадки расположенные вне зоны вашего юридического преследования

Depending on the type of published content we specially select hosting areas located outside the area where you can be legally prosecuted

More interestingly, it has exclusive features based on the idea of combating government interference directly. The online journal Hacker explains [ru] that when it first became apparent that Roskomnadzor, the agency in charge of enforcing the blacklist, has trouble accessing websites running on the new IPv6 [wiki] protocol, someone decided to check if they would be able to block one of these websites:

Цензоры отписались, что «отсутствует техническая возможность доступа на сайт» — и отклонили заявку на внесение в чёрный список. Таким образом, можно сделать вывод, что если цензор не смог зайти на сайт, то этому сайту ничего не угрожает. Сразу же родилась идея: а что если составить чёрный список государственных IP-адресов, с которых осуществляется проверка сайтов? И просто блокировать посетителей с этих адресов.

The censors responded that “there is no technical ability to access the website” — and denied the request for including it in the blacklist. It can therefore be inferred that if a censor can't access the website, nothing threatens it. At once there was an idea: what if we create a blacklist of government IP-addresses which are used to check websites? And just block the visitors from these IP addresses.

This is precisely what the PirateHost purports to do [ru]:

[...] мы ведем реестр ip-адресов органов государственной власти Российской Федерации и блокируем посетителей с этих адресов до входа на ваш сайт.

[...] we keep a registry of ip-addresses of Russian Federation government authorities and block the visitors from these addresses from entering your website.

The Pirate Party Vice-President, Stanislav Shakirov, explained in his blog [ru] that in order to create this registry, the PirateHost will run “honeypot” websites and report them to Roskomnadzor:

[...] мы будем создавать страницы, которые будут проходить предварительные фильтры Роскомнадзора и прочих государственных органов. Отследив айпи-адреса тех, кто зайдет на эти страницы-маркеры, мы занесем их в черный список. Если поймем, что вся подсеть принадлежит госоргану — забаним всю подсеть.

[...] we will create webpages which will be subjected to Roskomnadzor and other government filters. Having tracked the IP-addresses of those who visit these marked pages, we will enter them into a blacklist. If we think that the entire subnet belongs to a state agency – we'll ban the entire subnet.

In keeping with the spirit of the Pirate Party and freedom of information, according to Shakirov [ru], the blacklist may be distributed publicly, for anyone to use:

Также есть желание эти списки раздавать заинтересованным и дружественным ресурсам. Может всем. Пока оцениваем, как это лучше сделать технологически, инфраструктурно и в какой форме.

There is a desire to distribute these lists to interested and friendly parties. Maybe everyone. So far we are evaluating how to do this better from the point of technology and infrastructure, and in what way.

In a way, such a blacklist will be a mirror image of the blacklist run by Roskomnadzor or the white-list piloted by the League of Safe Internet in Kostroma — only instead of websites, it is the visitors that will be “curated”. To be sure, this is an ironic, bold move, one that will bring some much needed publicity to the Russian Pirate Party as well as some money to its coffers (a Habrahabr.ru commenter leaked [ru] a tentative price list for the hosting services, which ranges from as low as 30 EUR to as high as 400 EUR per month).

Nevertheless, one has to wonder about the move's ultimate effectiveness. Critics have pointed out [ru] that simply using an anonymous proxy would be a quick way for agencies like Roskomnadzor to subvert Pirate Host blocks. Proxies can, of course, also be used as a work-around for the actual, official, blacklist. Are Russian bureaucrats in charge of policing the internet technologically savvy enough to do their job? We may soon find out.

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