Kremlin cyberpower? How fight over messaging app is showing its limits

2018/4/20 12:03:54

Telegram has 14 million users in Russia, and 200 million worldwide. Its founder is Pavel Durov [pictured], often called the Russian Mark Zuckerburg, who has very deep pockets, immense tech-savvy, and a huge grudge against the Kremlin.


 

 

 

By Fred Weir for the Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2018

 

Kremlin forces appear to be badly losing their latest war, but it isn't in Syria or Ukraine.

 

It's in cyberspace, where Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor this week began trying to block the popular messaging app Telegram because its encoded services are allegedly “terrorist friendly.” Since the app has consistently refused to hand over its encryption keys to law enforcement, it has been a target of official ire for at least three years.

 

But Roskomnadzor appears to have brought a sledge hammer to a knife fight, and so far its efforts to hit Telegram have created massive collateral damage among business and official websites. Meanwhile millions of Russians – including Kremlin officials and State Duma deputies – continue to use the service despite the ban, according to business news agency RBK.

 

Recommended: Sochi, Soviets, and czars: How much do you know about Russia? 

 

It's not just about privacy, an issue that does not seem to be as important to Russians as it is for many in the West. Part of Telegram's popularity is that its news channels have become a major information source for Russians. Even Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov used to regularly announce his upcoming briefings on Telegram because it was the most reliable medium. Both Kremlin loyalists and opponents have used it as a primary method for getting their messages out. It is also a way for Russian officials to anonymously leak information to the public.

 

Analysts say that while the Russian government may want to crack down on the country's freewheeling internet culture, exemplified by Telegram and its iconoclastic Russian founder, it has not equipped agencies like Roskomnadzor to do that, and it may well be an impossible task.

 

“Roskomnadzor is not only failing to achieve its goals, it is attracting more Russian users to Telegram,” says Alexey Kovalev, an independent media expert. “In fact it's a complete mess. How is it that a country that's accused of launching sophisticated cyber-campaigns around the world can't seem to do anything effectively in that department on its own home turf?”

 

PAVEL DUROV AND THE KREMLIN

 

The Russian government has succeeded at blocking web networks before, most notably LinkedIn. The communications watchdog is now threatening to shut down Facebook, with its 25 million Russian users, by the end of the year. But in Telegram, it may have met its match.

 

Telegram has 14 million users in Russia, and 200 million worldwide. Its founder is Pavel Durov, often called the Russian Mark Zuckerburg, who has very deep pockets, immense tech-savvy, and a huge grudge against the Kremlin. Four years ago Mr. Durov was compelled to relinquish his stake in his own brainchild, VKontakte, Russia's most popular social network. The controlling stake was grabbed by Kremlin-friendly tycoon Alisher Usmanov.

 

There has been similar pressure to make Durov, who no longer lives in Russia, step away from Telegram. Once again one of Mr. Usmanov's social media projects, a messaging service called Tam-Tam, is being talked up as patriotic Russian replacement for it.

 

“Everyone sees through this hypocritical talk about Telegram being used by terrorists. Clearly the only reason for this is Pavel Durov's defiance of the Kremlin,” says Mr. Kovalev. “What we're seeing is a complete collapse of the state's credibility.”

 

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https://finance.yahoo.com/news/kremlin ... ing-limits-192426946.html

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