Decentralized control: a case study of Russia

Reethika Ramesh, Ram Sundara Raman, Matthew Bernhard, Victor Ongkowijaya, Leonid Evdokimov, Anne Edmundson, Steven Sprecher, Muhammad Ikram, Roya Ensafi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Although past censorship research has largely focused on blocking in highly centralized networks such as China’s, censorship in decentralized networks is on the rise. It was long thought that large-scale censorship on decentralized networks with thousands of ISPs was prohibitively difficult. Our in-depth investigation of the mechanisms underlying decentralized information control in Russia shows that such large-scale censorship can be achieved in decentralized networks through inexpensive commodity equipment. This new form of information control presents a host of problems for censorship measurement, including difficulty identifying censored content, requiring measurements from diverse perspectives, and variegated censorship mechanisms that require significant effort to identify in a robust manner.

By working with activists on the ground in Russia, we obtained five leaked blocklists signed by Roskomnadzor, the Russian government’s federal service for mass communications, alongwith seven years of historical blocklist data. This authoritative list contains domains, IPs, and subnets that ISPs have been required to block since November 1st, 2012. We used the blocklist from April 24 2019, that contains 132,798 domains, 324,695 IPs, and 39subnets, to collect active measurement data from residential, datacenter and infrastructural vantage points. Our vantage pointsspan 361 unique ASes that control≈65% of Russian IP address space.

Our findings suggest that data centers block differently from the residential ISPs both in quantity and in method of blocking,resulting in different experiences of the Internet for residential network perspectives and data center perspectives. As expected,residential vantage points experience high levels of censorship.While we observe a range of blocking techniques, such as TCP/IP blocking, DNS manipulation, or keyword based filtering, we find that residential ISPs are more likely inject blockpages with explicit notices to users when censorship is enforced. Russia’s censorship architecture is a blueprint, and perhaps a forewarning of what and how national censorship policies could be implemented in many other countries that have similarly diverse ISP ecosystems to Russia’s. Understanding decentralized control will be key to continuing to preserve Internet freedom for years to come.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings, 2020 Network and Distributed System Security Symposium
Place of PublicationReston, VA
PublisherInternet Society
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)1891562614
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventNetwork and Distributed Systems Security Symposium 2020 -, San Diego, United States
Duration: 23 Feb 202026 Feb 2020


ConferenceNetwork and Distributed Systems Security Symposium 2020
Abbreviated titleNDSS 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego


Dive into the research topics of 'Decentralized control: a case study of Russia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this