Russian Federation starts blocking Telegram for failing to turn over encryption keys

Posted April 18, 2018

Russia's internet watchdog has blocked an estimated 16m IP addresses in a massive operation against the banned Telegram messaging app that could set a new precedent for Russian online censorship.

According to an unofficial copy of Roskomnadzor's Internet blacklist, IP addresses in question are prohibited because of a decision by the Attorney General's Office that is technically unrelated to the April 13 court ruling in Moscow that allowed the government to start blocking Telegram.

Also, Telegram has the capabilities for users to encrypt their personal and business information and enables the users to destroy their messages with a timer. That ban went into effect last week, and as reported this week by local media outlets, the government is doing all it can - such as blocking millions of IP addresses - in an attempt to stop people from using Telegram.

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The decision to block the messaging app followed a months-long standoff between Telegram and the FSB, which demanded the encryption keys so it could access users' messages.

Some Russians may still be able to access Telegram by way of virtual private networks, but the government has the authority to shut them down if they support access to banned services.

The Amazon IP bans failed to take Telegram offline, however, so millions of IP addresses belonging to Google we targeted.

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Russia's state telecommunications regulator wants Apple and Google to remove the Telegram messenger app service from their respective app stores. Reportedly, government officials access the app via a VPN - a technique commonly used in Russian Federation to circumvent internet restrictions - to communicate with the media and coordinate timing for conference calls.

Internet businesses in Russian Federation were also hit inadvertently by Roskomnadzor's move.

Telegram remained functional as of Tuesday night and said it had gained hundreds of thousands of new users. The data law in question required the chat app to list its services in Roskomnadzor's register and provide more information about its services. Telegram has always been criticised for providing a messaging service that became known as the "app of choice" for drug traffickers and terrorists, in particular from ISIL.

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This morning the Russian authorities blocked Telegram, therefore the service could be unstable with some telecom operators.