Russia’s communications watchdog to punish foreign IT firms

Russia’s Roskomnadzor says it’s taking punitive measures against companies including TikTok, Telegram, Zoom, Discord and Pinterest.

Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor will take punitive measures against a string of foreign IT companies, including TikTok, Telegram, Zoom, Discord and Pinterest.

In a statement on Friday, Roskomnadzor said its actions were in response to failure by the companies to remove content that it had flagged as illegal, and the punitive measures would remain in place until the firms complied with its demands.

The regulator did not specify what measures would be taken.

Russia has repeatedly threatened to impose fines on IT companies – including Google – that it has said violated harsh new laws criminalising the spreading of so-called “false information” about the Russian military.

Russia has branded its war on Ukraine a “special military operation”. In March, Roskomnadzor warned that referring to the military campaign as an “invasion”, “attack” or “declaration of war” will lead to websites being blocked.

On Tuesday, Russian courts imposed a two million rouble (around $33,000) fine on the US-based live streaming service Twitch, and an 11 million rouble ($179,000) fine on the messenger service Telegram, for violating military censorship laws.

The move to rein in foreign IT firms came as the head of the UK’s GCHQ intelligence, cyber and security agency said on Friday that Russia had failed to gain ground in the information war in cyberspace against Ukraine.

Jeremy Fleming, the intelligence chief, in an op-ed in The Economist, wrote that both countries have been applying their cyber-capabilities in the war in Ukraine.

“So far, president Putin has comprehensively lost the information war in Ukraine and in the West. Although that’s cause for celebration, we should not underestimate how Russian disinformation is playing out elsewhere in the world,” Fleming wrote.

“Just as with its land invasion, Russia’s initial online plans appear to have fallen short. The country’s use of offensive cyber tools has been irresponsible and indiscriminate,” he said.

Fleming said Russia had deployed WhisperGate malware to destroy and deface Ukrainian government systems.

He also said Russia has used the same cyberwarfare playbook before in Syria and the Balkans and said online disinformation is a major part of Russia’s strategy. However, GCHQ has been able to intercept and provide warnings in time, he said.

Without going into much detail, Fleming said the UK’s National Cyber Force could respond to Russia by deploying a UK military unit that employs offensive cyber-tools.

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