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Russian IP Blocks Keeping Players from the Games They Love

By Ed Orr on April 18, 2018 | Columns | Comments

Russian IP Blocks Keeping Players from the Games They Love

Nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure! It might be a fantastic way to deal with your alien infestation but probably is not the sort of finesse you want when administering an IT issue. Unfortunately for a number of video games and the players who love them, the Russian Federal Service for Supervision of Communications appears to have its finger on the big red button. After blocking anywhere up to 16 million IP addresses, a host of popular online services are reporting serious connectivity issues.

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Following a judgment by the Tagansky District Court of Moscow, Russia’s Roskomnadzor began blocking IP addresses associated with the Telegram messaging app, and it appears to have resulted in more than a few unexpected incidents. Players in Guild Wars 2, Splatoon 2, Vain Glory, Fortnite, PubG,  and even World of Tanks have reported a range of connectivity issues since Roskomnadzor began enforcing this act. It is not just these games impacted, the list seems to be getting longer all the time with the following confirmed for us here at MMORPG.com and at GameSpace.com.

  • Vainglory
  • Guns of Boom
  • GW2
  • Star Citizen
  • Splatoon 2
  • Life is Feudal
  • Total War: ARENA
  • PUBG
  • Battlefield
  • Gaijin Games
  • Fortnite
  • PlayStation Network

We’ve even had reports of internet payment services impacted by the bans, with no immediate end in sight. But why is this even happening?

In the Beginning

Well, first the law bit. Russian authorities began implementing this IP ban after a long-running row with the business behind encrypted messaging app Telegram. A formal request by authorities to hand over the keys to Telegram’s encryption technology has been repeatedly rebuffed, with Telegram stating that they do not hold decryption keys for any of its user's data.  This impasse eventually resulted in Roskomnadzor deploying seemingly sweeping IP bans.

Here comes the science Bit

While this might seem a bit heavy handed for many of us that watched the UK debate its very own Investigatory Powers Act, blocking Telegram should have been a relatively straightforward process for Russian ISPs. Telegram purports to host local servers in geographically significant locations, to speed up response times between connected users. This static infrastructure makes it particularly difficult to evade the sort of process that Roskomnadzor are in the process of enforcing, unless you have some very clever people. According to Russian site Akket.com, it appears Telegram do indeed have some very clever engineers.

In an initial effort to route telegram through Google and Amazon cloud services, Telegram and the Russian authorities entangled Amazon and Google cloud services in their altercation. A reported half a million of these commercial cloud IP addresses were blocked, and the ongoing fallout continues to impact other customers of these shared services.

What makes this more interesting is initial information circulating regarding the use of the Telegram’s update service to communicate new messaging server addresses, essentially located anywhere among a cloud provider’s range of servers. This is a similar if somewhat more technical, version of the cat and mouse game that Roskomnadzor played with mobile app Zello last year. With a constantly shifting series of IP addresses, Telegram has reported that their network is only minimally affected. However, the seeming persistence of Russian authorities means we have no way of knowing whether things will get worse for our fellow gamers. If things do continue to escalate, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov has pledged millions of dollars of bitcoin to individuals and companies that run VPN and proxies. It might be time to consider dragging that Fallout board game out of the closet.

Editor’s Note: As of this writing, we are seeing Russian traffic again on MMORPG.com and on GameSpace.com. It is possible that the blocks are being removed from sites not affected by the Telegram Kerfuffle.