Andrew Kikhtenko, a Department Head for a drug combating unit of the Ukrainian National Police, explained that blocking Tor use was out of the picture. Mind you, Ukraine is currently in the process of implementing internet restrictions that prevent citizens from viewing specific Russian websites. The country is not alone in sanctions against Russia. The country’s law enforcement, though, is the only one that publicly considered blocking access to Tor.
The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, signed a decree that outlawed numerous Russian websites and TV stations. But the head of the Internet Association of Ukraine, Alexander Fedienko, explained that more than a few sites would be restricted. He explained the blocking method:
“Most likely, we will block not sites, but the entire autonomous system where there are these sites and other platforms are not listed in the sanctions. The user will be deprived not only of access to networks such as ‘VKontakte,’ and to other platforms that have been in this system.”
He added that the President’s decree would cost roughly $1 billion and should take one to three years to complete. As of May 16, one Ukrainian telecommunications company, “Ukrtelecom” started working on the ban. Ukrtelecom, at least according to public news sources, is the first company to begin work on the multi-year project.
But little information acknowledging the darknet can be obtained on the Ukrainian police website or any Ukrainian government website in general. In fact, somewhat surprisingly, the only locatable police report with a darknet reference dated back to 2016 and involved an 11th grade student. The student sold heroin, cocaine, and methadone online.
Regardless of the information’s apparent absence, Ukrainian law enforcement officers are well aware of Tor and darknet markets. Kikhtenko told a local news outlet that within four months of 2017, Ukrainian police arrested 23 darknet vendors. In April, he said, investigators tracked down a 19-year-old amphetamine trafficker and his supplier. “These users are actively using TOR browser – software that allows anonymous access to websites by hiding at the same time its the IP-address,” he said.
Whether or not within the country could bypass the government-imposed sanctions was a question ISPs responded to with a firm yes. One of the ways the restrictions could be bypassed, as Kikhtenko explained, was by using the Tor browser. And when access to the Tor browser—and implicitly the onion network itself—could not easily be limited, officials made no mention of the prospect.
Kikhtenko explained why it was not an option, even with a court decision that ordered ISPs to limit Tor access:
“This sequence of actions is long and inefficient. We do not have a single body which is empowered to execute court decisions to block or restrict access to sites with illegal content. […] the investigating judge must be prepared for more than 8,000 individual votes.”
Even if a court reached a decision, in the past when ISPs were ordered to block websites from consumer access, they often found the task insurmountable. He explained that many ISPs lacked the technical ability to block a domain. Sometimes the technical knowledge, sometimes the actual hardware or “equipment.” The government never established laws that regulated ISPs; they could neither require an ISP block an internet resource not punish one for failure to block a domain—even after a court ruling.
Not only is the process nearly insurmountable from a legal standpoint, the amount of time required would be obscene, he explained. With no legal “mechanism” for enforcing an action as great as blocking access to the onion network, nothing would come of a court order.
And given that blocking some Russian websites—an admittedly high number of them, in fairness—costs $1 billion, the cost of blocking Tor would be far too high. With that said, Turkey can force ISPs to block Tor, even if it took months of breathing down the ISPs neck:
“Turkey had ordered ISPs to block access to Tor and several commercial VPN services. On 5 December, ISP industry representatives Turk Internet reported growing pressure to complete the ban, including demands for weekly progress reports on the status of the new technical restrictions. Users started reporting connectivity issues around the same time.” (Turkey Blocks, 2016)