Parler website temporarily resuscitated in Russia

Ousted by AWS and other hosting companies, the firm is exploring options overseas that could expose its users to the mercy of foreign surveillance.
22 January 2021

Parler website returns on the mercy of Russia – Do we foresee a trend? Source: Parler

  • Parler was booted from AWS after its alleged use to incite insurrection at the US capitol
  • The site has set up shop with a Russian hosting and cybersecurity company
  • But the government of Russia has laws that compel tech companies to comply with its requests, including surveillance

Cloud services are increasingly dominated by fewer, bigger companies that can provide the web infrastructure and cybersecurity services social media services require. 

Just recently, this was made apparent when AWS booted the right-wing-leaning social media site Parler, after its alleged facilitative role in insighting violence and insurrection at the Capitol earlier in January.

Parler’s CEO John Matze in a legal filing said Parler did not have “the technical and security expertise to host the Parler environment on its own,” adding, “Nor is it feasible for Parler to do so.” 

He said the computers and other equipment needed to host Parler’s site would cost more than US$6 million and take weeks to arrive. “Simply put, it would not be possible for Parler itself to acquire the necessary servers and related security infrastructure in a commercially reasonable time frame,” he said.

As Parler went offline last week, the platform said it tried to register with six potential providers, all of which failed. Parler’s COO Jeffrey Wernick told The New York Times that the social network would prefer US-based providers and is working to find them. The platform registered its domain through Seattle-based Epik, a company that has supported other websites that tech companies have rejected, including Gab, another social network popular in right-wing circles.

While Parler has been shunned by the US tech industry’s biggest names, it purports to have more than 12 million users, Reuters report claimed, making the platform too big for most small hosts. 

Russia – rescuer or opportunist?

With domestic options sparse, Parler is looking overseas. And Russian-owned web security service, DDoS-Guard agreed to host Parler for a mere bare-bones web presence. So far, that amounts to a message under the heading “Technical Difficulties” that says it plans to resolve its challenges and welcome visitors back soon.

Russia has passed laws that compel tech companies to comply with government requests. The surveillance system, known as the System for Operative Investigative Activities, “basically allows the Russian government to intercept any data on Russian territory and provide that data to the F.S.B.,” Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, said Alina Polyakova, head of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a foreign policy think tank in Washington.

Parler could expose its users to Russian surveillance if the site someday does relaunch in full with DDoS-Guard. By embracing DDoS-Guard, even as a quick-fix solution, Parler joins a growing list of far-right sites like 8kun and the Daily Stormer that US infrastructure companies have knocked offline, only to see companies in countries with limited internet freedom — like DDoS-Guard — enable their reemergence. 

According to Bloomberg, a spokeswoman for DDoS-Guard said the company was not hosting Parler and declined to comment on what services it was providing to the social media app. It confirmed it did store customer data as part of its offering.

In another separate report, DDoS-Guard told WIRED it is only providing defense against denial-of-service attacks, not hosting Parler’s site. But even that level of support requires access to all the traffic that flows through Parler so that it can “scrub” out malicious traffic aimed at overwhelming the site.