Russia Clamps Down on VPNs, Furthering Restrictions on Internet Access

Russia Tightens Grip on Internet Freedom: VPN Ban Sparks Concerns.

The ban is likely due to people using VPN technology to access banned content and bypass government surveillance measures.

Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor plans to ban VPN services in Russia and Ukraine, potentially affecting free speech and information access, according to a new report by vpnMentor.

The report, authored by Jeremiah Fowler, a cybersecurity researcher known for identifying misconfigured databases on the Internet, sheds light on Russia’s recent efforts to further restrict internet freedom within its borders. It highlights the country’s new ban on popular VPN (Virtual Private Network) services, a move experts believe will significantly undermine online privacy and increase online censorship in the country. The ban will come into effect on 1st March 2024. 

It is worth noting that restricting VPNs may limit Russian citizens’ access to the outside world and form broader perspectives. In 2022, 23% of the Russian population used VPN services, up from 9% in 2021.

This surge is linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the blockage of 138,000 websites. Russia’s Freedom on the Net ranking of 21 out of 100 in 2023 indicates a preference for anonymity and privacy, prompting the government to ban VPNs.

This ban will not just affect internet users but also those fighting for freedom of expression, limiting access to independent news sources and anonymity, and increasing risk to activists, dissidents, and whistleblowers who rely on VPNs for secure communication. That’s because VPNs act as secure tunnels, encrypting internet connections to protect online privacy. They are used for data protection, accessing geo-restricted content, and private internet browsing without tracking.

According to vpnMentor’s blog post, Russian authorities have even banned advertisements and websites offering methods to bypass blocked resources in Russia and Ukraine. Russian authorities have pressured social media companies to restrict content, establish local businesses, store data locally, and allow security services unrestricted access to user data. Western companies have refused to comply, even if it means leaving the Russian market.

This move is part of a larger campaign from Russia to regulate and curb internet access, isolate internet users, and increase surveillance. In 2018, Russia requested Telegram to provide encryption keys for government access to users’ messages, audio, and pictures.

Last year Russian government banned various Western messaging apps, including Snapchat, WhatsApp, Discord, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, and Telegram, as well as European encrypted apps Viber and Threema, and Chinese communication app WeChat.

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