Russia seems to have finally started its crackdown on the anonymous browsing software Tor.
First reported by Bleeping Computer, and confirmed by the Tor Project itself, its main website, torproject.org, is now being actively blocked by some of Russia’s main internet service providers.
The block was kicked off on December 1 by Rostelecom, one of the country’s largest ISPs, and was followed up by MTS, and Tele 2 (also major ISPs in the country) a day later. At first, the block was disregarded as an error due to the country’s experimentation with Runet (an internet network limited to Russia’s territory, only). It’s now obvious that it wasn’t an accident.
Instead, the ISPs seem to be enforcing orders sent out by Roskomnadzor (Russia’s main communications watchdog). According to Bleeping Computer, together with Tor, additional six VPN services were also blocked.
With Tor, users automatically encrypt and reroute their browsing, using a network of Tor (The Onion Router) nodes. It allows them to remain anonymous while browsing, and helps them share information without being exposed. Tor is often used to access censored content, as well.
Tor project asks for all hands on deck
Confirming the news in a blog post, the Tor project said there are ways to counter the block, and urged its users to assist by running Tor “bridges”.
"Russia is the country with the second-largest number of Tor users, with more than 300,000 daily users or 15% of all Tor users. As it seems this situation could quickly escalate to a country-wide Tor block, it’s urgent that we respond to this censorship! We need your help NOW to keep Russians connected to Tor!" reads the blog.
Russia is hardly new to internet censorship, as since 2012, the Roskomnadzor keeps a “Single register”, essentially a blacklist of censored sites and content.
Started as a list of narcotics-related sites, as well as those advocating suicide or spreading child pornography, this has since expanded to include sites the government deemed “extremist”. Some organizations in the country argue the list has been abused numerous times in the past, to silence the political opposition’s voice in the digital realm.
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Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.