Russia plans to ban VPN services from all app stores across the country in 2024, a Russian Senator has confirmed.
Short for Virtual Private Network, VPNs are security software that both encrypt internet connections and spoof users' IP addresses to grant them access to geo-restricted content. That's exactly the reason why the Kremlin seeks to block these services, especially those providing access to Meta-owned platforms as it's considered as "an extremist organization" in Russia.
Russian authorities have long been battling against the use of Russia VPNs via different means. However, these anti-VPN crusades haven't always achieved the desired results with VPN downloads in Russia skyrocketing since the conflict in Ukraine began.
Russia's continuous crackdown on VPNs
"Starting March 1, 2024, an order will come into force according to which VPN services that provide access to sites banned in Russia will be blocked by Roskomnadzor in all markets," said Russian Senator Artem Sheikin, the deputy chairman of the Council for the Development of the Digital Economy—Russian state-owned domestic news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Sheikin also stressed the fact that Russia's telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor, will especially target those VPNs providing citizens access to Instagram and Facebook which are both banned in the country.
The news comes as yet another censorship crusade initiated by the Kremlin against VPN providers. However, the methods on how Moscow intends to enforce the ban are still unknown.
What's certain is that VPN censorship has long been high on the list of Putin's priorities. However, Samuel Woodhams, digital rights researcher at Top10VPN, told TechRadar that despite the fact that access to circumvention software is restricted three times more than the global average, it’s still a long way off from where China and Iran are.
He said: "The blocking of VPN websites in Russia really stood out to us. Given the recent rise of anti-VPN rhetoric and the increasing criminalization of their use, we had expected that the rates of blocking would have been higher."
Looks like the Russian authorities are having another go at blocking VPNs today. Having problems with both WireGuard and OpenVPN on multiple mobile networks.August 8, 2023
Nonetheless, last August users reported some alleged temporary VPN crackdowns on the protocol level affecting both WireGuard and OpenVPN. A few months before, the government even launched a new disinformation campaign to dissuade citizens using these tools.
Roskomnadzor has been feeding its centralized internet blacklist since 2012, though, with URLs, domain names, and IP addresses deemed illegal. Many of these were actually VPN provider sites, which later decided to pull their services out of the country completely for rejecting the new government requirements.
More than 100,000 resources were blocked in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine compared to around 7,000 during the previous year. Citizens have been turning en masse to VPNs ever since, pretty successfully except for some intermittent issues from time to time.
VPN providers seem to have invested a lot into technology able to outsmart government's efforts in the latest years, too. Censorship-resistant features and obfuscation technology are now an integral part of many VPN infrastructures.
Whether or not the Kremlin will manage to be successful in its latest attempt to clamp down on VPN usage is left to be seen. In the meantime, we suggest downloading several apps whether you live in or are planning to visit Russia any time soon to ensure you've got a working app—here are the best free VPN on the market right now to help you save some cash.
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Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org