As the conflict with Ukraine continues, Russia is intensifying its efforts to curtail dissenting voices or alternative sources of information that don't align with the Kremlin's narratives.
In the latest move, the government is targeting Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) - tools that have become increasingly popular among Russians seeking access to unfiltered information.
Senator Artem Sheikin, as reported by RIA, said telecom regulator Roskomnadzor has been instructed to prohibit VPNs that grant access to content and sites blacklisted in Russia.
“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,” according to the senator.
This move comes on the heels of previous bans of major social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and X (formerly known as Twitter). These platforms have been a significant source of news and varying opinions for many Russians, especially during the ongoing war in Ukraine.
While VPNs have been a lifeline for many seeking to access these platforms and other global news sources, this new directive aims to cut them off from this information. The decision, however, may prove more challenging to implement than anticipated.
Russia isn't the first nation to attempt a VPN ban. China, with its well-known Great Firewall, has been trying to enforce VPN restrictions for years. Still, even with its extensive resources and prolonged efforts, the Chinese government has found it challenging to block VPNs entirely.
This stems from the inherent nature of modern VPNs, designed with advanced features to elude detection, ensuring users can securely bypass restrictions.
In August, Russia tightened the vise on VPN operators, as mobile users nationwide reported disruptions to their VPN services. However, the restrictions mainly targeted the OpenVPN and WireGuard protocols for mobile users, as landline users remained untouched.
While Russia's determination to control the narrative and restrict outside influences is evident, a blanket VPN ban will prove a complex endeavor. The coming months will reveal how effective these efforts are and what lengths the government is willing to go to control information.
VPNs are powerful tools that can ensure users’ online anonymity, letting them browse the internet unhampered and without the fear of being exposed to hackers, government agencies, ISPs and other entities. Key features include: