Russia has been in the center of attention, once again, after the most recent events concerning their strict Internet censorship. The Russian news agency, TASS, at the beginning of this month, reported that Roskomnadzor (The Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media), or better known as Russia's telecommunications watchdog, has banned another 50 Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and Proxy servers. The ban comes after providers disobeyed the Russian ban on the messaging app Telegram. Needless to say, many people were not happy about it.
Background on Russian Censorship and the Telegram Ban
Russia is known for its strict Internet rules and censorship, and although it’s not among the countries with the worst restrictions, such as North Korea or Iran, it sure came close after the latest events.
It all started back in 2017 after Russian president, Vladimir Putin, signed a law that deepened Internet censorship by imposing restrictions on VPN and Proxy tools. Just recently, in April, the Russian government banned Telegram, a messaging app that is used by millions of people worldwide, and 15 million people solely in Russia, making it the third most used messaging service in the country.
The ban came after Telegram refused to provide encryption keys from its messaging service to the Russian government, which allegedly needed them in order to control Telegram’s use among terrorists. Last year in St. Petersburg, in a terrorist attack where fifteen people lost their lives. Apparently, Telegram was used by the person responsible for it.
VPN and Proxy providers ignored the ban
The main reason why people use VPN and Proxy services is because they can easily unblock content. Needless to say, many providers continued doing this even after the ban on Telegram. The Russian government restricted VPNs with their new law from providing access to already blocked websites and applications, but not VPNs in general, as long as they followed the rules. However, while some decided it would be for the best not to interfere, others boldly continued their fight for free Internet without any restrictions. And this is what got them in trouble.
Ironically, after the ban of Telegram, many users reached towards a VPN provider as a possible solution to their problem causing the number of Russian VPN users to rapidly grow. The new consumers were utilizing these tools to bypass the nation-wide ban, not only on the app, but on many other blocked websites as well.
Is Viber next on the list?
Officials have not yet published the blocked servers, but now a new problem arises. Viber, the second most popular messaging platform in Russia, is under the radar and according to the Ministry of Communications it can either comply with the law or face the same consequences.
Unfortunately, with these 50 Proxies and VPNs completely banned, it has become very hard to find a reliable provider that still works in Russia. Some of the few useful and available providers are NordVPN, ExpressVPN, PureVPN, HideMyAss, and Ivacy.
But how long will these providers compete with Russia’s strong censorship?
Unfortunately, only time will tell.