June 20, 2024

Russia Seeks to Ban VPN Services in 2024, Senator Reveals

Russian senator Artem Sheikin has stated that the country plans to ban VPN services once again. Starting from March 1, 2024, VPN apps will be removed from all Russian app stores by the country’s communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.

The move is likely meant to block Russians from accessing resources banned within the nation’s borders.

From March 1, 2024, an order will come into force to block VPN services providing access to sites banned in Russia.Artem Sheikin

According to the report by a local Russian outlet that revealed the senator’s statement, social networks operated by Meta are the biggest target of the VPN ban. This doesn’t come as a surprise, considering Russia regards the Mark Zuckerberg-led company as an extremist organization.

Is This a Win for Putin’s Attempts at Pervasive Censorship?

The ban on VPN services is clearly a part of Putin’s constant regime of pervasive censorship and might actually sound like a big win. However, it’s worth remembering that while the Russian president has been trying to crack down on VPNs for years, he hasn’t had much success so far.

Back in 2017, Russia vowed to put an end to the use of VPNs and the Tor browser.

The lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia, State Dulma, unanimously adopted the first reading of new legislation to ban the use of VPNs and other online anonymizers unless they blocked off access to a list of websites maintained by the government.

However, it didn’t ultimately bear much fruit since Russians quickly resorted to VPNS in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As the country tightened its censorship rules to block Russians from reading news and other information contradicting its version of incidents, VPNs offered the people an easy workaround.

How Successful Will the Ban Actually Be?

While Roskomnadzor seems bent on banning all VPN services, it’s unclear if the watchdog will succeed in preventing Russians from using them completely.

Sheikin stated that app-based VPNs will be removed from app stores, but it’s unknown if Roskomnadzor has the means to detect and counter open-source VPNs.

People might still be able to side-load VPNs onto their mobile devices from third-party sites outside the official app stores.

Whatever measures Roskomnadzor has in mind will potentially trigger a race between Moscow and VPN operators to outdo each other.

VPN operators and vendors are well aware that their products are controversial, especially in countries with strong censorship policies like Russia, which means they are likely prepared. There’s a good chance they might incorporate countermeasures to help them evade the ban.

Last year, China upgraded its Great Firewall to crack down on TLS encryption-based tools. According to a post by the Great Firewall Report(GFW), China achieved this by “blocking the specific port that the circumvention services listen on”.

When the user changes the blocked port to a non-blocked port and keeps using the circumvention tools, the entire IP address may get blocked.

Russia’s powerful ties with Beijing and the similarities in strong censorship incorporated by the two countries might help make the Russian ban on VPNs actually work. As of now, it remains to be seen if China would be willing to share its censorware with Russia.

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