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Russia Widens Its VPN Block

If you’re tired of censorship and surveillance, join Reclaim The Net.

As a strategic maneuver to tighten its control over internet access, Russia has intensified its campaign against VPNs – not merely the use but also the promotion or discussion of these privacy and anti-censorship tools. These recent developments expose deeper concerns about internet censorship and its implications for the fundamental principle of free speech.

In the spring of 2023, as part of an elaborate communications campaign, Russia issued public service announcements denouncing VPNs.

Fast forward to the summer, these seemingly harmless ads took a stark transition into concrete policy changes. President Vladimir Putin endorsed regulations demanding select internet platforms, including social media, to verify the identity of new users, potentially via their passports. Providing guidance on using VPNs to access banned internet resources was deemed a criminal act under these new edicts.

The Kremlin is becoming even more brazen in its attempts to clamp down on VPN services. It seems intent on putting an end to any VPN companies unwilling to comply. However, the ramifications are not just limited to these companies but may extend to anyone bold enough to make use of these services or discuss them.

Recent revelations at a Sochi forum “Spectrum-2023,” and reported by TorrentFreak, unveiled further dimensions of Russia’s VPN offensive. Sergei Khutortsev, an integral figure in Russia’s sovereign internet project, confirmed that 167 VPN services, non-compliant with government stipulations, and over 200 email services were now under active blockade.

The governmental department responsible for tracking online threats, the Center for Monitoring and Control of the Public Communications Network (TsMU SSOP), plays a crucial role in ensuring adherence to these practices and managing internet censorship. They have the mandate to control traffic, preserve the integrity of Russian internet data and neutralize potential threats. Moreover, they possess the technical capabilities to detect the origin of transmitted data and subsequently restrict access.

Increasingly, Russia’s VPN blocking operations are accommodating a more complex technique of blocking specific protocols in addition to the basic practices of blocking domains and IP addresses. During the spring and summer of 2023, there were multiple instances of VPN protocols OpenVPN and WireGuard being blocked.

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