Russia Plans to Block Major VPNs as Next Step in Closing Up Internet

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Photo: Pavel Golovkin (AP)

Russia is getting closer to implementing the sort of internet regulations that exist under the Great Firewall of China. Earlier this year, internet providers began preparing to conduct tests to find out if Russia can build an internet disconnected from the rest of the world. Now, Russia plans to block major VPN (virtual private network) services that allow users to reach banned websites.

In March, Russia’s telecommunications regulations agency Roscomnadzor told the top VPN providers to link their servers to the government-run IT system, which it uses to prevent people in the country from accessing banned sites.

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Roskomnadzor wrote to the ten providers—ExpressVPN, HideMyAss!, Hola VPN, IPVanish, Kaspersky Secure Connection, KeepSolid, NordVPN, OpenVPN, TorGuard, and VyprVPN—and said the operations had 30 days to respond, according to a Reuters report at the time.

“In the cases of non-compliance with the obligations stipulated by the law, Roskomnadzor may decide to restrict access to a VPN service,” Roskomnadzor said in a statement, according to Reuters.

TorrentFreak reports that since the notice went out, NordVPN explained it would not comply because the act would be a violation of customer service agreements. IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, VyprVPN, and OpenVPN also dismissed the censorship efforts.

Roscomnadzor chief Alexander Zharov told Russian outlet Interfax on Thursday that only Kaspersky connected to the state IT server.

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“All the others did not answer, moreover, they wrote on their websites that they would not comply with Russian law,” Zharov told Interfax. “And the law says unequivocally if the company refuses to comply with the law—it should be blocked.”

Zharov said that Roscomnadzor plans to block the other VPN services within a month.

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As TorrentFreak reports, this would mean that the non-complying VPN services would be put on Russia’s blacklist, so local ISPs would have to block consumers from the services, but it’s unclear if this would affect the VPN’s servers or their web presences.

If these nine VPNs are blocked, Russians will still have many more to turn to, Zharov acknowledged. “These ten VPNs do not exhaust the entire list of proxy programs available to our citizens,” Zharov told Interfax. “I don’t think there will be a tragedy if they are blocked.”

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Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo