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Russia bans VPNs and other anonymous web browsing tools in censorship crackdown

NordVPN vs. IPVanish VPN
NordVPN vs. IPVanish VPN (Image credit: Windows Central)

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) will soon be banned in Russia as part of a new bill signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. The aim of the law is to prevent citizens from accessing banned websites by using VPNs to circumvent the government censorship.

As CNN reports the Russian government runs a blacklist that contains thousands of websites that are restricted from the public. VPNs allow people to work around censorship by encrypting and disguising their internet traffic.

The blacklist was originally meant to cover websites that related to illegal content such as drugs and child pornography. Some groups worry that the law will be applied broadly to expand censorship to political dissenters. In a statement to CNN, Amnesty International called the law the "latest blow in an assault on online freedom." According to The Verge, Russia briefly used the blacklist to outright ban Reddit and Wikipedia "over single pages that contained content on drug use" in 2015, backing up concerns of potential overreach.

Russia's VPN ban will go into effect on November 1, at which point it will join China, which began restricting VPNs earlier in July, in a recent surge in state efforts to crack down on VPN use.

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Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the Editor in Chief for Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl. Got a hot tip? Send it to daniel.thorp-lancaster@futurenet.com.

33 Comments
  • Cool
  • Russia and Chinese citizens now need a VPN for VPNs
  • US and UK are next.
  • It's a complicated situation. In a hand, there are these reasons, that are good ones; in other hand, censorship. Wouldn't it better arrest the criminals, if they know them?
  • It's not a complicated situation, it's a violation of basic human rights that unfortunately aren't provided to the people of Russia. This isn't about criminals it's about a government choosing what they allow their people to see.
  • Agreed. Not complicated at all. If you don't force people to live in clear home with zero privacy, this is no different. All this will do is destroy their economy & rights. Bad actors will always find another way.  
  • What does it differs of what NSA/FBI do? I think we shouldn't afraid what is clearly done, but silently.
  • This is how you know that the government believes it rules its population rather than exists to serve them. A government that serves its people does not censor. It's one thing if a private company chooses not to allow certain kinds of traffic -- that's fine. When a government does it, that government is illegitimate.
  • So it will be like with Netflix and VPNs now. Big VPN brands with widely used IPs will be blocked but if we will make our own it have to still work despite that stupid regulations and even ISP restricting solutions.
  • *Net Neutrality in progress*  We can't allow some poeple to pay to browse anonymously, all packets must be treated the same, by force.  >.>
  • This has nothing to do with Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is a concept that that your ISP can't meddle with your internet traffic. For example, Net Neutrality dictates that your ISP can't slow down your connection to your VPN server because they wanna monitor and monetize your internet traffic. The concept means your ISP is supposed to let the data flow freely without throttling, regardless of who it's from or where it's going. This is a case of government censorship. If anything, those goes /against/ the principles of Net Neutrality because the Russian government is now dictating that connections to VPNs be blocked, meaning your data is being tampered with instead of being allowed to flow freely.
  • ^ thank you for educating this person
  • @SwimSwim, I suspect we agree on censorship being bad. But I would say that Net Neutrality is bad for similar (though not identical) reasons -- it's just another form of government overreach that stifles freedom. As soon as the government is telling private companies what they are allowed to do and charge, that is the elimination of freedom. The fact that some people benefit from those controls with guaranteed YouTube and NetFlix delivery or because they're Google shareholders or want to short sell Comcast or Verizon doesn't make it a good move for the nation as a whole. It's just the government picking a side and favoring some companies over others. Another form of taking away freedom.
  • While net neutrality may be a restriction on unfettered freedom, it is a useful restriction. Absolute freedom is anarchy (and, I'm using anarchy as a synonym of terrorism, not local decision making). We place restrictions on people's ability to shout fire in a crowded space. We place restrictions on people's ability to call for violence. These are restrictions on freedom that have proven to be valid, time and time again. The same thing applies to restrictions on corporate monoplies. Yes, a company may earn a monopoly, or inherit one, legally. But, once in a legal monopoly position companies have proven, time and time again that they abuse the privilege. They will unfairly disadvantage competitors, and, in the process harm the general public. Their shareholders may get rich, but, the general public gets fleeced. Microsoft earned a monopoly on operating systems on commodity hardware in the late 90's. But, they were late to the game when it came to the internet. Rather than competing on quality, they purposefully privileged their own browser and disadvantaged their competitor. While Microsoft's initial efforts benefitted the consumer for a few years as Netscape and Internet Explorer competed for market share, once Microsoft won the browser wars (through anti-competitive abuse of their operating system monopoly) they promptly stopped developing Internet Explorer. This left users without a good browser for many years as Netscape had been harmed to the point where they couldn't develop anymore and Microsoft had simply stopped spending money on Internet Explorer. The same applies to net neutrality. If services can be privileged and competitors harmed, all of a sudden you get fiefdoms that ultimately harm the consumer. Internet access is now a utility, and, as such, restrictions must apply to ISPs. Cross-selling is fine, but, if you use technology to harm competitors then you are abusing a monopoly situation. In most markets there are typically very few high speed ISPs. It is not realistic to switch from one anti-competitive company to another if both your options engage in thee same anti-competitive behaviors. PS If you're wondering about the odd spelling or two... that's Microsoft Edge being unable to properly handle WindowsCentral on a 7th gen i5 with 8 GB of RAM (typing is excrutiatingly slow... it feels like I'm on a 1200 baud modem... I can type much faster than the browser can handle). Chrome would handle WindowsCentral without a hiccough. Speaking of anti-competitive practice, Windows 10 S forces ONLY Edge and only Bing. Where's the "freedom" in that. Microsoft has a monopoly on the desktop and their future consumer OS will force people to only ever use Edge and only allow Bing as the default search engine. The notion that net neturality is government overreach that stiffles freedom is a rather extreme reading of libertarianism. It's a good example of where the "freedom" of libertarianism turns into tyranny or kleptocarcy. Everyone must be free to do everything, even when there are profound power imbalances like a monopoly situation or where individuals may legally out-and-out lie or obfuscate to their hearts content (e.g. deceptive advertising with no constraint on said advertising by regulatory bodies or consequences for obfuscation if caught).
  • PS At whose behest are companies allowed to exist and profit off citizens? Citizens allow companies to profit of them. As such, citizens--through government--must be able to place restrictions on the ability of companies to profit off them. Companies are much more powerful and wealthy than 99.9% of citizens. It is only through laws that we, the citizens, are no longer slaves to companies. It's taken centuries to eliminate indentured servitude and outright slavery in the developed world. Without laws (and, now regulations) to call upon, citizens would be at a huge disadvantage when dealing with corporations. Even now corporations can use illegal tactics to intimidate regular citizens because regular citizens lack the financial means to resist corporations.
  • @ED the new guy, I appreciate the thoughtful rejoinder, but you are looking a sliver of history and leaving out most of the facts. More concerning, you make a case that, if true, would undermine the most important force that has created nearly all of the wealth, jobs, and technical advances of the last several hundred years -- entrepreneurship and capitalism. First, yes of course there are valid laws and restrictions. And I agree that they reduce freedom in a very strict sense, but as a general tenet of philosophy, freedom to cause harm to others is not supported as freedom (rape, murder, theft, etc.). Freedom of speech to incite violence is a little bit grayer, but again, yes, as a society we have concluded that should not be allowed and I'm fine with that. That is a general rule that doesn't really infringe on freedom in a meaningful way. I can still shout "Fire" on my own property all I want, so prohibiting it in public spaces seems eminently reasonable to me. So far, we're in agreement. But that has little to do with monopolies. In fact, freedom is the enemy of the monopoly and big government the protector of the monopoly. Monopolies have only EVER been sustained by government support. The old rail monopolies, AT&T (Bell), etc. There is no historical record of any monopoly standing against the unstoppable force of entrepreneurship without legislation to stop the newcomers. As long as there were no laws requiring the use of MS Windows, MS would have lost its hold on the world just as it did. In the case of Net Neutrality, the only monopolies that are relevant to the discussion are the local monopolies where a town, county, or municipality granted exclusive cabling rights to one company. If you really want to protect against excessive control by the infrastructure builders, seek legislation to allow competition at the local level. Right now Comcast, Cox, Charter, and other cable companies (but not Verizon in most places) are protected against competition by local government contracts. Give them a time limit (so cable companies benefit from their investment to build that infrastructure) and then bust them up. I could join you in using state or federal law to accomplish that. Again, monopolies only stand when a government creates them. "Utility" is a convenient term to describe something you want to steal from its owner via the force of government. If I build a windmill or solar panel on my house, should I have to run cables to yours to give you free electricity or vice versa? What if you and I are neighbors and we form a small business to build a large solar array to offer cheaper electricity to the other people on our street. After we take the risk and lay out the money and spend our time doing that, should the other people on the street be allowed to just vote to require we provide it for free? Maybe you'd agree that's going too far. But maybe you'd support it for a price that's enough to cover our costs? You shouldn't.  As beautifully shown by Adam Smith, the best utility (the economic term, not the one from above) for the most people comes from letting us charge whatever we want, and let every customer choose where they want to buy. The sellers will always follow the wishes of the customers, because that's where the money comes from. And if we charge too much because there is no competition, as long as that isn't protected by government, it creates a large incentive that draws other parties to come in and just barely undercut us, because the high price is very profitable, so very attractive to competitors. That competition drives down the prices. In other words, the profit motive is exactly what ensures customer interests win. Extended to Net Neutrality, the only thing it does is takes profit away from the companies who invested in building the infrastructure and transfers it to the companies who are free-riding on that infrastructure. This reduces the incentive to build more infrastructure (because those who would create it won't be allowed to fully profit from it), which in the long run means all of us would pay more per megabit of bandwidth. Ultimately, this is bad for everyone, even those who would benefit from it in the short term. Fortunately, it looks like Net Neutrality has been put out to pasture. You also wrote, "Companies are much more powerful and wealthy than 99.9% of citizens. It is only through laws that we, the citizens, are no longer slaves to companies." Yikes. Companies are nothing more than groups of people working together around an idea some innovative guy had at some point in the past. Do you feel like Daniel Rubino and the staff of WindowsCentral/Mobile Nations are here to cause you harm? Companies wax and wane, rise and fall, based solely on how well they server their customers. If they don't keep getting better at it, they go out of business. Very few companies survive for a 100 years, not because they failed at the start, but because they become lazy with success, slow down, and overtaken by the whirlwind of change driven by the hungry entrepreneurs. Almost everything you see as an element of modern life is the result of an entrepreneur pursing profit by solving a problem that existing companies didn't. He was funded by a less creative but equally (or more so) profit-driven investor who bankrolled the vision in the hope of a payback down the road. That doesn't mean that companies are necessarily virtuous. Run by people, they're not, just like not all people are good. Some laws and regulations to protect shared resources are reasonable, but history has shown that these laws mostly follow businesses doing these things anyway. It is a myth that laws were responsible for improving working conditions during the industrial revolution or yielded the American 40 hour work week or most everything else often attribute to legislation. Yes, the legislation prevented some bad actor statistical outliers from doing those things, but in all cases, most companies had already made the shift to what we now view as "better" because they had to to keep attracting employees and customers. Market forces do far more to keep companies in line than anything government has ever done. Politicians then swoop in for the opportunity to pass a law that has minimal effect and take credit for the changes. By the way, I'm also typing this in Edge. No problems here. But I confess I usually do Windows Central in Firefox for its RSS feed bookmark to access recent stories in a single dropdown.
  • @GraniteStateColln, you too offer a coherent narrative, however, I too accuse you of "leaving out the facts". Perhaps I was a bit harsh in my interpretion of your motivations as being libertarian (in theory, libertarianism is great, but, like Communism, in practice it is tyranny on earth). You point to net neutrality as being "theft of profits". However, remember that most of those who would benefit the most from the elimination of net neutrality are currently in a monopoly situation. In a free market that would get taken care of, but, we don't live in a free market--and, not because of regulation, but because of insufficient or inappropriate regulation. Those current monopolists who seek the end of net neturality do not do so because they want to see increased competition but precisely because they seek to profit from their existing monopolies for as long as possible. They see that, in the long run, regulations will be created to allow for the expansion of competitors, so, in the short run they seek to profit from their monopolies as much as possible... thereby harming the citizens. Citizens do not exist to serve corporations. Corporations exist to serve citizens. In many case those existing monopolies came to be because the citzens--through government--subsidized the creation of the infrastructure. Without the subsidies or the regulations the infrastructure would never have been built. For example, rural areas are extremely inefficient to service. Why spend the money laying down copper or fibre to a remote farm? Unless you charge extremely high user fees you can never recoup those costs and the farmer likely wouldn't pay either. Without regulations forcing companies to service rural areas in exchange for gaining access to right of ways rural customers would still be working with snail mail. Bell got a monopoly, both because of its advantage as holding patents and being first out of the gate, but, also because, without the guarantee of a monopoly, the infrastructure simply wouldn't have been built, or, if it had been built, only high density urban areas would've been served. Quid, pro, quo. Technology changed dramatically in the intervening century to the point where the monopoly was harming the citizens--there was no realistic way for an upstart to enter the monopolist's market. So, then government stole Bell's profits (as you put it) and broke up the company into baby Bells (which still enjoy monopolies in many markets). There is no longer a societal benefit to giving a monopoly in the telcom sector, but, society hasn't done enough to ensure that the monopolists cannot use their monopoly keep out competition. Monopolies can, for example, effectively use price wars to drive competitors out of business. It's expensive to build infrastructure and takes a long time to recoup costs. Unless you have regulations that prevent a monopolist from using a price war to prematurely drive a competitor out of business any self-respecting business person running a monopoly would seek to destroy the competiton. An incumbent has the advantage of customers and infrastructure that's already been paid for. They can afford to keep prices low so that an upstart could never hope to recoup their investment. Until the regulations will allow for true free market conditions to emerge net neturality needs to be preserved. As it stands, the regulations are too weak to allow for competitors to enter the market. Incumbents would use every trick in the book to destroy newcomers, therby harming customers in the process. And, citizens have few tools at their beck and call to prevent the monopolists from using anti-competitive techniques. The US is a case study for how the "free market" is anything but free. The free market is a great idea in theory, but, business hates free markets. For them, a lack of regulations is pure mana since it allows business to do whatever they feel like. They can use the imbalance in power and knowledge to avoid competition. It is only through sensible regulation that free markets can actually work. Corporations are permitted to exist at the whim of the citizens and to serve the citizens. Citizens do not exist to serve business. A corporation should have no rights, since, with rights come with responsibilities to your fellow citizens. Now, of course, the US does have a unique situation since corporations actually do have some rights, and, unlike humans beings corporations do not have to fear the consequences of their actions. Citizens may have rights, but, those rights are tempered by accountability. A human can go to jail or lose their life. A corporation has no such fear.
  • Although not all websites are banned in China, but some Google services are among them and thus you can't login to any website that uses Google reCaptcha for varification purpose. That's really inconviences.
  • This Guy would like to disagree with you about not all websites being banned in China. In one of his Videos he just talked about the oncoming VPN ban and he basically says that like 80% of the websites a person would/might use on a daily basis aren't available to you unless you use a VPN. No International news Websites No International Amazon No YouTube No Google ( to the point where Google Phones apparently don't even work in China! ) One might say: "Okay? Then use the local stuff?"
    As a foreigner you pretty much can't as every permission like renting a car/flat or just plain owning a credit card to buy **** online is tied to being recognized by the state as being a citizen of China - Which isn't gonna happen for a foreigner unless he has the cash - Heck... It's sometimes not even happening for their own people when they move from one part of the country to another. Why he, and his motorcycle buddy he keeps traveling with, still remain in China is a mystery to me.
  • Youtube and Google are not 80% of websites, and news websites depend as well. The International Amazon in your list is totally a lie. No issue at all for Amazon.com. (I was in China last month, and bought a lot on Prime day. As I'm not a Google fan, for me the reCaptcha service is the only blocking issue)
  • CNN = Fake News
  • Lol ok
  • Is that what Kim told you to say? lol
  • Kim Jong or Kim Dotcom?!
  • Russia should be banned from the rest of the Internet, along with China
  • Not the VPNs are banned. You can legally use them. Banned is the use of VPNs to access blocked websites. Normally these are ones with pirated content. There were cases of Wikipedia being blocked because of suicide articles, but they were resolved in a matter of hours. I can't remember a single site blocked for political reasons. All opposition resources are easily and openly accessable, leave alone social media.
  • That doesn't make sense. The government doesn't know what is in the encrypted traffic (including the source IP), thats the whole point of it. They are probably blocking all the known VPN providers on the IPsec/GRE/SSL etc protocols
  • What happened to the opposition leader who was killed (thought it was daylight but Wikipedia says otherwise)?  Did Putin ever find the guy like he vowed?  I mean, he'd just have to look in the mirror really.  They do block things over politics though.  And you're telling me that reading about suicide makes someone want to do it?  That doesn't make sense.  On top of that, Wikipedia is HTTPS, so how would Russia know someone is on the suicide page so they could block it?  Or did they block all of Wikipedia?   He also wants messenger apps tied to cell numbers.  That way he knows which opposition person said what.  You may say "it's to fight terrorism" but no, terrorists will just use a messenger app outside of WhatsApp/FB/whatever.  Signal is open source, throw it behind TOR, which I doubt Russia would be able to block, and this law is null.
  • No, VPNs are banned.  The replacement is government approved VPNs where the government has a back door for tracking purposes.
  • At least the ban will not go into effect till November 1st, unlike the US moronic travel ban which went effective right away stranding thousands of people!
  • Russia should Ban online games, Russia is great country, but Russian players on CS:GO and Dota are Cancer...  :D
  • The Russian state is running scared. When they're so concerned about their citizens accessing non-government approved proganda that they'll shut down VPNs--one of the few defences against the Russian mafia--they're giving their citizens an ultimatum. Either shut up or over-throw us. Sadly, ordinary Russians have never really known a time in their history which they were free. Tsarist Russia was followed by Communist USSR was followed by Oligarch Russia was followed by Security State Russia. Now Putin has installed himself as leader-for-life and the Russians traded the Soviet Union for Putin's State. I blame Russia's current ills on Boris Yeltsin's incompetence. In Soviet Russia he was a formidable and respectable opposition leader. After the USSR's dissolution he took over power, but, in trying to be fair to everyone he made a dramatic mistake that allowed the oligarchs to rise in prominence. That in turn allowed Putin to re-create the Soviet security apparatus and now we have the modern situation that looks an awful lot like Soviet Russia. You can have your elections and you can even have multiple candidates, as long as they all have the same outlook on life.
  • Well said ED.