Russia blocks 167 VPN services and wages war against VPN protocols

President shouting at screen with VPN on.

Earlier this month, we reported on how Russia was planning to implement a sweeping ban against VPNs in the country next year as Vladimir Putin attempts to use information controls to retain his grip on power.

It seems, however, that the Putin regime is even more insecure than was previously thought because a senior official has just confirmed that 167 VPN services are already blocked in Russia, with more to follow.

The Khutortsev revelations

Sergei Khutortsev is a former Federal Protective Service (FSO) officer who now plays a leading role in the so-called Sovereign Internet Project in Russia. This is a soft name for what is, in effect, Putin’s efforts to remove all non-state mandated content from what Russian citizens can see online.

His current formal job title is a little bit more revealing about the project’s true objectives as Khutortsev is officially the head of the ‘Center for Monitoring and Control of the Public Communications Network.’

According to the Russian news agency Interfax (in Russian), Khutortsev gave a presentation at an event called the Spectrum 2023 Forum in the Russian city of Sochi last week, where he revealed new information about Russia’s attempts to crack down on VPNs.

He stated that following their failure to comply with the new requirements of the Russian regime, which includes confirming the identity of all users and keeping all Russian user data in servers on Russian sovereign territory (where Ukraine counts in their eyes is not clear), no fewer than 167 VPN services have been blocked in Russia.

He also added that no fewer than 200 different email services have also fallen victim to the rules and are now unavailable in Russia.

How is Russia blocking access to VPNs?

He did not name the VPNs in question and, as with everything that emerges from the Putin regime, we have to take these numbers with a pinch of salt.

There is no denying that the Russian authorities have been working hard to disrupt the availability of VPNs, and Russian and a number of lesser providers are now unavailable. But the majority of the major premium VPN providers, such as those VPN services we recommend here at VPNCompare, are still accessible in Russia at the time of writing.

Russia’s tactics for trying to block VPNs are varied. Like many authoritarian regimes, they have worked to block domain names and IP addresses associated with popular VPNs.

But this approach inevitably leads to the type of cat and mouse games that we have regularly seen conducted between undemocratic regimes and VPNs.

Domains and IP Addresses are blocked, the VPN changes them, and the regime tries to block them again. And so, the cycle that regimes can never win continues.

But Russia has not just been using this approach. They have also sought to disrupt traffic using certain VPN protocols too, with OpenVPN and WireGuard the main targets.

Since April this year, there have been reports of sporadic interference with traffic using both of these protocols in Russia. Then, from last month, this protocol blocking has returned on what seems to be a more permanent basis.

How Russia’s protocol blocks work and what it means for VPN users in Russia

An in-depth report published by TheIns.ru has detailed how this system is working, its costs, and which companies are involved in it. TorrentFreak has outlined some of the details of this report.

The report shows that between 2022 and 2024, the budget for the system is given as US$247 million. It also reveals that, along with a number of domestic companies, there is also involvement from the Chinese company Huawei as well.

What this report tells us is that the Putin regime is serious about attempting to stop all Russians from using the internet freely to access truthful information about their government, their dictator, and their illegal invasion of Ukraine.

It means that VPNs are going to have to be on their toes to stop their users inside Russia from being blocked from their service. The good news is that there are plenty of VPNs that take pride in having beaten all efforts by the Chinese Communist Regime to block access to VPNs, and who will be determined to do the same in Russia, too.

So, while it is clear that the number of available VPN services has already declined sharply and is likely to decrease still further in the weeks and months ahead, we can be optimistic that the best VPNs will remain accessible in Russia and continue to provide access to the free and open internet that many Russian citizens crave.

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 7 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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