Russian VPN ban moves closer despite expert opposition

Russian Government plans to ban the use of VPNs, TOR, and other proxy services, have moved a step closer after the State Duma debated the draft legislation.

The Russian regime of President Putin is keen to try and block access to the services in order to strengthen his country’s online censorship regime as well as crack down on copyright infringement.

Back in April, drafted legislation was pulled together and submitted to the Duma. It states that the ““routing traffic of Russian Internet users through foreign servers, anonymous proxy servers, virtual private networks and other means” will be prohibited.

Industry opposition to VPN ban

This week, discussions on the ban were held with local internet industry representatives, the head of Rozcomnadzor, the Russian telecoms watchdog, as well as others representing ISPs, Russian search engines, and even some VPNs themselves.

According to comments from this session which have been published by Novaya Gazeta [in Russian], the response to the proposals was not particularly warm.

Sergey Malyanov, who is the Director of Government Relations for VimpelCom, a mobile operator, is quoted as saying “we have significantly complicated the law and the activities of all the people affected by it” and went on to say Russia’s approach to this risked ruining the internet.

“The question is whether this bill addresses the goal its creators have set for themselves. In my opinion, it will not,” he concludes.

Ruslan Ibragimov, the Vice-President of Corporate and Legal Affairs at another Russian Mobile operator MTS said that the proposals risked creating “a new evil” as well as damaging Russia’s developing VPN industry.

Their main motivation may well be their companies’ profits, but it is clear that whilst the Putin regime is determined to develop a comprehensive control mechanism for the online activities of its citizens, there is still resistance at all levels within Russian society.

Despite this, the Duma voted to approve the proposed legislation in its first reading by a margin of 363 votes to 0.

Western tech firms handing over security data to Russia

However, not all international companies seem to be willing to stand up to the demands of the Putin regime. A recent report from the news agency Reuters has highlighted how a number of big tech firms are willingly handing over security secrets to the regime.

Companies including Cisco, IBM, and SAP have apparently complied with Russian requirements for state officials to examine their source codes before their security products and services are allowed to be made available in the country. This includes products such as firewalls, anti-virus applications, and encryption software.

This is, of course, motivated a desire to maintain access to the huge and lucrative Russian market, but comes at a time when Russia is being implicated in a number of cyber-attacks including on the US Presidential election last year and, just this week, an attack which targeting the email system in the UK Parliament. Just earlier this year, the UK Government highlighted the threat of Russian hackers

Telegram and Symantec the latest to risk Russian ban

Not all companies are playing ball, with Symantec just one quoted by Reuters as refusing to play ball with Russian demands for source code inspections. How much longer they are allowed to operate in Russia remains to be seen.

The professional social network LinkedIn has already been blocked in the country and recent reports suggest that the encrypted messaging service Telegram could be next in the crosshairs.

Alexander Zharov, who is the Roskomnadzor Head of Communications recently told the media that “time was running out” for the service to comply with his organisation’s demands.

All in all, it is a bad time to be going online in Russia if you have anything you might want to hide from the Putin regime or a desire to keep your online activity private.

Despite the proposed ban on VPNs, they are currently still functioning in Russia and we would strongly advise all Russian Internet users to sign up as quickly as possible. The top rated VPNs on our site, such as IPVanish and ExpressVPN still offer a great service to Russian users, but time might be running out for you to sign up, so don’t delay.