Sales of VPNs in Russia continue to sky-rocket in the wake of that country’s efforts to censor Telegram. VPN providers are reporting sales increases of up to 1000% across Russia as more and more people turn to a VPN to ensure they can continue to unimpeded access to the internet.
The Telegram ban debacle
Spikes in VPN sales are common when states engage in high profile censorship campaigns, but the ongoing surge of VPN subscriptions in Russia says much about both the importance of online freedom to the Russian people and the botched censorship efforts of Russia’s internet and telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor.
The new VPN subscription data come as the Roskomnadzor continues to try and block access to encrypted online messenger service Telegram. Their efforts have so far had a limited impact thanks to a number of different reasons.
Telegram has shifted onto shared servers, which means that it is much harder for the regulator to identify and block IP addresses linked to the service. The result has seen millions of different IP addresses being blocked and hundreds of unassociated websites finding themselves blocked in Russia.
Meanwhile, Telegram founder Pavel Durov has pledged to keep his site operational in Russia whatever the cost. One method he has been using to ensure this is to promote VPNs to Telegram users. As part of this, he has pledged Bitcoin funding to VPN providers which continue to facilitate access to Telegram in Russia.
VPN use rockets in Russia
According to a recent report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant [in Russian], this combination of circumstances has resulted in an enormous surge in Russians signing up for VPNs. Some VPN providers are seeing subscriptions rates soar by as much as 1,000%.
That figure has been reported by Torguard and their CEO, Benjamin van Pelt, told the paper interest in their service had grown enormously over the past month, from precisely the point that efforts to block Telegram began to be felt across the country.
And Torguard is not alone. Kommersant also reported that CyberGhost had seen an increase of around 380% in Russia-based subscriptions, while VyprVPN also told the paper their Russian customer base had grown by around 190% over the same period.
This ongoing growth in VPN subscriptions comes in spite of a law which came into force last year intended to ban VPNs altogether. As we reported earlier this year, that ban has so far failed to have any impact on VPN use in Russia at all.
Indeed, it is somewhat ironic that it is the actions of the same Russian authorities who are supposed to be banning VPNs, which are driving more Russian internet users to sign up for VPNs now than ever before.
Roskomnadzor still claiming to have blocked VPNs
The Roskomnadzor has claimed that it has blocked more than 80 VPNs and proxy services across Russia in an effort to stop people accessing Telegram. Previously, they had only claimed around 50 VPNs had been blocked.
The same law that officially bans VPNs in Russia also given the regulator power to block specific proxy services which are deemed to be in breach of that ban.
But the evidence to back up the Roskomnadzor claims so far appears to be none existent. No major VPN provider is reporting any issues with accessibility in Russia, and as we have seen, usage numbers in Russia are going up fast, not coming down.
Nevertheless, it would seem sound advice for all Russians who want to continue accessing Telegram and the numerous other internet sites which the Putin regime has seen fit to censor, intentionally or otherwise, to download a VPN sooner rather than later.
While it is likely that the Roskomnadzor does not currently have the technical capabilities to block VPNs in Russia, they are clearly not backing down on this issue. And if the Russian regime decides to resource their online censorship programme better, it could eventually start to have an effect.
They are certainly continuing to double down on their efforts to block Telegram, in spite of the PR disaster they have endured over the issue so far. So, while successfully blocking VPNs appears remote, it is better to be safe than sorry.
To learn more about which VPN to sign up for in Russia, the best place to start if our guide to the Best VPN for Russia.