Since the failed coup attempt in Turkey earlier this year, online freedoms have come under sustained and serious attack from the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And just when it seemed that things there couldn’t get much worse, they have.
VPN & Tor blocks
According to Turkey Blocks, a website which monitors online censorship in the country, it seems that the country has had some success in blocking the Tor network and browser, as well as impinging on the functionality of some VPNs.
Both the Tor network and VPNs have seen huge growth in popularity in Turkey in the wake of the recent crackdown on online freedoms. And of course, this has not gone unnoticed by the Turkish regime.
They have long been blocking websites by way of court orders and in the wake of the failed coup attempts, the number of sites suffering this fate has grown substantially. They have also been systematically blocking or throttling social media sites at politically expedient moments, as we have reported before.
Back in early November, the Turkish information technologies and communications authority, BTK, first ordered [Turkish] that Tor should be blocked in the country, along with a number of VPN services. Those mentioned by name were VPN Master, Hotspot Shield VPN, Psiphon, Zenmate VPN, TunnelBear, Zero VPN, VyprVPN, Private Internet Access VPN, Express VPN, and IPVanish.
We reported on this at the time, but the reality on the ground in Turkey at that time was that very little changed.
In recent weeks, there has been a number of reports [Turkish] in the tech media that Turkey was looking to enforce this ban on VPNs and Tor across the country. According to tests carried out by Turkey Blocks, this ban is now being enforced and affecting users across most of the country.
They estimate that the ban first came into place on the 12th December for most users and whilst the whole country is not affected, the overwhelming majority of people are.
So, what does this mean for the people of Turkey? Well for those not able to work around the ban, it means that their internet access is now at the whim of the Erdoğan regime and they will only be able to access online content that is freely available to all people in Turkey.
For the more technically able, it is still possible to work around the new blocks. Tor’s bridged nodes, which were created to get around similar blocks in Syria, still work in Turkey.
Those using a custom or private VPN will find their uncensored access is still unaffected. And of course, there are many hundreds of VPN providers in addition to the ones mentioned earlier in this article.
All of those will be working round the clock to get around the new blocks. The only way to block a VPN is to manually block all of their IP Address, so switching IP Addresses should see some services resuming soon. And there are hundreds of smaller VPNs whose service is still working in Turkey, so switching providers is also an option for users.
But even if you are one of the lucky ones who is able to retain access to an open and free internet in Turkey, this latest assault on online freedoms is another dark day in what has been a pretty wretched year for the people of Turkey.