What is VPN and can it be used in Russia?

Publication date: 18 Jun 2019

What is VPN?

The Russian Internet periodically faces various shake-ups. Most of them are caused by the fact that the Russian government attempts to gain control over encryption keys or blocks websites with prohibited content. However, it is quite difficult to prohibit something on the Internet once and for all. For example, a story about blocking of Telegram messenger is not over yet. Though the messenger was officially blocked on 13 April 2018, users still can access it.

VPN (Virtual Proxy Network) is one of the tools you can use to access any blocked websites. It is an encrypted tunnel which securely connects several devices. As a result, users can access websites and stay anonymous without worrying about restrictions or activity tracking. VPN can be a standalone client on a computer/mobile phone or a built-in client in a browser. Some affiliates use several VPN clients with different sets of countries and features. At the moment, the most fully-packed VPN service in terms of features and GEOs is RusVPN.

How is VPN fought against in Russia?

VPN services can also be under threat of blocking. In June 2019, 10 VPN services (NordVPN, Hide My Ass!, Hola VPN, Openvpn, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, and Kaspersky Secure Connection) were requested to connect to the Federal State Information System (FSIS). “The law says unequivocally if the company refuses to comply with the law, it should be blocked,” said Alexander Zharov, Roskomnadzor’s head. Of these 10 VPNs, only one has agreed so far to fulfill the request: Kaspersky Secure Connection. The other nine are therefore under threat of blocking.

Recall that the agency required the VPN services to connect to the FSIS at the end of March. According to the law, VPN servers and anonymizers have to prevent users from accessing sites which are banned in Russia. The law, however, applies only to those services which received a special order from Roskomnadzor and connected to its blacklist.

In mid-March, it became known that Roskomnadzor made an order for a system that will be automatically monitoring search engines and VPN services. The starting price of the contract was 25 million rubles, and the system might begin operating in December 2019.

What is about VPN services in other countries?

In other countries like Turkey, Iran, North Korea, the UAE, VPN blocking proved not to bring about the desired result: people continued using VPN services. Over time, some countries refused to introduce a total ban on VPN. A simple rule turned out to be more effective: VPN can be used except when it is used to commit a wrongdoing.

Can ordinary people be held liable for using a VPN in Russia?

Sergey Varava, a lawyer from the bar “Sever” of the Lipetsk region, commented on the issue, “No liability is now imposed on an ordinary user for accessing a resource (website) that is blocked in the Russian Federation or using a VPN service. Only search engines can be held administratively liable for nonfulfillment of the obligation to remove information from search results about resources which Russia has restricted access to.”

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