Russia Reaches The Censorship Endgame: Banning VPNs, Tor And Web Proxies

from the ghouls,-all-gathered-in-one-place dept

We have been tracking for some time the increasingly repressive measures that the Russian authorities have brought in to censor and control the Internet. Of course, Techdirt readers know that an easy way to circumvent both censorship and control is to use tools like VPNs and Tor. Unfortunately, the Russian authorities also know this, and are now calling for action against them, as TorrentFreak reports:

Speaking at Infoforum-2015, Russian MP Leonid Levin, who is deputy head of the Duma Committee on information politics, indicated that access to anonymization and circumvention tools such as TOR, VPNs and even web proxies, needs to be restricted.

Levin also called for Roskomnadzor, the state agency that oversees communications and the Internet, to be given more powers to intervene. If the views of Vadim Ampelonskogo, Roskomnadzor’s chief press officer, are anything to go by, that is likely to have serious consequences for online freedom:

Describing the Tor network as a “den of criminals” and “ghouls, all gathered in one place”, Ampelonskogo said Roskomnadzor would find a solution to block anonymous networks if it was supported by a relevant regulatory framework.

What’s troubling about this latest call for even tighter control is that it was entirely predictable. Once governments start blocking sites and restricting freedom of speech online, people inevitably respond by using VPNs and Tor to circumvent these measures. And that means that if governments want their laws to be effective, at some point they will take direct action against circumvention tools. That’s why it’s particularly worrying that Western governments have started down this road: it implies that they, too, might one day try to ban VPNs and Tor.

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Comments on “Russia Reaches The Censorship Endgame: Banning VPNs, Tor And Web Proxies”

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53 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'If we can't listen in, you're not allowed to talk.'

So basically, ‘If the government cannot intercept and decrypt your communications, then you are not allowed to communicate in that way.’ With how shrill the USG/US police have been about demanding ‘golden keys’ and backdoors to encryption, it’s really only a matter of time until they try the same thing here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'If we can't listen in, you're not allowed to talk.'

Eventually, if this route is taken, technology wont be something to just enjoy in some case improve ones life, technology that we buy will be used to spy on you, where any kind of inovation that involves any kind of comms that cant be “tapped” will most likely be forced into oblivion

I cannot understand how we’ve let it come this far, it doesnt feel like freedom, it feels like an open prison with just enough illusion of freedom to fool or placate the many………helpless that our lives are not our own on the whim of others, as if we’re owned, invisible chains…….its a very helpless feeling over our own lives, followed by “how dare they” think my life theres, that last bit represents itself as opposition…….such as this comment/opinion being said

Anonymous Coward says:

had it not have been for the Entertainment Industries demanding and getting new laws implemented and strict punishments in place because people ‘were sharing music and movies’, none of this would be happening now. in typical industries fashion, what the other effects were didn’t matter to them. they rigged trials, bribed law makers, judges, politicians, anyone they could who helped them get what they wanted, regardless of what happened to anyone else, any business, even any country! and the stupidity of it is, those industries are no better off, no further forward than they were when they started this ‘use a canon to shoot a fly’ campaign. what has happened is there are people locked up because of them, people bankrupted because of them, people dead because of them! how absolutely fucking disgraceful is that!! now, we are going to lose even more of our privacy and our freedoms because of them. anyone who thinks that this wont very quickly be brought in in the USA, the UK and other gutless countries who want to give the industries every bit of help possible, while enabling themselves to know exactly what their citizens are doing every second!! Hollywood and the associates in all the entertainment industries need to be boycotted for a very long time so they know exactly who is in control and that it isn’t them!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The punchline to that argument is that laws or measures meant to stop piracy inevitably affect everyone but pirates, as the pirates just route around the changes, leaving the paying customers and those who aren’t even involved the only ones affected.

If such things are meant to punish pirates, then they do an abysmal job of it.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually the criminals that abused the system brought on more regulation, but facts are inconvenient to pirates, aren’t they?

You mean criminals like Disney who for years have used public domain stories every time they needed an idea for a new movie, but who have completely perverted copyright law in order to keep anything they have ever made from becoming public domain?

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

I doubt that VPN will get blocked in the US considering how reliant businesses have become on it for telecommuting.

No, it will just be made illegal for private use unless you can prove you need it for one of a narrowly defined set of reasons. Then you’ll have to register, get a permit (which you’ll have to pay for) and agree to various restrictions, like having the VPN keeps logs of your activity.

Basically, using a VPN will become like carrying a gun, except that a VPN permit will probably be harder to get…

Anonymous Coward says:

Russia (as well as Ukraine) have historically been at the center of cyber crime, as the lions share of the world’s major online criminal syndicates seem to operate out of that country. This new attack on online anonymity may be more about actual crime than the “usual suspect” — free speech.

http://rt.com/news/232795-kaspersky-hackers-banks-security/

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Do you really think that those criminal syndicates will pay even the slightest bit of attention to the ‘illegal’ nature of encryption/anonymity if it comes down to that?

Even if the target is actual criminals, rather than regular citizens, the collateral damage is huge, as while a handful of criminals might be slightly inconvenienced by this change, the vast majority of those affected will have been law-abiding people.

No, criminals might be the excuse, but based upon the ratio of criminals to citizens affected by something like this, the move is either incredibly stupid in it’s methods at stopping crime, or quite effective at stomping out free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Russia (as well as Ukraine) have historically been at the center of cyber crime, as the lions share of the world’s major online criminal syndicates seem to operate out of that country. This new attack on online anonymity may be more about actual crime than the “usual suspect” — free speech.

http://rt.com/news/232795-kaspersky-hackers-banks-sec urity/”

I seriously doubt that Russia has changed so much that organized crime is running with much less than official sanction. Never thought of it before but it wouldn’t surprise me if that government was actually funding it.

I like the dig at the Ukraine. Makes me wonder if someone else is being paid by the Russia government?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Or, at least that is what they’ll tell you what it’s about, censorship will just be the bonus side-effect. The problem is, they’re not going after the way these things are used, they’re promising to go after the tools themselves.

Let’s say person A is using a VPN to route around government censorship of political speech. Person B is using the tool to commit an actual crime against company C. However, company C is also using VPNs to try to protect against attacks in the first place and to allow remote communication with its own offices.

Blocking the tool stops all 3 uses of the tool – even though 2 of them are perfectly legitimate. Of course, the government may make an “exception” to company C’s usage of the tool, but person A is still censored, and the government aren’t likely to grant exceptions to A. On top of that, the criminals with millions of incentives are going to be better able to route around the censorship than someone who’s already downtrodden and persecuted.

So, whether it’s the announced aim or not, censorship will most likely happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You forgot Belarus and Israel too, most hacking comes from Israel in fact. I’ll just equip myself with my +5 “New Antisemetism Fallacy Shield” now.

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/01/28/security-study.htm

Yeah…2002, I can’t find the actually easy to find study of hacking per country that was really serious and totally neutral when speaking of the actors, as I am. It’s funny how it seems to be scrubbed. It was shown as a bar graph, Israel’s colour was gray in the graph and it’s rectangle would rise much much higher than any other country, that was in 2010 or so, before Netanyahu started a scrubbing war against “New Antisemitism” online in 2011.

Anyway, you can do the test yourself, get the whole country block lists at i-blocklist.com or .net for all the countries you want, install IPBlock or Peerblock depending on if you use linux or windows. Run computer behind no router, especially no router flashed with ddwrt or tomato. And see for yourself.

China are also very annoying gnats, but one has to remember its not because it comes from said country, that the computer in said country is trying to contact your computer with a human being sitting in front of that computer in said country. Easier said for a huge country like China with not so great consumer level tech though…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Many of the so-called “Russian Mafia” emmigrated to Israel during the 1990s and brought their criminal ways with them. And israel, as a country which has no extradition treaties with any country in the world, and a traditional “no questions asked” policy regarding people (often without any employment history) who enter the country with a bundle of money, Israel as served as a magnet for criminals of all types.

see: “How Russia’s mafia is taking over Israel’s underworld”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1998/03/98/russian_mafia/69521.stm

Eternal cyberpunk says:

Net community reaches censorship endgame

Well… then let’s go over to the Freenet – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freenet – and use it in darknet mode.
The freenet is built for this shit; it’s aim is to enable anonymous, censorship-resistent communication on the internet, in order to effectively enforce basic rights on the internet, especially freedom of press.

What is the Freenet ?

Function
The Freenet is an anonymous P2P network, separated from the web, constructed as a decentralized, anonymous data storage: All participants of the Freenet network provide a portion of their storage and bandwidth to the network.
All internal processes use this network; these internal processes are decentralized, completely anonymous and encrypted. Everything that is being uploaded is cut into chunks during the process and then distributed across the network. The chunks are then saved redundantly on thousands of participating computers across the globe.
When being downloaded the chunks are pieced together again into a single file. There is no need for the uploader to stay on the network after upload. Uploads are being kept within the Freenet as long as there is a sufficient demand. Spam resistence is ensured by means of a web of trust. It is possible to use pseudonyms which are recognizable by others. The ‘Darknet’ mode allows for connections exclusevely with friends.

Use
The Freenet is designed to allow for anonymous, censorship resistant communications of any kind: it is possible to send e-mails with encrypted content and meta data, the Freenet enables secure peer-to-peer communication and censorship resistant publishing even in a hostile environment; the Freenet provides for anonymity using dependable pseudonyms and enables decentralized publishing without a single-point-of-failure.
The Freenet offers a Darknet-mode providing secure communication among friends: used in this manner it is not even possible to see that the Freenet is being used.
Additionally the Freenet could be seen as one of the last resorts of anonymous filesharing: each and every type of filesharing haven been subject to crackdowns by specialized law enforcement agencies around the world, resulting in law suits for filersharers.
The Freenet does not have such an unfortunate history. Any knowledge of what is being held within the cache of ones own node could plausibly be denied since everything in there is encrypted and dynamically forwarded.
In addition, it is not only possible to anonymously upload files but also websites, to programm anonymously via the Freenet, do micro-blogging like on Twitter, but anonymously, and to discuss anonymously in forums.

Political Significance
In times of global, complete surveillance next to political solutions also technical solutions are needed, in order to win the fight for press of freedom and other basic rights. The Freenet creates the technical background, which is needed for this, because the Freenet makes censorship and surveillance too expensive for enforcing it politically and to unpracticably for enforcing it in practice.
The Freenet enables a journalist in a countrywide newspaper, maintaining a point-of-contact to anonymous sources without requiring lots of infrastructure on the side of the journalist or the source.
The freenet enables a whistleblower in a medium-sized state-contractor, sending documents to a journalist and being available for questions to verify their origin without disclosing the whistleblower’s real identity to the journalist or anyone else. This is priceless, because otherwise it’s not possible anymore to report, if there are strong interests against this, as otherwise it would be possible to de-anonymize everyone, who wants to publish
anything.
Additionally relying on the Freenet is one of the strongest moves, which the filesharing community can do now facing the increasing, massive attacks against the filesharing community – just think of all those international raids against the filesharing community or the leaked strategy paper how Hollywood plans to act against the filesharing community the next years.
But regarding Freenet the anonymous filesharing aspect is just a side effect of the fight for real freedom of press, because where a filesharer can be sued, a whistleblower can’t feel safe, either.

Download

On the project’s main site there is a download button for the newest client version, as you can see. – https://freenetproject.org/index.html

RonKaminsky (profile) says:

Re: Net community reaches censorship endgame

Last time I checked, the Freenet protocol wasn’t disguised. I see no reason it couldn’t be blocked just as easily as VPNs. To get around this kind of censorship, you need something like a proxy which accepts HTTPS which is just disguised VPN traffic. I remember reading sometime in the last few years about a different protocol which used the HTTPS headers somehow to enable a kind of transparent redirection, but I cannot find it now.

Eventually if that falls through, there’s always steganography. But the data rate for that sucks.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: US looking to cripple encryption too

“we’re going to have to have a public debate [on non-backdoored encryption]”

“Any form of encryption with a backdoor or other fault is a failed form of encryption. There is no such thing as a ‘safe backdoor’, because if one group can find and use it, it’s a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, that other groups will do the same.”

There, debate’s over.

Also, encryption is not something that deserves a ‘public debate’, as it’s a highly technical and complex subject, and unless people have been paying attention, it’s far too easy to get confused or fall for utterly bogus claims(like, say, someone claiming that ‘Golden keys’ do not completely compromise security). If a discussion or debate is going to be had, it needs to occur between people who know what they are talking about, and can make their arguments based upon what is, rather than what they think should be.

DannyB (profile) says:

Censorship Endgame

Forgive me, but if you think this is the censorship endgame, you probably don’t remember the history lessons of the last century, or last millennium.

Censorship that stops at Internet technologies is a censorship that falls short of thought control.

Wait until the people who demonstrate they have wrong thoughts are imprisoned, executed or otherwise punished or ‘re-educated’.

Mike A. says:

“What’s troubling about this latest call for even tighter control is that it was entirely predictable. Once governments start blocking sites and restricting freedom of speech online, people inevitably respond by using VPNs and Tor to circumvent these measures.”

Congratulations, you’ve described the road to serfdom.

Obedience to the rules MUST be forced.

Anonymous Coward says:

Technologies, such as VPNs, Tor And Web proxies, in which the majority of end users are in fact criminals or perverts must be classified as undesirable. Is it not better to inconvenience the few ‘legitimate’ users than it is to enable hooligans and misfits to flaunt the laws? Indeed, one might make the argument that mere knowledge of these methods is highly suspect.

Mother Russia, for all its faults, is ensuring that communications remain civilized by ensuring they remain legal. This is government at its very best – a blend of concern for the ordinary citizen, combined with the steely resolve to deny the criminal his tools. It transcends bureaucracy and expresses the benevolence of an older brother towards an uneducated sibling.

/sarcasm. For now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Mother Russia, for all its faults, is ensuring that communications remain civilized by ensuring they remain legal.

Excepting of course all government communications, which remain encrypted, and protected by secrecy laws. This protects the criminals in government from the wrath of the people.

/Should be sarcasm, but unfortunately isn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Den of criminals

An interesting paradox, here. If the Internet is unrestricted, and people are free enough that for instance whistleblowers don’t have to hide, most people using Tor will be paranoid cypherpunks (who are innocent) and criminals (who aren’t). But each time the Internet is restricted, or each time freedom of speech is restricted directly or indirectly, Tor gains a new non-criminal use.

In the end, the more the Internet is restricted, the less Tor is a “den of criminals”.

Anonymous Coward says:

As if this matters. When was the last time anyone did anything productive with this endless free flow of information?

Snowden, Manning, the various secret trade agreements and completely bullshit laws–it’s not like the public cares about any of this shit for more than five minutes.

Robbing the public of tools they will never actually use certainly earns countries “big baddie” points, but in actual impact it’s effectively zero.

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