Russia Stumbles Forth In Quest To Ban VPNs, Private Messenger Apps

from the feel-safer-yet? dept

Last year we noted how Russia had introduced a new surveillance bill promising to deliver greater security to the country. Of course, like in so many countries, the bill actually did the exact opposite — not only mandating new encryption backdoors, but also imposing harsh new data-retention requirements on ISPs and VPN providers. As a result, some VPN providers like Private Internet Access wound up leaving the country after finding their entire function eroded and having some of their servers seized.

This year, Russia hopes to deliver the killing blow to the use of VPNs and other privacy-protection tools.

The Duma’s (the lower house of the Russian parliament) Information and Technology Committee has approved controversial draft legislation that would ban anonymity on messenger apps entirely. It’s part of a crackdown on anonymous journalists that have (stop us if this sounds familiar) been leaking details on many of the sordid occurrences inside the often-corrupt Russian political machinery. Expected to take effect in 2018, the new law would require messenger users to verify their identities using their phone numbers, with Russian mobile phone operators expected to assist the government with this effort.

In concert, a bill has been submitted attempting to effectively ban VPN use entirely. In Russia, broadband users have increasingly turned to VPNs to avoid the growing-list of censored websites. To help thwart such usage, the bill would not only impose steep fines on VPN providers that don’t agree to block blacklisted websites, but would require that ISPs terminate these companies’ connection to the internet should they not comply:

As it stands, the bill requires local telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor to keep a list of banned domains while identifying sites, services, and software that provide access to them. Once the bypassing services are identified, Rozcomnadzor will send a notice to their hosts, giving them a 72-hour deadline to reveal the identities of their operators.

After this stage is complete, the host will be given another three days to order the people running the circumvention-capable service to stop providing access to banned domains. If the service operator fails to comply within 30 days, all Internet service providers will be required to block access to the service and its web presence, if it has one.

In short: help us censor the internet or you won’t be allowed to do business in Russia. 100 VPN providers are already blocked in Russia for one reason or another, and Opera scaled back its Russian operations last November after Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor pressured it to include website filtering in the integrated VPN (now included in its Opera browser for free). The bill would also levy additional penalties on Russian search engines, forcing them to remove all links to sites Rozcomnadzor determines to be ban-worthy.

Like countless similar efforts across numerous countries, this is all framed as an utterly necessary step to thwart piracy, combat extremism and ensure the safety and security of the Russian people. But as with comparable proposals in the States and elsewhere, these proposals undermine encryption and essential security and privacy tools, making the general public notably less secure. They’re also an expensive game of Whack-a-Mole as users looking for privacy simply flee to services like Tor or Zeronet, ensuring these services will be the demonized bogeymen of tomorrow.

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Comments on “Russia Stumbles Forth In Quest To Ban VPNs, Private Messenger Apps”

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Anonymous Coward says:

>combat extremism and ensure the safety and security of the Russian people

The problem is that the declared aims, and actual results are exactly opposite. Government extremism creates extremism against the government, creating more government extremism… and this endangers the people by giving a reason for violence by and against the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

ensuring these services will be the demonized bogeymen of tomorrow.

What makes you think that they would have been spared????

Anything that enables people to hide from overbearing and tyrannical governments must be eliminated in their eyes.

It’s far past the time to get on the soap box about this. They are doing this out in the open now, and they won’t stop until they have absolute control over your digital lives or they are forced to stop.

People need to quit assuming, (more like asserting…), that these people have their country’s best interests at heart and will act in good faith. They’ve shown time and time again that is not the case.

Unless something is done, the internet we all love is going to be destroyed. Either by giving it to the media cartels, or by rendering it useless for communication unless what you want to say or listen to is approved by tyrants.

Stop the BS. That’s what needs to be done. Sooner rather than later.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hello Steganography

Satellites are not Unicorns

The problem with satellites is that they need ground stations attached to the Internet backbones, and those will come under the laws of the countries in which they are placed. This will also be complicated by which country the owning company has offices in. They are not immune to jamming when in view from a country either.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hello Steganography

The ground station and internet connection need not be in Russia anymore than satellite phones used by ships need ground stations in the middle of the Atlantic.

Google may have offices in Russia, but SpaceX (planning its own constellation) probably does not.

Sure jamming is a possibility. But do it over a large area, and you’ll end up jamming your own country’s signals too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hello Steganography

Low Orbit satellites have a limited ground footprint, and relaying between satellites has latency, and is complicated requiring relaying between changing moving targets, so at least for large countries the ground station is likely in country except when near to a border.

As for jamming, steerable dishes can be used to target the satellites providing Internet service with a minimum of impact on other satellite use; all that is required to jam signal at the satellite receiving antenna.

Also the major limitation of satellite technology is that their is effectively no frequency re-use for metropolitan areas, so the total available bandwidth is very limited. This means that satellites can provide a decent service to several million people spread out in the remote areas of the continental United States, but suffer sever congestion for the same number of customers concentrated in Manhattan.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Hello Steganography

Reducing the number of ground stations needed by having satellites in a constellation relay data, isn’t exactly new technology.

Jamming satellites directly, violates a few treaties.

And we’re not talking about Manhattan-level user densities. Just the small percentage of folks – reporters and others – in Russia who want non-government monitored communications.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Hello Steganography

For a satellite system to be viable it needs a sufficiently large user base, or much much cheaper launches. The first requires those ground stations. Much much cheaper launches, like within the range of moderately rich individuals or groups could be very interesting. File servers in orbit could replace the pirate bay.

Reducing the number of ground stations needed by having satellites in a constellation relay data, isn’t exactly new technology.

True, but it does reduce the effectively data carrying capacity of the system to that of the satellites that have ground station access. The limitations of satellites are why the telecommunications Industry went for the more expensive to install and maintain undersea cable systems to link continents.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Hello Steganography

For a satellite system to be viable it needs a sufficiently large user base, or much much cheaper launches.

Or both. But that user base exists: Rural areas, ships etc. Also serving reporters and dissidents in totalitarian states is just icing on the cake.

File servers in orbit could replace the pirate bay.

Only if Pirate Bay themselves operated them. That’s not happening any time soon.

Even with cheap launches, you still need more money than Pirate Bay’s business model would support.

The limitations of satellites are why the telecommunications Industry went for the more expensive to install and maintain undersea cable systems to link continents.

Sure. Sat phones are an expensive niche market compared to land lines. But it’s a niche market that’s shown to exist. Again, with rural areas, mines ships and whatnot paying for it, the current generation price is already low enough for reporters. The next generation will be cheaper and have MUCH higher data rates.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Hello Steganography

And we are back to the point i was making, Satellites are not unicorns, and will not solve governmental control over the Internet problems, as they will not be a Universal means of Internet access, but rather serve those places and vehicles outside the fiber and mobile phone service areas.

Even with a thousand fold increase in bandwidth, which would also mean mobile phones get that increase, satellites will remain a niche service.

It is quite possible that within a decade or less, that small satellites construction and launching could be carried out by well off people, after all a mobile phone can function as a file server, and will work in orbit, just add better batteries and case, along with some solar panels. That is the basis of cube sats, and a high altitude drone launch platform and a small rocket is not that far removed from what amateurs are achieving today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hello Steganography

“they need ground stations”

For command and control, yes.
For data exchange, no.
Example: sat phone

Sending data in place of voice would be academic, low data rates would be possible right now with increased rates depending upon sat upgrades and/or newer satellites.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hello Steganography

For data exchange, no.

If a Usenet or FidoNet like relay when connections are available system is acceptable, then no ground stations connecting to the Internet backbone are needed. If you want Internet shopping, worldwide near real-time conversations via comment sections, streaming music and video, along with online games, then ground station connected to the Internet Backbone, with associated content delivery network servers are required.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Hello Steganography

News site like this, maybe not, because distribution of stories and comments would be via the Usenet relay model. Also, that which works over such a limited system would result in limited users, just Like Usenet and FidoNet. Also, all those phone cameras would be reduced to Impotence without the likes of YouTube etc to allow rapid and widespread distribution of the videos that are particularly newsorthy but which governments would like to suppress.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Perhaps you should recheck the SpaceX proposal.

They are not just planning a thousandfold increase of bandwidth
per satellite but are also multiplying that by a thousandfold
expansion of hardware with nearly 12,000 satellites.

Because they are at much lower orbits and are far more numerous
than the satellite relays you are used to there is a millionfold
increase of available bandwidth per square kilometer, as well as a
vastly improved ability to serve densely packed urban areas.

This is not a case of simply relaying between customers and ground
stations. ‌ It is creating a whole new paradigm; a space-based
internet backbone structure that outperforms terrestrial fiber
and uses multiple connections between customers and satellites,
between individual satellites and between satellites and ground stations,
all of which using phased array antennas that don’t need steering
and can handle hundreds (if not thousands) of simultaneous connections.

The plan is to start as an affordable niche but the second wave of
satellites with the multi-Gigabit connections will make the whole
competitive with terrestrial services like Comcast and Verizon. ‌

Just ask Elon. ‌ ‌That guy is thinking of revolution, not evolution. ‌ ‌ ;]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Perhaps you should recheck the SpaceX proposal.

Basic physics says that no system that relies of free space propagation of signals can even come close to a terrestrial fiber system. It is not just not possible to re-use the same band within the view angle of a single receiver, and that band will at best only give the data capacity of a single fiber. (Any advance if packing data into a given bandwidth is equally applicable to fiber).

When that single transceiver is on the ground, and omni-directional, (a requirement for a cheap satellite system that allows mobile use), the all satellites in its field of view, that is above the horizon from its position, they have to share the available bandwidth between themselves. Also all those satellites see that transceiver, and all other within the field of view of their transceivers.

Therefore claims of a satellite backbone having more data carrying capacity than the terrestrial backbone are nothing more than marketing hyperbole.

Aaron Walkhouse (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7

Don’t forget that all these millions of transceivers, both on
the ground and in orbit, are not limited to one transmission
or connection at a time. ‌ Each one is a massive leap ahead
of dishes. ‌ Also don’t forget that propagation delays in space
and air are effectively zero compared to the 33% loss in fiber.

Basic physics says that spreading a workload a thousandfold
results in a thousandfold increase in capacity, and that multiplying
a thousandfold increase in physical capacity along with another
thousandfold increase in bandwidth capacity will result in something
unrecognizable to those accustomed to the limitations of older
technology; as you have volunteered to amply demonstrate. ‌ ‌ ;]

I didn’t say that this thing would render terrestrial internet obsolete
or unprofitable; but what I did say is that it will be competitive
as a mainstream option for everyone. ‌ This new form of competition
could even motivate incumbents to shape up and compete. ‌ ‌

This is not marketing hyperbole. ‌ It is simply recognizing available facts. ‌ ‌ ;]

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