Russia Expands Site Blocking To VPNs

from the watch-out dept

Over the last few years, Russia has been one of the most aggressive countries in using claims of copyright infringement to push for full site blocking at the ISP level. Of course, that has resulted in tens of thousands of innocent sites getting blocked (collateral damage!), not to mention a corruption scandal and… no meaningful decrease in piracy. Apparently, the answer for the Russians: head deeper into the infrastructure to push site blocking even further.

Now, apparently, beyond just demanding ISPs engage in massive site blocking, various VPNs have been ordered to start blocking full sites as well.

During the past few days, telecoms watch Roscomnadzor says it sent compliance notifications to 10 major VPN services with servers inside Russia ? NordVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited, VyprVPN, Kaspersky Secure Connection, HideMyAss!, Hola VPN, and OpenVPN.

The government agency is demanding that the affected services begin interfacing with the FGIS database, blocking the sites listed within. Several other local companies ? search giant Yandex, Sputnik, Mail.ru, and Rambler ? are already connected to the database and filtering as required.

You can understand how this came about: as site blocking gets more popular, more people sign up for VPNs that allow them to get around local censorship and access content as before. However, it appears the Russians are trying to stop that as well. While not quite as bad as when China started banning VPNs completely, this still represents quite a threat to securely surfing the internet.

I was actually in Moscow a few years ago, very briefly, to speak on a panel, and I came armed with three separate VPN services to (hopefully?) stay safe and be able to tunnel out of the Russian internet. That was well before the big crackdown, however, and it must be more and more difficult to use the internet safely there. We’ve also discussed Russia’s supposed plans to test disconnecting from the internet — and it might not need to do much if it continues to reach deeper and deeper into the internet ecosystem to make it harder and harder to use the internet safely and securely.

And, of course, as Professor Annemarie Bridy notes, none of this is really about copyright infringement. This is entirely about authoritarian control of the internet and censorship:

Indeed, remember a few years back when the Russian government used questionable claims of copyright infringement to intimidate government critics? The US’s infatuation with copyright has handed a tool of out and out censorship to authoritarian leaders, who can censor freely while insisting they’re doing so to help American copyright corporate interests.

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Comments on “Russia Expands Site Blocking To VPNs”

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36 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Censorship has nothing to do with piracy. Go figure!"

It’s pretty convenient for dictators though. A few years back Erdogan managed to pull the plug on Twitter and Facebook in Turkey to prevent them from reposting a less flattering comment of his. And the Turkish supreme court had it’s hands tied over what should have been an issue of government censorship – but since what he invoked was "copyright" neither turkish courts nor western governments could utter a single protest.

And to Putin Copyright is that gift which keeps on giving. He can clamp down on anyone and everyone online and not a single whisper will be heard in objection from western governments because all he has to do is point to them and say "Vat, I’m simply doink vat you’ve asked of me?".

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Companies should show the middle finger to the mafia thugs that demand "to be connected" to snoop on VPN users…"

And if you live in Russia and tell them that you will quietly vanish and anyone trying to report on your disappearance will find themselves barred from the internet over "copyright" investigations.

Putin is more subtle than Stalin and Kruschchev but that’s only because where they used hammers, he uses a knife.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"When Mike Masnick says stupid shit, he’s going to get wrecked for it. That’s way it goes."

So since Mike didn’t say stupid shit, didn’t get wrecked, and it obviously didn’t go that way, your point was what…that you are now seeing the visions inside your mind outside of your head and were responding to a hallucination caused by wishful thinking?

John the Plagiarist (user link) says:

Re: Re:

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

However, the law only applies to commercial VPNs. A total VPN ban, including privately own VPNs, is not possible in a lot of countries, because it would cause problems for foreign businesspeople in the country who need to access their office VPN back home.

That is why only Pakistan, Qatar, and Iran have total VPN bans. There are not that many foreign businessmen in the country, so its not that the problem would be for other countries.

Anonymous Coward says:

I could see VPNS banned in the United States, for another reason.

There are those who want to ban even hands free use of cell phones by drivers, which be almost impossible to enforce, without electronic monitoring equipment, because are not holding the phone in your hand.

You could use a VPN, and Skype, and have the Internet connection encrypted, where they would not know what you were up to.

While T-mobile does block VPNS, there are ways a tech saavy person can circumvent that.

It can can be done in the same I once did at one Taco Bell. I would log on the SSL proxy on my home network, and then use the internal network address for my VPN, instead of the public IP address, and their firewall let me connect, because firewalls are programmed to allow all connections to 192.168.0.x, and 192.168.1.x

And it did not violate the CFAA, so don’t get me started on anything about the CFAA

Since I did not do, or intend to do, any damage to Taco Bell’s network, I could not have been prosecuted under felony provisions of the CFAA, since no damage was done to their network by using the flaw that I found, nor was any damage intended.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You seem to have very strange ideas of what the CFAA is and what the actual purposes of VPNs are.

Protecting yourself while using a public connection to access private documents is pretty much the #1 stated purpose, and the CFAA would only come into play if it was someone else’s private network you were accessing.

In China Now says:

re: Chinese internet censorship

Um…..

I am in China now, using common VPN, writing these words you are reading.

Something smells rotten in the western Jewish-christian false narrative, and I think its the chronic regurgitations of how China has a great firewall to stop free speech, rather than stopping western neocon religious propaganda.

Hows that NSA thingy working out for you, America?

Never mind-who needs NSA, when you have the CIA-Google-Zuckerberg-Israel Panopticon?

Rekrul says:

Around the world, there has been a big push to get site blocking either enshrined in law, or in place through "voluntary" agreements with ISPs. I predict that expanding site blocking to VPNs will be the next major campaign that the copyright industry engages in.

Back when the U.S.’s "six strikes" plan was announced and everyone was celebrating that there were no enforcement provisions, I posted that they were crazy if they thought the copyright industry would just sit back and not insist on some kind of penalties.

Well, now I’m posting that you’re crazy if you think the copyright industry will just sit back and allow VPNs to continue bypassing their hard won site blocking provisions forever.

Anonymous Coward says:

I could see California as the first US state to ban VPNs.

With calls to ban hands free cell phone use in cars, they only way to monitor that will be to scan cell phone transmissions as cars go by, just like red light cameras, speed cameras, or even camerass for loud pipes and loud car stereos.

The problem with that is that someone will be able to use Skype, using a VPN, so that anything set up to eavesdrop on phones at they go by will just get a bunch of jibberish. You can’t prosecute what you cant read, and the cell phone records will only say that someone used a VPN.

However, California will find state laws against VPN usage totally unenforceable if they ever go that route to enforce bans on hands free cell phone usage.

If a VPN provider is not in the United States, they are not subject to any California laws. For example, California laws do not apply to VPN servers in Russia or China, so California could not enforce their laws there.

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