(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
russia, vpns



Russia Tries To Deliver The Killing Blow To VPN Use

from the Industrialized-stupdity dept

Last year Russia passed a new surveillance bill that promised to bring greater security to the country. As is par for the course for these types of bills, the legislation did the exact opposite by not only mandating new encryption backdoors, but by 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. The end result? Russia's pledge to shore up security wound up making everybody in the country notably less secure.

And now Russia appears poised to dramatically up the ante.

Alongside the country's attack on encryption, Russia has dramatically ramped up internet filtering and censorship in the apparent hopes of making the great firewall of China seem reasonable. And a new bill being pushed quickly through the Russian legislature would not only impose fines of up to $12,400 per breach on search engines that still link to these banned sites, but would require VPNs to immediately cease providing access to these blocked domains as well. If they refuse, these VPN providers risk being blocked themselves:

"Russia’s plan is to issue a nationwide ban on systems and software that allow Internet users to bypass website blockades previously approved by telecoms watchdog Roskomnadzor. This means that if a VPN, proxy or similar tool unblocks torrent site RuTracker, for example, it will be breaking the law. As a result, it too will find itself on Russia’s banned site list."

The technical aspects of the bill appear to have largely been formulated by the Media Communications Union (MCU), a coalition of Russian media conglomerates hoping to piggyback on the government's crack down of free speech to wage a broader war on piracy. And while the legislation's proponents continue to insist this is all simply necessary to thwart piracy and security threats at home and abroad, most are well aware that this is just pretense for a ham-fisted attempt at information control under the false banner of a safer, more secure nation:

“Naturally, we are against the spread of illegal content, but the law does not violate the rights and freedoms of citizens to access information,” says Sergey Grebennikov, director of the Regional Public Center of Internet Technologies. "Yes, there is a ‘gray zone’ used to carry out illegal activities and the distribution of illegal content using a CGI proxies, but it does not mean that legitimate users have to suffer. It is also important to note that the laws do not violate the rights of users who choose the safe use of the Internet, for example, by using a VPN connection,” Grebennikov concludes."

Those worries are a day late and several thousand dollars short. 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). This new assault on VPNs simply takes the entire affair to the next level, bringing Russia more in line with the draconian VPN crackdown we're seeing in China (and, inevitably, here in the west, where VPNs are increasingly demonized).

Of course while VPNs are not a panacea for our endlessly eroded privacy rights, they remain an incredibly useful tool for those living under repressive regimes. Most legislative VPN bans are of the "death by a thousand cuts" variety, where lawmakers go out of their way to pretend they're not trying to kill VPNs, even if the end goal always remains the same: the elimination of any tool that can protect citizens from ever-expanding government surveillance and information control.


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 3 May 2017 @ 12:27pm

    Given that your avg company uses approx 150 vpn connections any given millisecond......I don't see how this could end well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2017 @ 1:02pm

      Re:

      As in China, it will be used selectively against those people/companies the government doesn't like. People visiting Russia from other companies will likely still be able to use VPNs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2017 @ 12:39pm

    and the USA, UK and everywhere else that wants to spy on all of their own citizens and as many of everyone else as possible will be doing the same. remember where this shit started? Hollywood, the biggest place of copyright infringement on the Planet, as long as it is it doing the infringing and not others infringing on it!! two-faced, double standards bunch of ass holes!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 3 May 2017 @ 1:00pm

    It's what the RUssian people want

    Otherwise why would they vote for Putin?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Russian citizen, 3 May 2017 @ 10:58pm

      Re: It's what the RUssian people want

      Bullshit, he'd voted for himself, there were numerous frauds involved in election process, many of them were even recorded online. But regime don't pay any attention to this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 3 May 2017 @ 1:50pm

    A good year for security software engineers.

    I think this ultimately bececomes a The more you tighten your grip... situation. We already have VPNs that operate covertly or with plausible deniability. Russia's sharp increase in demand will encourage newer, faster, easier--to-implement services will be forthcoming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2017 @ 7:44pm

      Re: A good year for security software engineers.

      I think this ultimately becomes a The more you tighten your grip... situation.

      Nope. Flaging blackholes and instant "round them all up for disappearing" will end that delusion.

      The truth is the modern internet is very easily made into a hell hole given strict enough controls. Too much of the "decentralized" network is dependent on very centralized critical links, address resolution servers, protocols, security authorities, and search engine behemoths.

      Worse most of the good info, (for controlling your citizens to ever increasing degree), is being increasingly stored in the same handful of locations. Ripe for the picking. Yeah no terrorist will use it, (if they have any sense), but that's not the target of these kinds of legislation to begin with. It's just made to sound that way to please the masses.

      So no, your "tighten your grip" situation is already iron clad. Now they're just moping up the spill over from the floor.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2017 @ 2:58pm

    Of course if you are a foreigner planning on visiting the country, you can, before you go, set up a VPN on your home computer, that you can use while in Russia.

    Comcast Business, Sonic, and a few others do allow servers, so you could download the open source SoftEther server, install it on your machine, and create the login and password needed.

    Just be sure to open up the right ports on your router, so the VPN will work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TB, 4 May 2017 @ 12:31am

      Re:

      Or instead of relying on your home PC staying switched on for weeks, and you own internet speeds, get yourself a low spec VPS and set up a VPN endpoint in a data centre. Doesn't take much CPU or RAM to just encrypt and forward traffic.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 4 May 2017 @ 4:42am

      Re:

      Even Russians could simply buy some hosting with unlimited bw (or the bw they tend to use monthly) in some international service and set up a vpn using open source stuff. It's dirty easy these days (compared to, say, 2000). I wonder what they will do with this kind of workaround. I'd infer it's happening in China for ages already.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2017 @ 8:24am

        Re: Re:

        Even Russians could simply buy some hosting ... and set up a vpn using open source stuff. ... I wonder what they will do with this kind of workaround. I'd infer it's happening in China for ages already.

        See How China Blocks the Tor Anonymity Network. In summary their firewall looks at the packets for anything that looks like a Tor handshake. (In an ongoing cat-and-mouse game, the Tor developers have since tried to obfuscate the traffic in various ways.)

        Open-source VPNs are much easier to detect because they're not generally written to be stealthy, just to hide the contents of the traffic. The way to get away with this is probably to run the VPN over HTTPS, with a valid HTTPS certificate on your server. You might actually need a web server there too, because the national firewalls might try to connect and request a page (and block the IP if it doesn't look like a web server--but they can't see the URL, so they won't know if you're requesting /cgi-proxy.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alan, 3 May 2017 @ 9:26pm

    Just one more reason to renew my ExpressVPN subscription...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    IdentityCompromised, 4 May 2017 @ 6:53am

    As long as they're abiding by law, they might continue to exist

    I think as long as vpns serve other purposes, like encryption and just logging a site from another region, not bypassing government's bans, i think they might continue to exist. PIA's evacuation could have something do do with the fact they're from US i believe.but i think as long as users can derive other benefits from a vpn, other than folling the government, they should be able to use pia, ivacy, pure or whatever vpn they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • MaidSafe - The New Decentralized Internet

    MaidSafe's distributed platform enables the creation of fast and secure applications that help ensure digital privacy, security and freedom for all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2017 @ 5:17pm

    What's next? VPN blocking in UK and US?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon Y. Muskoward, 4 May 2017 @ 5:49pm

    eh

    For the love of burgers, I think its past time we start dealing with these assholes the only way they understand - cut them off totally. No more Internet at all. They don't like the web the way it is - fine - fuck'em - let'em build their own fucking internet. They're no longer welcome on this one. Same with the fuckin' Chinese and any other asshat nation that bitches about the web being too open or too american, or not surveillable enough to suit some crooked dick-tater's dream of total control. Just cut their links. Either take it as is, or do without altogether. I figure a week without the web should put an end to any more bitching from these shits.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 May 2017 @ 9:37pm

    Russia following in Netflix's steps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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