Russia Has Banned VPNs

from the who-needs-privacy-anyway dept

We've noted for some time that Russia has been engaged in a slow but steady assault on privacy tools like VPNs. As with most countries that have an adversarial relationship with the truth, the entire effort has been couched as necessary to protect national security and cultural morality, though the real agenda is to help prop up the country's domestic surveillance efforts and Putin's ham-fisted internet filters. This push accelerated with a new surveillance bill last year that not only mandated new encryption backdoors, but also imposed harsh new data-retention requirements on ISPs and VPN providers.

But that was only the opening salvo in Russia's assault on citizen privacy. The country has since accelerated efforts to ban anonymity on messaging apps, while simultaneously pushing new legislation that would make operating as a VPN provider in Russia all but impossible. The legislation, which would require that ISPs ban the use of VPNs sailed through the Russian Parliament:

The State Duma on Friday unanimously passed a bill that would oblige Internet providers to block websites that offer VPN services. Many Russians use VPNs to access blocked content by routing connections through servers outside the country. The lawmakers behind the bill argued that the move could help to enforce Russia's ban on disseminating extremist content online. The bill has to be approved at the upper chamber of parliament and signed by the president before it comes into effect.

Over the weekend, Putin signed the bill into law, and that story notes this bizarre "explanation" of the bill:

Leonid Levin, the head of Duma's information policy committee, has said the law is not intended to impose restrictions on law-abiding citizens but is meant only to block access to "unlawful content," RIA news agency said.

Needless to say, this wasn't received particularly well by Russian citizens that enjoy having something vaguely-resembling privacy, with 1,000 or so protesting in Moscow last weekend over the looming law:

Pavel Rassudov, 34, the former head of the Pirate Party campaign group, said at the march that "restrictions on the internet began in 2011," as the opposition to Putin held mass rallies in Moscow. "The authorities realised the Internet was a tool for mobilisation, that it brings people out onto the streets," Rassudov said. Another marcher, Lyudmila Toporova, 56, said she came to the rally because "Freedom is the most important thing in life. That's why I'm here."

Of course the end result of this kind of ridiculous policy is that encryption itself is undermined, and everybody winds up less secure. And while you'd like to think this sort of thing wouldn't happen here in the States, if you've watched the endless efforts to undermine encryption and demonize VPNs, the last five years or so, we're probably only a domestic terrorist attack or two away from voters being scared into supporting similar idiotic policy for the "safety and security" of the republic.


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 4:40am

    I wonder how they'll deal with international vpns, if they are blocking those at the ISP level for instance. It'd be interesting to know how they'll deal with TOR as well.

    Russia is a modern feud where the peasants pay for the privilege of being there while receiving very little, if anything in return. Same as here and I'd guess others living in other parts agree as well.

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

  • identicon
    An-other-onymous, 31 Jul 2017 @ 6:32am

    Headline typo?

    "had banned". So they've backed down?

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

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 6:39am

    As with most countries that have an adversarial relationship with the truth, the entire effort has been couched as necessary to protect national security and cultural morality, though the real agenda is to help prop up the country's domestic surveillance efforts and Putin's ham-fisted internet filters

    For Putin, also substitute US or UK as applicable... especially the UK

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 7:04am

      Response to: Not an Electronic Rodent on Jul 31st, 2017 @ 6:39am

      That's what the entite opening phrase is for

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

      • icon
        Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 11:14am

        Re: Response to: Not an Electronic Rodent on Jul 31st, 2017 @ 6:39am

        This is true. An "adversarial relationship with the truth" seems to be increasingly de rigueur for most governments, whether nominally democratic or not. Certainly, "because terrorism" and "for the children" are familiar enough excuses, with the US largely being master of the former with the UK slightly edging them out on the latter without having to cope with that pesky First Amendment thing. Putin? Pah! Mere amateur!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 7:40am

    Hackers are gonna party like it's 1999!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 7:47am

    Silly ruskies

    To think, instead of locking their citizens down in tyranny, they could instead counter the America sanctions by becoming a global distributor of software piracy for American businesses.

    However, the backlash of that effort would be interesting to see. I bet a manly man like Putin is not really that brave.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 7:55am

    I can't wait for numbnuts to come in here and personally thank the Russians for their part in stopping piracy while simultaneously complaining that he has to use TOR to come here to complain. The cognitive dissonance on display would kill a lesser man.

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

    • identicon
      User on TOR, 31 Jul 2017 @ 8:00am

      Re:

      I would like to personally thank the Russians for their part in stopping piracy.

      - Sent from my TOR browser

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

    • identicon
      numbnuts, 31 Jul 2017 @ 12:58pm

      Re:

      Mike, seriously man, stop blocking my IP! Setting up TOR to come here sucks. I mean, just because I support the Russians taking steps to stop theft doesn't mean I don't have a right to comment! It's called the first amendment!

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

  • identicon
    Jordan Chandler, 31 Jul 2017 @ 8:50am

    sucks to be RUssian

    Sucks to be living in Russia

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 8:52am

    good old Hollywood and the entertainment industries! got yet another thing they've been after in their desire ti take control of the Internet and the US, UK and other governments are falling over themselves to help as much and as quick as possible! how can one industry, based on make believe be so important as to fuck every other business and all the people on the Planet? what the hell is wrong with all these governments, politicians, law makers and courts? it's so ridiculous as to be almost unbelievable! the whole planet is suffering with slowdowns and lock ups of technology that would make life better for millions of people and fucking movie makers are preventing it!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 10:34am

      Re:

      I will point out again that the Internet is having as big an impact on society as the printing press did. The printing press made it possible for a few people who express their ideas relatively clearly to get those ideas widely spread. It led directly to the destruction of the power held by the Church and the aristocracy.

      Faster transport, the telegraph and telephone just enabled individuals to talk to each other, and while they sped up the conversations a bit, they did not change how information and ideas spread through wider society.

      The Internet on the other hand allows all form of many to many communication, including posting questions and calls for aid without knowing if, or who will answer those calls. This directly undermines the bureaucracies, including governments, that were built to basically route messages between parties that did not know each other. This makes it a direct threat to big business and big government, as it bypasses those whose power is based on controlling choke points in communication systems. The Internet definitely benefits those who base their business on conversation and co-operation, while bypassing those choke points.

      Obviously those whose power is threatened are fighting the very openness of the Internet, because unless they gain control over the Internet, the whole basis of their power, controlling communications flows, will be yanked from under their feet. I just hope they do not cause the wars and sufferings that the Church and Aristocracy did trying to fight new ideas, and new ways for society to function that greatly reduced their power.

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

  • identicon
    Bozza, 31 Jul 2017 @ 9:05am

    Whacka Mole

    Block VPNs at the ISP level, problem solved right?

    Well what's to stop someone renting a VPS in the US and setting up a VPN on it?

    I'm sure they may try blocking ports and deep packet inspection, but again that can also be routed around.

    Seems like the Russians will be spending most of their time playing Whack-a-Mole for now.

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

  • icon
    hij (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 9:05am

    Why do they not say anything about https?

    Why do they go after VPN's first and say nothing about https?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 9:09am

      Re: Why do they not say anything about https?

      Most likely because with a VPN, *everything* is hidden. Someone snooping on the packets being exchanged will only see the traffic between the client and the VPN server. No idea about what websites are being visited. With https, the *content* is hidden, but the addresses aren't. So you can detect what web sites are being visited and as such block them.

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

  • icon
    NeghVar (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 9:28am

    Businesses?

    Does this include VPN use by businesses?

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 9:58am

      Re: Businesses?

      Only if they forget to bribe their "elected" officials. ;)

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 1:16am

      Re: Businesses?

      My understanding is that the legislation affects commercial VPN providers and not just VPNs as a concept. So, a business would be able to operate its own bespoke VPN (provided they also give the government access, I presume) while someone selling an iOS VPN app for consumers would be breaking the law. Otherwise, there's no way certain types of business could operate securely, and it seems doubtful that the Russians would leave their own interests to be less secure than competitors.

      It's also possible that the law won't be directly enforced outside of consumer channels, but this provides an additional charge to lock people away with if they're suspected of any other dissident behaviour. So, authorities might decided to turn a blind eye to business use, but then enforce the rules against VPNs if they decided they need to shut the business down.

      The above is a guess based on my knowledge, which is limited regarding Russia, so anyone who has different information is welcome to correct me.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 10:19am

    "everybody winds up less secure"?

    I'm sure there are exemptions for those running the show. It's everyone else that "winds up less secure".

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 31 Jul 2017 @ 1:31pm

    And while you'd like to think this sort of thing wouldn't happen here in the States, if you've watched the endless efforts to undermine encryption and demonize VPNs, the last five years or so, we're probably only a domestic terrorist attack or two away from voters being scared into supporting similar idiotic policy for the "safety and security" of the republic.

    It wouldn't even take that much. All Trump has to do is say that VPNs are bad and need to be blocked and his followers will be foaming at the mouth ready to burn them all to the ground.

    As it is, Trump is now openly threatening senators' health insurance as well as the ACA to try and get his way. In other words, we now have a president who thinks blatant blackmail is an acceptable leadership tactic. You would think this would provoke outrage, but if you read the comments on any news story or video covering this, the majority of people are cheering him on!

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

    • icon
      BernardoVerda (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 8:04pm

      Re:

      Well, he'll be gone soon.
      His likely successor knows better -- and will apply his assorted pressures much more discretely.

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

    • icon
      btr1701 (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 12:10pm

      Re:

      > we now have a president who thinks blatant blackmail is
      > an acceptable leadership tactic

      Oh, please. All of politics is blackmail of one sort or another. That's why politicians have the reputation that they do.

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

  • icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 1:34pm

    Odd

    I have to laugh at those (like the anonymous coward above) blaming the entertainment business for this. Snap out of it son, you are missing the real story.

    it's not about copyright or anything like that, it's all about government control and the simple fact that Russia is not a democracy and the people aren't truly free. What the Russian government fears the most isn't pirated software, but rather people thinking they can operate outside of their control.

    Dictatorships (even "elected" ones) need to be in control to remain in power. They cannot allow an opposition to build up and perhaps threaten them. An internet completely hidden by VPN, which would allow subversives to meet and build up a resistance without the government knowing, is not acceptable.

    It's not about entertainment. It's about controlling a country in perpetuating power.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 4:35pm

      Re: Odd

      Mostly true. But 'the entertainment business' is not a separate thing from the state. See the Murdoch family, for example.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 6:10pm

      Re: Odd

      people thinking they can operate outside of their control.

      So it's all about control, huh? No wonder people think the copyright industry has a hand in it.

      It's about controlling a country in perpetuating power.

      Control and power. Yep, sure sounds like the copyright industry.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 1 Aug 2017 @ 1:11am

      Re: Odd

      It may not be about entertainment in the actual concept, but these moves are often made in the name of "stopping piracy" first. Like the "protect us from terrorists" or "stop child porn" excuses, the "stop piracy" one is a great thing for them to roll out to distract from the real issues. Quickly followed by "why do you support piracy?" when someone speaks out about the proposed solution.

      The entertainment industry might not be directly complicit, but their constant failure to provide for the market as it exists in the 21st century has given oppressive government more excuses to push this kind of legislation through without popular opposition. They might not be completely responsible, but they do deserve criticism.

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

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 31 Jul 2017 @ 3:49pm

    Quick...lets ban everything that allows us to hide what we do!!!!

    You know, things like viewing porn, interfering with elections, viewing more porn.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2017 @ 1:05am

      Re:

      Researching political corruption. Communicating with journalists. Running a business that competes against an insider/oligarch's one. Being gay. Practicing a religion they don't want you to. Talking about controversial issues, like 'democracy' and 'rule of law'.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 4:39pm

    We need a decentralized internet unless we want the whole fucking thing to look like Fox News/CNN/MSNBC etc.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 31 Jul 2017 @ 7:28pm

    In Soviet Russia, VPN's ban you!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2017 @ 8:11pm

    Hey you Yea you
    come over here
    You use a computer ?
    Look here I've got NPV to show ya
    wink wink
    totally legal ya know

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


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