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.

Filed Under: internet freedom, isp, russia, site blocking, vpn


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 4:28pm

    Censorship has nothing to do with piracy. Go figure!

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 2:39am

      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?".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 5:21pm

    Putin keeps going like this and he's going to make Stailn spin in his grave in corpse green jealousy.

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

  • identicon
    Shmerl, 3 Apr 2019 @ 5:53pm

    Companies should show the middle finger to the mafia thugs that demand "to be connected" to snoop on VPN users, and take out their business from such place.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:04pm

      Re:

      It is easy to say things like that, but when it comes to actual mafia tactics of torture of both you and your family, 99% of companies comply. Once you add in imprisonment and confiscation of property, your fuck you attitude is nowhere to be found.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 2:42am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 6:34pm

    Given one of those VPN operators are airing dishonest TV ads in Australia, I expect most will comply without a second thought.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 6:41pm

    Silly USA, still infatuated with copyright after hundreds of years of it helping people.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 6:47pm

      Re:

      You misspelled “ruining business and lives.”

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:18pm

      Re:

      How's that Paul Hansmeier defense fund coming along, bro?

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:58pm

      Re:

      Huh, your only reaction to Russia using totalitarian measures to remove tools used for privacy and protect free speech is to comment on one throwaway line about the US and copyright. Strange how you'd do that, almost as if you can't address the actual point at hand...

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

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 2:45am

        Re: Re:

        I was wondering that myself. Usually Baghdad Bob/Blue would be all up in arms in defense of Russia at this point, disregarding the fact that Putin uses copyright as a tool to disappear people with.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:44am

        Re: Re:

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

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm sure that sounded clever in your head.

          Meanwhile - since you don't argue with the rest of his post and had to pick on that line, you agree with everything else in the post? Good to know.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 7:36am

          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?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:08pm

          Re: Step up step up everyone laugh at the freak

          Sure bro. Until then we are going to point and laugh at you.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:08pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I thought this site was supposed to be insignificant; what do you care about what gets said here?

          Still haven't answered the question. How's that Prenda Law defense fund coming along? Isn't copyright fucked now that one of its shining defenders got arrested?

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

    • identicon
      John the Plagiarist, 4 Apr 2019 @ 8:43am

      Re:

      I, John the Plagiarist, am a champion of authrs everywhere. That is because I am a Writer, who Writes Things. Important things. I Definiately write things besides comments on Techdirt, which I don't even sepnd that much time doing, stop lying.

      Some of the Very Important things that I wrie include this, which I wrote, and definately did not just copy and paste without attribution. Because I, John the Plagiarist, care Very Much about writesr and their rights.

      WELL, PRINCE, so Genoa and Lucca are now
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      frightened you sit down and tell me all the
      news."

      It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the
      well-known Anna Pdvlovna Sch^rer, maid of
      honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fe-
      dorovna. With these words she greeted Prince
      Vasili Kurdgin, a man of high rank and impor-
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      All her invitations without exception, writ-
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      "Heavens! what a virulent attack!" replied
      the prince, not in the least disconcerted by this
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      broidered court uniform, knee breeches, and
      shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene
      expression on his flat face. He spoke in that
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      at court. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed
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      and shining head, and complacently seated
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      Ther you Have it! Masnick and his useful idiots cannot possibly appreciate my brilliance, in writing this, which I definately wrote myself.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:15pm

    All these services have to do is pull all their severs out of Russia, then that will be the end of it.

    If they no presence in Russia, they cannot be prosecuted in Russia.

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

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 3 Apr 2019 @ 7:21pm

      Re:

      And then they just get blocked by the Russian site blocking process. So that solves everything!

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 10:41pm

        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.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 4 Apr 2019 @ 2:47am

          Re: Re: Re:

          ^This.

          Any country which tries banning VPN's will be hurting its own business quite severely as a result. Meaning that the only nations able to restrict VPN use are those with no economy to speak of - or about to have said economy forcibly shrunk as a result of their actions.

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

  • identicon
    Matt, 3 Apr 2019 @ 9:34pm

    Not sure this is gonna work.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2019 @ 11:08pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:10am

      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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 6:45am

      Re:

      "You could use a VPN, and Skype, and have the Internet connection encrypted"

      Are you still talking about cell phone use in a moving vehicle?
      What wifi do you use when traveling?

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

  • identicon
    callum, 4 Apr 2019 @ 4:58am

    I read This news at Rivipedia.com but many of my friends in russia say me express vpn and purevpn works reallly well in russia so not a issue

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

  • identicon
    In China Now, 4 Apr 2019 @ 11:37am

    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?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:10pm

      Re: Honeztly who uses the word panopticon?

      Hey bro if you’re China’s answer to Russia’s IRA you guys have some work to do.

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

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 4 Apr 2019 @ 12:12pm

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2019 @ 10:19pm

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Shane, 4 Apr 2019 @ 10:26pm

    Thankyou for this awesome post. Also, check this website https://ttrockstars.org/

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

  • identicon
    Deniel, 8 Apr 2019 @ 4:24am

    The main thing is to install a good VPN, for example, I use VeePN, it works quickly and efficiently

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


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