‘VPNs may soon be banned in Russia’

‘VPNs may soon be banned in Russia’

It may become a lot more difficult for critical Russians in the near future to follow the latest news. The Kremlin is considering banning the use of a VPN. “Then you are quite isolated as a critical Russian.”

That is what Russia expert Hubert Smeets says to BNR.

Here’s what you need to know about your IP address and a VPN

You can see your IP address as a kind of virtual postal address. When you visit a website, it sees exactly where you come from based on your IP address. This has various risks and drawbacks. For starters, you may not be able to visit the site to read, for example, the latest news from independent media. Because your IP address reveals your location, you are less anonymous on the internet.

In addition, a static IP address – an IP address assigned by your provider – makes it possible to monitor all your activities on the internet. An intelligence agency or other government agency can, in theory at least, sneak a peek over your shoulder and check exactly what you’re up to on the World Wide Web. In some countries, your browsing history can get you in serious trouble. Think of countries with an authoritarian regime where the government keeps a close eye on dissidents, human rights activists, lawyers or critical journalists.

To protect yourself against these dangers, you have to rely on a VPN. A Virtual Private Network or VPN is a tool that establishes an encrypted connection between your computer and the internet. Thanks to a VPN, all your data traffic is sent to an external VPN server. This server then contacts the website you are trying to visit and forwards anonymized data to your devices.

Smeets: ‘Prohibition will come within a few months’

Although the use of a VPN is not prohibited in Russia, it is strictly restricted. Since 2012, the Kremlin has maintained a list of websites that Russian citizens are not allowed to visit. We also find a number of VPN providers on that list.

At the moment, there are several reliable VPN providers that are allowed to use in Russia, including NordVPN, Surfshark,  Private Internet Access (PIA) and ExpressVPN. Many Russians use a VPN to hide their IP address, historian and Russia expert Hubert Smeets knows. “They can watch what they want with it,” he tells BNR.

However, a VPN connection is not cheap, Smeets emphasizes. In addition, there are calls to ban the use of VPNs altogether. “The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said earlier that he did not want to ban that because he also uses a VPN himself. It is quite conceivable that this will happen within the next few months. Then you are quite isolated as a critical Russian”, explains Smeets.

Bypass Russian censorship

As we mentioned, using a VPN is not legally prohibited in Russia. However, we do see that Roskomnadzor regularly bans VPN providers from offering their services on Russian territory. For example, the Russian telecom watchdog banned Opera VPN and VyprVPN in June 2021, because these providers were classified as “threat”. This is because the providers offer access to websites with prohibited content, such as child pornographic images and websites about suicide and drugs.

In the unlikely event that you are unable to use your VPN in Russia, there is another option to circumvent Russian censorship: install the Tor web browser. This browser allows you to surf the internet anonymously – without a VPN connection. Finally, see if you can install a free VPN to hide your location and internet activities.

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