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No place to hide – Russia bans VPNs

In a move which won’t come as a great surprise to anyone Russia have banned the use of VPNs.  The new laws which come into force in November are part of a state crackdown on prohibited websites.

A companion law banning anonymous users from online messaging apps will also come into force.

What are VPNs?

Virtual Private Networks mask a user’s identity by channelling their online activity through other computers and hiding their IP address.  This allows the user to anonymously access websites or online materials which may be banned or restricted in their own country.

VPN on laptop

What are people saying?

Naturally enough commentators in the west have been quick to see state meddling and censorship behind the banning of VPNs in Russia.

Dr Joss Wright of the Oxford Internet Institute told the BBC: “Up till now these tools have slipped under the radar.

“But as states get more technical proficiency and as people use VPNs on a broad scale it’s being perceived as a problem.”

The problem being of course that VPNs can conceal which websites the user is visiting.  Whether that be an illegal marketplace on the dark web or a western news site.

But, closing down VPNs makes it much easier for the authorities to monitor its citizens and to control their online activities.

There are two sides to every story of course.  Russia will argue the new laws make it easier to tackle cybercrime.

It also enables the state to control distribution of illegal content on social media platforms.  Something the UK government are desperate to do to stop terrorist groups recruiting or spreading propaganda.

It isn’t just the Russians

China too is taking a tough line on VPNs.  The Chinese government have said VPN producers will need a special licence to sell their products and Apple recently removed dozens of VPN products from their App Store in China.

VPN and world map

Why use a VPN?

There are different reasons to use Virtual Private Networks and by no means are all of them sinister.   In fact in some instances they are actively encouraged:

  • When using public Wi-Fi VPNs can prevent personal information and data being stolen by hackers
  • Helps small businesses secure their networks
  • Users travelling abroad can access their corporate network even if restricted by their location
  • Using VPNs when searching online prevents search engines logging users data
  • Visit websites anonymously
  • Prevents data being harvested by ISPs and websites
  • View geographically restricted content
  • Prevents geographic advertising
  • Can access websites normally blocked by an ISP
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Craig Ellyard

Token old guy in the office and lifelong Hull City fan with all the psychological issues that brings. To relax I enjoy walking my two Labradors, as well as running and cycling.

5 comments

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  1. Anonymous 8 August, 2017 at 15:29

    “In a move which won’t come as a great surprise to anyone Russia have banned the use of VPNs” – Prejudice much? T. May wants toThey did not ban the use of VPN, they have outlawed the use of VPN to access the prohibited websites.

  2. Craig Ellyard 9 August, 2017 at 12:27

    Prejudice?!? No.
    Stereotyping? Possibly.
    As for the UK government. I make that point later in the piece.

  3. Reality_Cheque 10 August, 2017 at 09:49

    Of course the UK government wants to block VPNs. Fortunately, terrorism ‘will not change our way of life’, as we have been told so many times – from HM The Queen downwards.

    The solution was not to push people towards VPNs in the first place, leaving the current law in place that requires a magistrates warrant before spying on internet traffic. But no, they changed the law to make being nosey easier, and the people are responding.

  4. Simon 10 August, 2017 at 12:18

    The IP masking effect of a VPN comes about as a side effect of the main intended use of a VPN.
    That is, secure site to site communication.

    The secure aspect of VPNs is used legitimately in many businesses.

    For example, a company may host a database at a secure site and wish to be able to securely transfer data to another database site without having to risk exposing the data to the internet.

    This is the sort of thing VPNs were intended for. Banning them will just lead to alternative creative ways of masking your identity.

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