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.
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.
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