March 29, 2019

Russia VPN ban: Providers “highly unlikely” to comply with state demands

By Lucy Ingham

Russia is threatening to ban virtual private network (VPN) providers that allow users to remain anonymous online, however according to an expert on the topic companies are unlikely to be cowed by the Russia VPN ban.

On Thursday Roscomnadzor, the arm of the government responsible for communications, sent letters to a slew of major VPN providers telling them to enforce a ban on software that allows users to browse anonymously. These companies, the vast majority of which are not based in Russia, have been given 30 days to comply.

However, Simon Migliano, head of research at, does not believe that companies will respect the VPN ban, particularly given the reputational damage it could cause in other markets.

“It’s highly unlikely that the VPN providers will comply with Russian demands. To agree to share user information with Russian security services would seriously undermine their privacy credentials and cause them to shed customers across the world, who would rightly feel betrayed,” he said.

The Russia VPN ban is the latest step in the surveillance war

VPNs have becoming increasingly popular with internet users around the world as a tool to protect online privacy and prevent government surveillance of their online activities. However, some countries have been taking steps to block their use.

“Russia is clearly following in the footsteps of China in clamping down on VPN services after an extended period in which the ban was in name only,” said Migliano, adding VPN providers do still operate within China.

“Even behind China’s Great Firewall, a number of the named services continue to operate in defiance of the ban.”

How would complying with the Russia VPN ban work?

Should a company decide to comply with the Russia VPN ban, doing so will present a technical challenge.

“Quite aside from any moral objections to sharing user data with Moscow, it would require a technical overhaul from those providers that have invested in developing VPN networks with in-built protections from this kind of misuse of their customers’ data,” he said.

“A more likely outcome is that while some VPN providers may shut down their Russian servers, others will risk the ban and rely on their ability to outsmart the Russian censors and continue to operate.

“They will certainly be encouraged by Roscomnadzor’s spotty record in this regard, where it lags far behind the Chinese efforts that have inspired this crackdown.”

Read more: A quarter of internet users now use VPNs as privacy concerns grow


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