Roskomnadzor, Russia’s telecommunications watchdog, blocked last week, on Thursday, May 3, 2018, access to over 50 VPN and proxy services.
Officials did not publish a list of the banned services, according to Russian news agency TASS, who first reported the ban.
VPN and Proxy ban related to Telegram spat
Russian authorities banned the VPN and proxy services after users were utilizing these tools to skirt a nation-wide ban on Telegram, an instant messaging service banned in the country.
Russia banned Telegram on April 13 after the IM service declined to provide access to customer encryption keys to Russian intelligence agency FSB so investigators could decrypt encrypted conversations during investigations.
The Telegram ban did not go as planned. Authorities initially banned Telegram’s known IP addresses, but the service switched to new IPs.
In a controversial move, Roskomnadzor then banned nearly 20 million IP addresses belonging to Amazon and Google Cloud, in an attempt to prevent Telegram from switching IPs and shift its infrastructure again.
After almost twelve days, during which hundreds of unrelated services suffered outages in Russia, Roskomnadzor abandoned the Amazon and Google Cloud ban.
But many suspect that both Amazon and Google caved to the Russian telecommunications’ watchdog pressure because three days later, both companies had dropped support for a technique called “domain fronting,” a system that Telegram and many other encrypted IM clients were using to go around state-level censorship attempts.
A warning shot for Viber
Following this move, many users turned to VPNs and proxy services to go around Roskomnadzor’s ban on Telegram’s original IPs. Many of those VPNs and proxies (also known as “unblockers” in Russia) are now blocked, and accessing Telegram is getting harder and harder inside Russia.
TASS also reports that the head of the Ministry of Communications, Nikolai Nikiforov, is now hinting at a similar ban on Viber, another Telegram-like instant messaging service, also very popular in Russia, if the service will not cooperate with the FSB.