Putin and VPN: President Putin’s Whipping the Waves
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law prohibiting the use of VPN and anonymizers. Here he copies the king Darius who allegedly ordered to whip the see that scattered his fleet.
As you may well know such technologies provide access to websites if a user chooses for any reason to stay anonymous. Until now the same laws existed only in authoritative countries like China, Iran. And their experience proved that technically, it’s impossible. Users always find a way.
The inherent feature of virtual private networks and other anonymizers makes any attempts futile. Some software can generate new dynamic IPs every second in hundreds. Besides, users can use the chain of VPNs.
I happen to know a man from Russia, he’s my Facebook friend and he knows English pretty well. He agreed to answer questions to make the issue clear for our readers.
Q: About the VPN ban. How does the law put it? Are you prohibited to buy and use the software in question?
A: No. We’re prohibited to use an anonymizer to get an access to the banned websites. VPN owners must block the attempts of the clients to get an access to the black-listed websites.
Q: Even the foreign VPNs?
A: And if the service declines to obey the law, it will be black-listed as well. If any VPN provider wants to work in Russia, it must implement the software to prevent the users to reach the black-listed URL. Moreover, Google must conceal the links to the VPNs which don’t abide to this law.
Q: But this is ridiculous! It ruins the VPN idea altogether! Black-listed, banned… What does it all mean?
A: The leading providers block an access to a website or a message board. Users can’t reach the URL and see the so-called ‘plug’ screen that tells the requested URL cannot be reached as it’s banned by the law.
Q: Who decides which websites should be blocked? Police or state prosecutors?
A: The website can be blocked according to the court sentence, but the Roskomnadzor Authority can black-list any website that has ‘extremist’ content on it. Without any law suit or court hearing, by a snap. Anyone can visit the Roskomnadzor web portal and report a site or a message board, or a personal page in social media.
Q: Incredible! What content is considered illegal?
A: The pirate content, first thing. Then pornography, drugs dealing, suicide descriptions, especially infant suicides but mostly, political content that defies the home and foreign policies of the government, the anti-clerical content and such.
To our readers: Russian Parliament and President Putin cracked down on oppositional parties and movements in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula and invaded the continental Ukraine, supporting the Donbass separatists. As we well now know, the Russian government uses the Web as the weapon of propaganda, secret influence and subversive operations. The Russian hackers made an attempt to tamper with the US election system and reportedly backed up the last ransomware outbreak. Back in Russia the Internet has become a mighty tool of resistance.
And back to the interview.
Q: Does the black-listing hinders the Internet work in some way?
A: Yeah. The websites are blocked automatically by IPs. Once your site is blocked, it’s very difficult to unblock it. You have to go to court, and if your business is entirely Web-based, you’re losing money. It takes up to three months to unblock the site. Usually, it’s enough to delete the ‘extremist’ content, but often deleting the content makes your work and activity senseless. Black-listing by report has its backwash as well. First, any troll or competitor can report you. And trust me, in modern Russia it’s an easiest thing to do – to find some sensitive content on one’s website or to generate it. Second, if an owner of a black-listed website puts in the DNS of a third party web portal in the banned web address, that very web-portal will be blocked automatically. This is what exactly happened in the Russian Web two months ago. Many entrepreneurs found out that their websites were blocked and it froze the business online activity for 24 hours.
Q: But thanks to the VPNs and other anonymizers average users didn’t suffer the bans?
A: Exactly. Some use Tor, others use tunnels or browsers’ plug-ins. Some people I know use payable VPNs.
Q: Will they be prosecuted for using them after November 1, 2017?
A: No. The law is against the VPN owners, besides, it provides an exclusion for the corporal VPNs.
Q: I can’t understand, sorry. What’s the reason then? Vladimir Putin prohibited to use the VPN for by-pass the Roskomnadzor block, but how can the government control every user? Did they invent the mind-control in KGB?
A: You see the point! Vladimir Putin is an old man, he can’t understand the Internet nature, he can’t use the PC, and so do the two-thirds of the Russian Parliament members. When they decided to block the websites several years ago, they were laughed at. And it hurt them to look ridiculous. They tried to strike back.
Q: So, neither you, nor your friends will stop using VPNs?
A: No, we won’t. We’ll use the chain of them if needed. For example, I’ll buy a German VPN and from that I’ll go to an American VPN to read the black-listed content.
Q: Can your provider bust you?
A: There’s a technology that can tell by your out-coming traffic if you’re using an anonymizer, and that’s all. Even this requires a cumbersome and very expensive equipment to be installed in the main nodes. But there’s no way to know what you do and what places you are browsing through VPN when you’re ‘undercover’.
Q: So, you don’t believe the Russian government will manage to seriously block the online activity?
A: No. New technologies are emerging every day. Google is launching air balloons for providing the independent access to the Internet. No, it’s impossible. You can’t prohibit the sun, or the wind. You’ll just make a comic figure of yourself.
Q: I like your attitude and your humor.
Q: Thank you for answering.