Russia to ban all VPNs – again – says senator

Putin Zuck out of business is one goal of this repeat effort to close off internet tunnels

Russia intends to prohibit VPNs being offered in the nation's app stores starting in 2024.

A Tuesday report in local outlet RIA quotes senator Artem Sheikin as saying that Russia's telecoms regulator, Roskomnadzor, will block any VPNs that allow access to banned material.

The senator said the ban's intent is to stop Russians getting access to all inappropriate material – but especially social networks operated by Meta, as Russia regards Zuck's biz as an extremist organization.

The report suggests that Roskomnadzor will intervene to stop VPNs from reaching resources banned within Russian borders.

Which sounds like a big win for Vladimir Putin's regime of pervasive censorship – save for the fact that he's been trying to crack down on VPNs for years with precious little success.

In 2017 The Register reported Putin's plan to purge VPNs by blocking access to sites that provide them.

But in 2022 – when Moscow tightened censorship rules to prevent the populace from reading information that challenged its pathetic pretext for the illegal invasion of Ukraine – Russian citizens flocked to VPNs to access the content they craved.

Moscow now apparently wants to neuter those VPNs, with the senator saying bans will come into force from March 1.

Roskomnadzor itself hasn't mentioned the looming deadline for VPN eviction, and the senator has offered no detail on how Moscow intends to make this ban work where others have failed.

VPN vendors and operators know their products are controversial, and are wise to countermeasures that help users evade bans – if only because customers are unlikely to keep paying if their network tunnels hit dead ends. Whatever Roskomnadzor comes up with is therefore likely to spark an arms race between Moscow and VPN operators.

Whether Roskomnadzor has the wherewithal to detect and deflect open source VPNs is also unknown, while side-loading VPNs onto mobile devices will also challenge the regulator's chops.

Perhaps Moscow's strong ties with Beijing will help it make this ban work: China last year tweaked its Great Firewall to detect and deflect VPN-like tunnelling tools. Whether the two nations' "friendship without limits" extends to sharing censorware is not known, but we may soon find out. ®

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