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Russia's attempts to censor and surveil its citizens by cracking down on Internet services is extending into the VPN realm. Russian news agency Interfax recently reported that Roskomnadzor, the country's media and communications regulator, plans to block access to nine VPN services "within a month" for failing to comply with its demands.
Roskomnadzor reportedly told 10 popular VPN providers in March that it would block them from Russia unless they started to follow local regulations. That would require the services to prevent their users from accessing the Russian government's list of banned websites, effectively removing one of the easiest ways to bypass the country's internet censorship. Only one of the providers--Kaspersky Secure Connection--agreed to the regulator's demands.
The other providers contacted by Roskomnadzor include popular services like OpenVPN, NordVPN, four others with VPN in their names, IPVanish, TorGuard and Hide My Ass. Most were explicit in their refusal to comply with the regulator's demands, assuring their users that they weren't interested in perpetuating the Russian government's censorship. TorGuard wiped its servers in Moscow and St. Petersburg to reassure its users.
We don't yet know how successful Roskomnadzor will be in blocking access to these services. Most aren't located in Russia, which limits its ability to force the companies to do anything. But that doesn't mean it won't try, as it proved in April 2018, when it banned millions of IP addresses to stop banned services from using "domain fronting" to evade its censors, (which helped lead Google and Amazon to ban domain fronting on their platforms).
Russia has made it clear that it doesn't plan to ease the pressure on tech companies that limit its ability to control what its citizens access online. It asked Apple to block Telegram from the App Store in June 2018, for example, and recently pressured Facebook to store information on Russian users inside the country. Regulators were also believed to be working with Google to remove links to banned websites and services from its search results.
Soon Kaspersky Secure Connection may be the only major VPN service Russians can legally use. That's probably not a good look for the Moscow-headquartered cybersecurity firm, which moved from Russia to Switzerland to ease international concerns about its connections to the Kremlin. Nine of its counterparts refused to compromise their commitment to fighting censorship. What does Kaspersky being the outlier imply about the vendor and how it views its customers?