Russians turn to VPNs as Putin beefs up internet censorship in dissent crackdown

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Russians are flocking to mobile app stores to download virtual private network (VPN) services to circumvent restrictions on social media platforms and other websites.

In Moscow, access to some foreign social media like Facebook and Twitter is restricted after the Kremlin launched a widespread crackdown on dissent as part of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

In a word

In the weeks following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a “special military operation” in Ukraine, demand for VPNs has increased in Russia, according to data from Top10VPN.

The VPN analytics site reported that search traffic around the term “VPN” jumped 1,092% between February 24 – the day Russia invaded Ukraine – and March 5 compared to the average. before the invasion.

Russian restrictions on Facebook and Twitter had begun the weekend of February 26-27 with internet speeds when accessing these platforms so severely limited as to render them unusable, prompting Russians to turn more in addition to VPN services. Demand for VPNs increased during this week, and on March 3 it was over 750% above the baseline.

According to data from Apptopia, downloads of eight popular VPN apps in Russia jumped from 12,848 on February 15 to 415,547 on March 7.



Russians are said to be downloading VPNs from the App Store and Google Play at record rates to circumvent restrictions on social media platforms and other websites

VPN providers are also reporting large spikes in downloads since the Ukraine invasion began, with Surfshark announcing that average weekly sales in Russia have increased by 3,500% since February 24.

Another provider, ExpressVPN, said last week that traffic to its website from Russia was up around 330% week-over-week, with traffic from Ukraine up around 130%. %.

What is a VPN?

The purpose of a VPN is to provide users with security and privacy when communicating over the Internet. A VPN establishes a secure, encrypted connection between your computer and the Internet, providing a private tunnel for your data and communications when using public networks.

With VPN apps, users can hide their locations to evade location-based restrictions and make browsing more private by encrypting internet traffic.

VPNs work at the operating system level, so they redirect all your traffic to other servers. This means that all of your online traffic, as well as your physical location, remains hidden while you browse the web.

When you access a site through a VPN server, the source of your connection appears as one of many VPN routers – called a proxy server – and not yours. So the site owners and anyone else trying to spy on you can’t deduce who you are.

context

Last week, Russia began blocking access to Facebook – and apparently Twitter – for “alleged discrimination against Russian media and information resources” following its invasion of Ukraine.



Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo by ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s technology and communications regulator, said on Friday it had completely blocked access to Facebook, owned by US tech giant Meta Platforms. Facebook and other platforms have blocked RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik in Europe to comply with EU sanctions, and in other countries including Ukraine and the UK at the request of their governments.

The move to block or limit access to foreign media coverage in Russia comes after Russian lawmakers on Friday approved legislation that threatens to jail journalists and individuals for up to 15 years if they publish what Moscow considers “false” information about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. .

Law makes it a crime to simply call Ukraine invasion a ‘war’ – Kremlin says it’s a ‘special military operation’ – on social media or in a news article or a show.

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