As Russia banned access to Meta’s social media giants, such as Instagram and Facebook, demand for methods to bypass the restrictions put in place by the Russian government increased and the usage of VPNs shot up, according to statistics released by a reputable firm. Netizens have also been looking for VPN solutions from information providers like VPNranks.
In response to Meta’s decision to permit Ukraine residents to post violent and hurtful slogans, Instagram access in Russia was restricted a few days later. According to Moscow, Facebook was already blocked for the same reasons.
Rise In Demand For VPNs
Just as the news of Instagram blocking got around, the demand for VPN, an application that encrypts data and conceal a user’s location, skyrocketed.
And as Ukrainian and Russian websites fell prey to vicious hackers, the demand for VPNs witnessed an ever-lasting rise.
In an attempt to dictate the flow of information, Russia is suffocating social media giants with traffic slowdowns.
However, some of the most popular Meta platforms like Instagram and Facebook also saw a downright ban.
That doesn’t come as a shock since this has been the way Russia has approached matters ever since they’ve been put under the radar with unprecedented western sanctions for its actions in Ukraine.
In 2021, Russia went on a banning spree, placing restrictions on a massive number of virtual private networks (VPNs), but did not completely block them, as part of a larger strategy which is to stifle internet freedom.
In Russia, VPNs have been in high demand for the last few months. Internet searches for VPN services in the United Kingdom nearly doubled between March 4 and March 10, according to Top10VPN, a company that evaluates and promotes private network services. On March 5, the day following Facebook’s prohibition, there were at least 260 thousand searches.
“By replacing their Russian IP address with that of the remote server, which is normally located in a different country, Russians are able to access websites that prohibit Russian traffic,” explains Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN.
If Ukraine is largely believed to be winning the information war, then watching content created outside of Russia is a key battleground for Russia. In response to an effort to restrict access to its service in the nation, Twitter released this week a new privacy-protected version of its website to make it more accessible to Russian users.
Russia Labels Meta An “Extremist Organization”
Russian authorities have designated Mark Zuckerberg’s company Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, as an “extremist organization”, thereby increasing the pressure on western social media.
Access to broad portions of the Internet, even via private networks, may become more difficult in Russia. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Cogent Communications, which distributes 25 percent of the world’s internet traffic, withdrew all Russian-licensed services.
Dave Schaeffer, the chief executive officer of Cogent, expressed worry that the Russian government could leverage its largest international network links for aggressive cyber activity.
Lumen Technologies, a US company in the same business, withdrew from Russia as well, but attempted to downplay the move by stating that it provided a “very tiny” service in Russia and continued to assist internet service providers in routing traffic into the nation.
According to NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet connectivity, Russia’s internet performance has not yet suffered a “major dent.” However, actions like Cogent’s will not assuage Russians’ fears that the conflict may impede the country’s access to the outside world.
According to Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network monitoring company Kentik, the loss of international internet capacity could affect access to western news services. “The loss of international broadband capacity could have a significant impact on the ability of the average Russian user to connect to internet resources outside the country [such as western news media]. Although it remains to be known to what extent.”
Users Turn To Tor
Western media platforms barred by Russia have turned to Tor, a volunteer-run network, for alternative access to their information. Tor allows users to anonymously visit websites. Few months back, Twitter introduced a Tor-based version of its service, and the BBC reminded Russian viewers that Facebook and Instagram are also accessible via Tor.
Fear that Russia would shut itself off from the global internet or create a China-style firewall to limit access to objectionable websites may also be contributing to the high demand for VPNs among Russian citizens.
Vladimir Putin signaled in 2019 that Russia could seek a type of internet isolation by stating, “we must develop a part [of the internet] that depends on nobody,” with the Kremlin revealing months later that it has tested a domestic alternative to the international internet.
A couple of months back, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which manages the internet’s worldwide address book, rejected a request by Ukraine to isolate Russia by closing its web domains. Despite this, efforts are underway to alter Russia’s internet infrastructure.
And, just a few weeks later after Icann’s move, the Russian government ordered state bodies and telecoms services to use DNS servers, which are essential for enabling browsers to locate websites that are located in Russia.
However, the country’s deputy digital minister stated that there were “no plans to disconnect the internet from the inside,” instead citing concerns over cyberattacks.
Migliano stated, “While Russia is capable of isolating itself from the global internet, the economic and social consequences would be severe.” “It is more likely that the Kremlin will attempt to replicate China’s ‘great firewall’ and strictly regulate all incoming and outgoing internet traffic.”
The availability of western news and platforms in Russia must be accompanied by a willingness to utilize them. According to Justin Crow, a researcher at the University of Sussex’s faculty of engineering and informatics, the establishment of Tor sites and the availability of VPNs do not indicate that Russians will seize a diminishing possibility to access different ideas.
All of this disregards the complicated questions surrounding people’s willingness to take risks. How much complexity and effort does the average citizen [possibly one who has only recently begun to doubt Putin’s government] willingly suffer to acquire material that contradicts the official narrative when the possible consequences are so severe?”
Since February 24th, the number of hacking attempts on the Russian government’s IT infrastructure and systems has increased dramatically, according to Roskomnadzor. The government official added that the hackers may be facing legal repercussions when caught.