Russian citizens are turning to virtual private networks (VPNs) in droves in an effort to bypass state-controlled media reporting on the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, news reports say.
VPNs – which hide users’ identities and locations – are being downloaded in Russia by the hundreds of thousands a day after Russian authorities launched a crackdown on any media not towing the official line on the war, according to The Washington Post.
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Millions of Russians are now getting access to information outside of the country with help from VPNs, which could pose problems for the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the attack on Ukraine – described as a “special military operation” – nears its third month.
More than 1,000 internet sites have been restricted by Russian authorities – including Facebook, Instagram, and BBC News – since the conflict began, according to a survey by a VPN technology tracker.
“We didn’t know what was going on around us,” the Post quoted a man named Konstantin as saying. “Many people in Russia simply watch TV and eat whatever the government is feeding them. I wanted to find out what was really happening.”
Daily downloads in Russia of the 10 most popular VPNs surged from about 15,000 before the war to 475,000 in March, and continued at a rate of nearly 300,000 a day this week, according to data compiled for the Post by analytics firm Apptopia.
Because of the imposition of sanctions, paying for a VPN has become increasingly difficult as credit cards do not work outside Russia any more.
Russian officials have sought to curtail VPN use. Alexander Khinshtein, who heads the Russian State Duma’s committee on information policy, said recently nearly two dozen VPN services had been blocked since mid-March.
“Blocking VPN services is not an easy task, but it is being executed,” The Moscow Times quoted him as saying.