Nine VPN providers in Russia may be banned within 30 days if they fail to enforce the banned list of websites in the country through connecting their systems with the Russian State Information System (FGIS) so that access for their users to blacklist websites is automatically blocked.
On 28 March, Roskomnadzor, Russian Federal Service of Information and Mass Media Communication Supervision, notified 10 VP Network Providers that “access to prohibited Internet resources in Russia must be restricted. To access the current unified registry version of prohibited information services, FGIS must be connected.”
Out of the 10 VPN providers that the Russian authorities contacted — NordVPN and HideMyAss!. Hola VPN, OpenVPN, VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, TorGuard, IPVanish, VPN Unlimited and Kaspersky Secure Connection — their systems have only been connected by Kaspersky Secure Connect to FGIS.
Roscomnadzor Notification (Image: VyprVPN)
We have sent ten VPN notifications, only one of them – the registry-based Kaspersky Secure Connection. All the others did not reply, and more than that, they have written on their websites not to comply with Russian law,’ said Alexander Zharov, head of the Roskomnadzors ‘ office.
“We will be blocked, so the law says unequivocally that if the company refuses to comply with the law, we will do so in some time,” Zharov said Interfax could take care of the issue within a month because, as a Russian official said, if the VPNs do not start to comply with Russia’s law, they will be added to the State information system which they have to implement.
“These ten VPNs do not complement the entire list of proxy programs for our citizens. I do not think the tragic event will happen if blocked, but I’m very sorry about that,” Zharov added.
The Roskomnadzor also states that search engine operators Yandex, Sputnik, Mail.ru, and Rambler are currently also connected to FGIS, while Google has also begun to block access to websites on Russia’s blacklist after being fined for not complying with the requirements of the law.
The response of the VPN providers
While Kaspersky Secure Connection has already connected its systems to the banned registry of Internet resources, NordVPN said one day after receiving a notification from Roskomnadzor that “compliance is not something we will consider.”
TorGuard also responded to a request by Roskomnadzor on the company blog as found by TorrentFreak, saying that they are not blocking “websites upon request, according to country-wide approved Russian user blacklists.”
In addition, the VPN provider said “TorGuard took steps at the time of writing to remove all the physical server presence in Russia. We wiped all the servers at our locations of Saint Petersburg and Moscow and will not do business with data centers in the region.”
Hello. We got the letter from Russian Government and have 30 days to respond. Regardless, rest assured, compliance is not something that we will consider.
— NordVPN (@NordVPN) 29 March 2019
Roskomnadzor’s notification was answered by the VyprVPN team saying that “The strong censorship and oppression of the Russian regime was the main reason for us not to locate any of our servers inside Russia. [ .. ] We will not cooperate with the Russian government in their efforts to censor VPN services.”
HideMyAss, IPVanish said they refused to comply! He stated that his VPN service would no longer be sold there, and VPN Unlimited also refused to cooperate.
OpenVPN also joined, telling its customers on Twitter that “OpenVPN is committed to our users and customers by protecting them from cyber threats and providing secure and private access from anywhere in the world to their information.”
The nomination of OpenVPN on the list of VPN providers is also quite strange as the company does not sell access to a VPN service but instead maintains software capable of securing connections to VPN tunnels.
Even though in July 2017 President Vladimir Putin signed a bill banning the use of VPNs, proxies, and Tor into law, the Russian authorities showed no signs of even trying to enforce it until March 2019.
Furthermore, Russia was the first country to sign into law the ban on tools designed to avoid state-sanctioned bans such as proxies and VPNs, with China requiring VPN providers to register their services with state authorities and Turkey banning VPNs only temporarily.