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Russians are largely circumventing Putin's tight internet censorship

Using so-called VPNs, Russians cheat themselves of access to Netflix and Facebook.

They can no longer log into Facebook. The content on Tik Tok is limited and entertainment services such as Netflix are suspended .

The Russians are hard hit by the West's reactions to the invasion of Ukraine as well as Russia's own censorship of the media in the country.

But there are some solutions for those Russians who still want to use the Western services.

Via so-called VPN connections, you can get around the blocks. And there are indications that more Russians are now starting to use that type of tool.

One of the largest VPN providers in the world, Surfshark, has seen a 3,500 percent increase in VPN sales in Russia since February 24, 2022.

Another provider, RUSVPN, has seen a 500 percent increase in both Russia and Ukraine.

This is shown by figures from the cyber security company PrivacySharks, which has gained access to the data.

- That says something about how internet-savvy people are these days. They know what is needed when it first becomes necessary, says Kristoffer Holten, co-owner of PrivacySharks.

- So it may well be that countries can be shut down. But people are quick to find a way around it, Kristoffer Holten continues.

Researcher: 'Not surprising'

Carsten SchĆ¼rmann, who is professor and head of the Center for Information Security and Trust at the IT University in Copenhagen, has looked at the figures from PrivacySharks.

- It is very likely that these numbers are correct. And it does not surprise me at all that there is an increase in downloads of this type of software as a result of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, says Carsten SchĆ¼rmann.

He emphasizes, however, that the study should be followed up with more data.

- It will be interesting to see how the numbers look with other VPN providers. This will give an even stronger picture of the situation.

Using Google tools, PrivacySharks in their investigation also looked at how many Russians have searched for 'VPN' since the beginning of the conflict. Here, the number of Google searches, according to the company, has increased by 1,900 percent.

- I think there is an uncertainty in the population that uses the internet. And then it is normal to go to Google and search for help, says Carsten SchĆ¼rmann.

Russia is trying to block VPN

But the Russian government is doing what they can to block people 's ability to get a VPN.

Among other things, the government has succeeded in blocking popular VPNs such as TunnelBear and Nord VPN.

 Authorities have the ability to block VPNs if they know the address of the server being used. Conversely, the VPN providers can change their address again. In that way, it becomes a game of cat and mouse, says Carsten SchĆ¼rmann.

According to Kristoffer Holten, however, it is the authorities who ultimately lose the battle.

- There are many different providers, and they all have thousands of servers. So it is virtually impossible for Russia to block them, he says.

Both affected by Russia and the West

When individual Russians are affected by restrictions on the Internet, it is primarily due to sanctions from the West as a protest against the invasion.

Netflix, for example, has chosen to suspend their service in the country. And the gaming streaming service Twitch has stopped their payments to gamers in the country. Gamers usually get money for live-streaming their computer games.

At the same time, the Russians are being hit by Putin's attempts to censor news and knowledge.

In addition to blocking Facebook and Instagram , the court in Moscow has just banned the two social media owned by the company Meta. Facebook and Instragram are now being labeled as "extremist" by the Russian authorities.

The social media Tik Tok has also chosen to shut down live streaming and the possibility of uploading new videos in Russia. Tik Tok writes that they are doing it because of Russia's new law on fake news.

In addition, the authorities have blocked a number of different news media.

- The Russians are therefore hit by a double censorship. And the increase in VPN downloads in the country clearly shows how bad it is, says Kristoffer Holten.

You can read more about which services Russians cannot .useere

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