Russia Blocks VPN Providers in Ongoing Internet Crackdown

Russia has blocked access to six VPN services which authorities say allow access to illegal online content in violation of Russian law.

The country’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Friday it had blocked access to some of the world’s largest VPN providers, including Nord VPN and Express VPN, following an investigation.

“The use of such services leads to the preservation of access to prohibited information and resources and creates the conditions for illegal activities, including those related to the distribution of drugs, child pornography, extremism and suicide,” Roskomnadzor said in a statement.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) allow internet users a greater level of anonymity online and can provide access to material which has been blocked by internet service providers.

Roskomnadzor said it could effectively block access to the VPN providers in Russia, though experts say many have systems in place to maintain access. Russia’s internet regulators previously embarked on a failed two-year battle to block the use of the popular Telegram messaging app in Russia.

Russia has adopted a number of measures to increase its control over the internet in recent years, including controversial laws that require companies to store Russian users’ data on servers located in Russia. It has also levied multiple fines against Western social media giants for failing to remove content Russia says violates Russian laws, such as posts authorities say encourage minors to attend unauthorized protests.

The country Thursday accused Google and Apple of election interference over its refusal to remove an app published by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Facebook Accuses Russia of Spreading Disinformation

Facebook said Russia and Iran are the internet’s leading spreaders of disinformation aimed at manipulating public opinion in a report published Thursday.

Facebook researchers linked most of Russian operations to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based troll factory that was also blamed by the U.S. intelligence community for 2016 election interference.

“Facebook’s broader security strategy against influence operations was developed in response to foreign interference by Russian actors in 2016,” the 2017-2020 Threat Report said.

Researchers also found disinformation links to Russian military intelligence.

According to Facebook, Russian disinformation attacks were mostly focused on neighboring countries, and partly on the U.S. from operations in Mexico.

Russia’s online disinformation attempts in the U.S. were mostly linked to the 2016 presidential elections, 2018 midterm congressional elections and the 2020 presidential elections, the report said.

The Russian operation based in Mexico made posts on hot-topic social issues such as feminism, Hispanic identity and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We have not seen sufficient evidence to claim that this operation extends beyond individuals from Mexico, but in the public disclosure, the FBI attributed this activity to the Russian Internet Research Agency,” the report said.

The report’s findings are based on previously published separate reports by Facebook researchers on disinformation campaigns that occurred between 2017 and 2020.

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