How Russians Avoid Internet Blockade

data: Top10VPN; Note: The latest surge displayed in countries where multiple events are occurring. Map: Kavya Beheraj / Axios

Following the Ukrainian invasion and the government’s decision to block several social media services, including Facebook, tools to circumvent Internet restrictions have skyrocketed in Russia.

Important reason: Finding ways to circumvent Russia’s Internet block will enable Russian citizens to stay connected to other parts of the world and collect information from sources other than state-owned stores.

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Catch up quickly: Virtual private networks (VPNs) allow users to hide their location to avoid location-based restrictions and to encrypt Internet traffic to make browsing more private.

With numbers: On March 5, the day after Russia, demand for VPNs surged 1,092% in Russia. Blocked access According to Facebook,

  • According to sites tracking search volume data, demand in Ukraine was 609% higher than it was before the invasion began.

  • According to Apptopia data, the number of downloads for eight popular VPN apps in Russia has increased from 12,848 on February 15th to 415,547 on March 7th.

in the meantime, VPN providers are also reporting a surge.

  • According to Surfshark, Russia’s average weekly sales have increased by 3,500% since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and surged after blocking Facebook and other Western media.

  • According to another provider, ExpressVPN, traffic from Russia to websites increased by about 330% weekly last week. Similarly, traffic from Ukraine increased by about 130%.

  • Proton said this month Russia had a 1,000% increase in registrations for VPN services.

What they are saying: “It’s no wonder that VPNs and other cryptographic tools are now making a big leap in sign-up, “said Andyen, founder and CEO of Proton.

Line spacing: While the use of VPNs in Russia is legal, access to officially blocked content is not legal, said Simon Migliano, Head of Research at, a VPN service banned by Russian authorities. There are about 15.

  • “Whenever an authoritarian regime seeks to control citizens and curb access to information and the ability to communicate with each other, there is always a backlash,” Miliano said in an email to Axios.

Yes, but: Russia is already trying to block VPN traffic at the network level, Miliano said.

  • “This is a game of cats and mice, and the best VPN services have many years of hard-earned experience in China by obfuscating traffic,” said Miliano.

  • “As a result, these VPN services give Russians significant access to independent foreign social media that is officially banned, even if Russian users have to deal with server and app switching from time to time. It offers.”

Big picture: Recent conflicts and Internet crackdowns have caused similar VPN surges in other countries, including Myanmar, Nigeria and Kazakhstan.

  • According to, demand in Kazakhstan surged 3,405% in January following an internet power outage during an anti-government movement.

  • When China passed, Surfshark sales increased 700%. Hong Kong National Security ActBut the surge in downloads in Russia is unprecedented, spokesman Gabriele Lakaitite told Axios.

Reality check: Journalists may be faster at using VPNs to report sensitive information than everyday citizens.

  • “The government relies on the fact that either ignorance or fear does not allow the majority of people to go against restrictions and thus keep them in power,” Miliano said. ..

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on March 8th.

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