Russian Authorities have removed the usage of the famous Tor browser without warning, with plans to impose further web restrictions.
Internet Restrictions In Russia: Removing Tor
“The Russian government has officially blocked our main website in Russia,” in a recent statement by the TOR’s developers
Russian Government officially blocks Tor, Source: torproject.org
It is no surprise to anyone that Russia restricts citizens’ internet usage. The tight-knit society has only grown in control and censorship in recent years. Their most recent stunt is the removal of the number 1 darknet tool, TOR.
“The government has built up an entire arsenal of tools to reign over information, internet users, and communications networks,” says Hugh Williamson in an interview after a large protest last year June.
According to a TOR project attempting to gather data on which countries use TOR the most, Russia is the second biggest user of the browser and takes up nearly 15% of all usage. However, on December 7th, 2021 many Russians found themselves unable to access any websites using the browser.
The move came days after a report by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media (also known as roskomnadzor). The report claimed that there would be “the introduction of centralized management in relation to the means of circumventing the restriction of information prohibited by law”
Although it was not clear what this statement meant, we can now see they were speaking about the Tor browser specifically. Roskomnadzor’s task force found a way to blacklist the browser used to escape censorship in the country.
The Russian authorities have imposed many new internet laws in the past three years, with no plans to slow down. In 2019 The government required all ISP’s to install software on user devices in order to monitor and block content banned by the government.
The VPN Difficulty
The current solution to avoiding the restriction may seem like a simple VPN location change. However, in 2018 Roskomnadzor cracked down on VPN and proxy service usage as well. They imposed extreme fines to search engines providing this option, in 2019 they built upon these restrictions forcing VPN services in the country to block access to the blacklisted sites,
The authorities are attempting to remove all VPN usage and in 2021 Roskomnadzor has blocked 8 VPN’s from being used in the country. They have also forced Apple to turn off its Private Relay service, a service used to encrypt any traffic of data from the device.
Roskomnadzor is attempting to make the process of removing the Tor browser usage as another move to prevent access to blocked sites, though it is clear this is not the case. The removal of Tor is a clear political issue in an attempt to stop both illegal activities in the country, and to prevent communications that are difficult to monitor. Something they have done before when they removed the Telegram applications usage in the country.
In late 2014, Putin pushed the Roskomnadzor unit to remove the usage of TOR. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the intent to complete this task was made clear.
The browser is currently available in many parts of Russia. According to OONI, the majority of the country still has access. The rollout of the removal of the usage of the browser will take some time to complete.
The only other country to have successfully blocked the usage of Tor is China, due to their control over all business sectors, this was a much easier task. The browser’s official website, torproject.org, is no longer available making it much harder to download the official Tor browser.
Use a Tor Bridge
Official Tor developers suggest using a Tor Bridge to avoid Russian censorship, however, this will require a large community backing to complete. If Russia were to block all of Russia from using the browser, the bridges would need to hold over 300,000 daily users of the Tor browser.
Currently, Torproject.org is running a large campaign to spin up more bridges and has already reached the goal of over 200 obfs4 bridges. The bridges currently up would not work for the amount of traffic going through them though.
Russian users that do not have access to Tor should follow the Torproject.org’s official guide to using bridges.