US funds software to evade censors for Russians

“It is very important for Russians to be connected to the whole World Wide Web, to maintain resistance”

A US-backed campaign is giving Russians access to anti-censorship software to dodge Moscow’s crackdown on dissent against its invasion of Ukraine, groups involved have said AFP.

Russia has stepped up restrictions on independent media since its neighbor’s attack in February, with journalists and ordinary citizens facing prosecution for criticizing the invasion or even calling it a war.

The US government-backed Open Technology Fund is giving money to a handful of US companies providing free virtual private networks (VPNs) to millions of Russians, who can then use them to visit blocked websites by the censors.

Traditional VPN software creates what is effectively a private tunnel over the internet for data, usually encrypted, to flow away from eavesdropping – and its use has exploded in Russia since the invasion.

“Our tool is primarily used by people trying to access independent media, so OTF funding was absolutely essential,” said a spokesperson for Lantern, one of the companies involved.

Tech companies Psiphon and nthLink have also provided sophisticated anti-censorship apps to people in Russia, with the OTF estimating that some four million users in Russia have received VPNs from the companies.

Video poster

Psiphon has seen a massive increase in Russian users, from around 48,000 a day before the Feb. 24 invasion to more than a million a day by mid-March, a senior adviser at Psiphon said. the company, Dirk Rodenburg. The company’s Russian-language tools now average nearly 1.5 million users a day, he added.

While some, like Ukraine’s leaders, called for Russia to be cut off from the internet, others noted that access was essential for opposition groups.

“It’s very important for Russians to be connected to the whole web, to keep the resistance going,” said Natalia Krapiva, a technology legal adviser at rights group Access Now, which is not involved in the campaign. OTF’s effort.

“All kinds of initiatives are going on and to keep them alive you need the internet because you can’t gather in person or because activists are scattered around the world,” she added.

Keeping VPNs operational and accessible was relatively simple at the start of the war, said Lucas, the spokesman for Lantern, who spoke on the condition that only his first name be used.

“They weren’t ready to block anything,” Lucas said. “Over time, Russia has learned to block the easy stuff, but Lantern and Psiphon are still operational.”

Comments are closed.