July 13, 2020

Russia’s War On Encryption Stumbles Forth With Ban Of Tutanota

The Russian government continues to escalate its war on encrypted services and VPNs. For years now, Putin’s government has slowly but surely taken steps to effectively outlaw secure communications, framing the restrictions as essential for national security, with the real goal of making it harder than ever for Russian citizens to dodge the Putin government’s ever-expanding surveillance ambitions.

The latest case in point: starting last Friday, the Russian government banned access to encrypted email service Tutanota, without bothering to provide the company with much of any meaningful explanation:

Tutanota is currently blocked in Russia. If you are affected by this outage, please use the Tor browser or a vpn to access Tutanota.https://t.co/Re8lQ1uDbS#censorship #surveillance #privacy #HumanRights #FreeSpeech

— Tutanota (@TutanotaTeam) February 16, 2020

In a blog post, the company notes that Tutanota has been blocked in Egypt since October of last year, and that impacted users should attempt to access the service via a VPN or the Tor browser:

“Encrypted communication is a thorn in the side to authoritarian governments like Russia as encryption makes it impossible for security services to eavesdrop on their citizens. The current blocking of Tutanota is an act against encryption and confidential communication in Russia.

…We condemn the blocking of Tutanota. It is a form of censorship of Russian citizens who are now deprived of yet another secure communication channel online. At Tutanota we fight for our users’ right to privacy online, also, and particularly, in authoritarian countries such as Russia and Egypt.

Except VPNs have been under fire in Russia for years as well. Back in 2016 Russia introduced a new surveillance bill promising to deliver greater security to the country. Of course, as with so many similar efforts around the world the bill actually did the exact opposite — not only mandating new encryption backdoors, but also imposing harsh new data-retention requirements on ISPs and VPN providers forced to now register with the government. As a result, some VPN providers, like Private Internet Access, wound up leaving the country after finding their entire function eroded and having some of their servers seized.

Last year Russia upped the ante, demanding that VPN providers like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, IPVanish, and HideMyAss help block forbidden websites that have been added to Russia’s censorship watchlist. And last January, ProtonMail (and ProtonVPN) got caught up in the ban as well after it refused to play the Russian government’s registration games. While Russian leaders want the public to believe these efforts are necessary to ensure national security, they’re little more than a giant neon sign advertising Russian leaders’ immense fear of the Russian public being able to communicate securely.
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