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Since August 7, numerous Russian Internet users have reported experiencing technical problems with VPN services. The issues have affected customers of mobile operators like MTS, MegaFon, Beeline, Tele2, Yota, and Tinkoff Mobile, while VPNs on fixed line providers like Rostelecom seem to be operating fine, according to the site SecurityLab.

The independent outlet Mediazona reported that as of Tuesday evening, the issues have not become widespread and that only some users in certain areas have experienced them. According to the technical support project Na Svyazi, most complaints have come from Moscow and St. Petersburg and the wider Moscow and Leningrad regions, as well as from Tatarstan.

Na Svyazi also said that in its experts’ opinions, the VPN failures are likely the result of blockages from the Russian authorities. These restrictions, it said, have “affected all mobile operators without exception” and have included the VPN protocols Wireguard, OpenVPN, IPSec, Shadowsocks, IKEv2, as well as the VPN services Psiphon, VPN generator, Lantern, Windscribe, Tachyon, Betternet, Cloudflare, Urban VPN, Amnezia, PIA, Proton, Openvpn connect, Planet, iVPN, Xeovo, Surfshark, Tunnelbear, and P4PN. The Telegram channel Esher II said the VPN protocols L2TP and PPTP have been blocked as well.

Customer support employees from the service Terona VPN attributed the technical issues to “another wave of blockages from Roskomnadzor,” Russia’s federal censorship agency. Roskomnadzor, which began blocking VPN services in 2021 and tested restrictions against popular VPN protocols in 2022, has not commented on the situation.

Multiple experts interviewed by Mediazona said that this round of blockages has only affected individuals, not major businesses. Speaking under the pseudonym ValdikSS, the creator of the block circumvention service AntiZapret said that private servers that users independently configured using foreign providers were targeted. He also said the blockage differs from past ones: this time, Roskomnadzor is using new strategies to evaluate traffic type and blocking connections it determines are using a VPN.

According to Stanislav Shakirov, the technical director of the digital rights group Roskomsvoboda, Russia’s censors are trying to impose restrictions that affect individual VPN users without interfering with the work of corporations. RedShield VPN creator Vladislav Zdolnikov told Mediazona that the authorities have refrained from blocking VPN protocols in the past because they “had a deal with large businesses that they would except their addresses so as not to disrupt their service tunnels.”

Mediazona noted that in 2021, Russia’s Central Bank, warning of upcoming VPN restrictions, sent a letter to the country’s banks asking them to report what services they use to evade Internet blockages. They hoped this would allow them to prevent future blockages from impeding the work of credit organizations.

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