When messaging apps go fully encrypted, it makes it difficult for governments to monitor the conversations.
In an attempt to establish control over its citizens and to implement strict censorship rules, the Russian telecommunications watchdog Roskomnadzor has taken an extreme measure by banning the popular encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is widely used among Russian citizens.
When Telegram moved a large portion of their storage infrastructure to Amazon Web Services and Google’s servers, Roskomnadzor started by blocking millions of IP addresses to stop users from accessing the service.
Within hours, they further blocked more IPs at ISP-level, and current reports confirmed that the government-backed agency has banned a whopping count of approximately 17 million IP addresses.
As they couldn’t specifically target servers used by the Telegram app, they also ended up closing down a lot of other legitimate services used by people in the country.
Forcing Third Parties to Stop Supporting Telegram App
Pavel Durov, CEO of Telegram, confirmed on his own Telegram channel that Roskomnadzor is at the helm of the massive project through which they have managed to block millions of IPs but they couldn’t bring down access to third-party services like VPN networks or proxy servers. Durov has started providing Bitcoin grants to companies and users who run socks5 proxies and VPNs.
Every time a company or the government steps in to ban legitimate services, users tend to rely on VPNs to get the job done.
When the company tried to force service providers to remove the app from the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store and their servers, they refused to do so.
Besides, these third parties potentially had 14 million people to provide their services to, and they were more than willing to accept them onboard to help them use Telegram without intervention.
Writing in a Telegram post, Durov further thanked big players like Google, Amazon and Microsoft for not supporting the internet watchdog in this attempt.
Edward Snowden Condemns Russia’s Censorship Practices
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose 2013 asylum in Russia will be extended to 2020, doesn’t hesitate to talk about his host when censorship and privacy are meddled with. He has already made controversial comments, and Roskomnadzor’s recent move provoked serious condemn from him.
On his Twitter account, Snowden quoted the fact that over 17 million IPs are blocked and the Russian government’s quest to gain backdoor access to communications is not acceptable.
Snowden continued by voicing support for Telegram’s response to the government-issued blocks.
Collateral Damage to Other Services
The telecommunications watchdog was strongly backed by the Federal Security Service in Russia, which is a government organization and a legal court order which allowed them to use brute force to shutdown the services.
In their effort to make Telegram irrelevant in the country, they also ended up bringing down a whole lot of other services including Viber, a school that teaches the English language online, a local social networking app named Odnoklassniki, among many others.
While it didn’t have a significant impact on users as they are using VPN to bypass the security, a big political concern has come up among people who so far opined they lived in a free country.
Users Criticize Government’s Decision
Most opined that if it would continue, it may not be long before Russia believes that Facebook and Google are hindering their political agenda. Within months or years, they might start blocking out all types of third-party apps that offer services and serve as a window to the outside world.
Encrypted solutions designed to offer the highest level of privacy for private conversations are considered a threat to the government as they want complete control over their citizens.
Many users took to social media to criticize the way they have tried to ban an app and protested against this move. Some even mentioned that they could access Telegram but Amazon or Viber didn’t work, mocking how trivial the move was.
The decision provoked criticism from top Russian officials, government workers and Russian media.
In a press statement, President Vladimir Putin’s advisor for internet development requested users to start using the ICQ app instead of Telegram for their group communications.