Open internet access and online privacy in Russia took a serious blow in mid-2017 when President Vladimir Putin announced a ban on VPN services throughout the country. The bill aims to make it more difficult to obtain a VPN in Russia and will likely lead to stricter censorship efforts in the near future.
Anyone who lives in or is planning on visiting Russia should get a VPN as soon as possible. Not only do VPNs help keep your online activity safe and secure, but they also protect you from mass surveillance and let you access a censorship free internet no matter where you go. Keep reading for our guide on how to find the best VPNs for Russia.
- 1 Evaluating the Best VPN for Russia
- 2 Are VPNs Banned in Russia?
- 3 Is the Russian VPN Ban Similar to the Great Firewall of China?
- 4 Start Using a VPN in Russia Right Away
- 5 Be Careful with Messaging Services in Russia
Evaluating the Best VPN for Russia
There are dozens of considerations you should take into account when searching for the right VPN. Encryption protocols are a high priority, as are things like server speed, logging policies, and security features exclusive to certain VPNs. We’ve made the process easier by providing a few recommended VPNs for use in Russia, listed below. We chose them based on the following criteria, ensuring you’ll have a safe connection to the internet in Russia and everywhere else on the planet.
- Logging policy – Online privacy is only as strong as a VPN’s logging policy. If the company stores records of your activity, that information can be matched to your account, destroying your privacy in an instant. If no logs are kept, your data can never be leaked.
- Reputation – It’s difficult to measure a thing like reputation, but it’s critical when looking for a reliable VPN. If you use a company that’s well-established and has a proven record of fighting for its users, you know your privacy is secure. If you don’t, your data could be sold to the highest bidder.
- Extra security features – Not all VPNs are created the same. Some have added security features like DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch to keep your physical location a secret. We put a priority on VPNs that go the extra mile in the name of privacy.
- Jurisdiction – Where a VPN company is registered can have a huge impact on your privacy. Depending on the local laws, some VPNs may be required to keep hidden data logs or share information with government agencies without notifying users. The best VPNs are based in countries with no mandatory data retention regulations.
- Payment methods – Using payment options like PayPal or a credit card automatically links your real identity to your VPN. For an extra layer of anonymity, choose a VPN that accepts anonymous cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
1. ExpressVPN – Fast and User Friendly
ExpressVPN focuses on two key areas in the VPN market space: ease of use and fast downloads. Both of these make for an incredible experience, no matter what you plan on using your VPN to do. It starts with custom software for a wide variety of modern devices, everything from Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs to Android and iOS smartphones. All you have to do is sign in and click a single button to connect to the fastest server. No messing around with configuration files or encryption protocol settings, just VPN level protection with a single click.
With ExpressVPN you have access to over 145 servers in 94 different countries, all offering incredibly fast downloads to cities around the world. A built-in speed test lets you take a closer look at the performance numbers of each server, allowing you to find the best speeds in any country within moments. ExpressVPN also works to protect your privacy with strong 256-bit AES encryption backed by a zero-logging policy on all traffic, DNS requests, and IP addresses. Combine that with DNS leak protection and an easy to use automatic kill switch and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a strong, secure, and private VPN!
The best ExpressVPN features at a glance:
- Additional security protocol options for faster and safer connections in places like Russia and China.
- No restrictions on bandwidth, P2P network downloads, or torrent traffic.
- Accepts bitcoin payments through BitPay for anonymous subscriptions.
- Reliable access to Netflix streams through the website and apps.
- Multiple server locations in Russia for premium speeds.
The IPVanish network is one of the largest in the VPN business: over 850 servers in 60 different countries with a combined 40,000 shared IP addresses. This adds up to incredible online anonymity, and it offers tons of options for accessing geo-blocked content, as well. You’ll be able to take advantage of all this privacy with unlimited bandwidth, no speed throttling, and unrestricted access to P2P networks and torrent downloads, all while staying completely hidden!
Top IPVanish features at a glance:
- Plenty of servers with extremely fast connections, perfect for streaming videos.
- Download movies and TV shows through BitTorrent with full anonymity.
- Custom software for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices.
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3. NordVPN – The Largest Server Network
A lot of NordVPN’s features stand head and shoulders above the rest. The most notable of the list is the size of the company’s network, currently sitting at over 1,080 servers in 61 different countries. This many locations means you’ll always have a fast connection in the country of your choosing, no question about it. It also allows NordVPN to offer specialized servers that deliver faster P2P downloads and increased encryption, all with unlimited bandwidth and no speed throttling.
NordVPN also has one of the best zero-logging policies around. It covers everything from bandwidth to traffic, time stamps, and even IP addresses, creating a perfect shell of privacy for all your online activities. Backing this policy are software features that include an automatic kill switch, DNS leak protection, and 256-bit AES encryption on all data. You can even sign up using bitcoin, making NordVPN an excellent choice for a fast and anonymous VPN for Russia.
More of NordVPN’s best features:
- Double encryption and onion routing servers deliver privacy and open internet access even in countries like China, Russia, and Turkey.
- Unique server offerings with features such as faster P2P downloads, dedicated IP addresses, and DDoS protection.
- Easy-to-use apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and more.
- Steady access to Netflix streams even when other VPNs are blocked.
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4. VyprVPN – Incredible Privacy
Unique privacy features set VyprVPN apart from the rest. One of the more unique facts is that the company owns and operates its entire server network of over 700 nodes in 70 different countries. Third parties never have access to VyprVPN’s servers, allowing them to conduct all hardware maintenance and software upgrades for a premium level of privacy. A zero-logging policy on traffic and DNS requests keeps your data invisible, while automatic kill switch and DNS leak protection features make sure no identifying details sneak through your device. All information is secured with 256-bit AES encryption by default, creating a sturdy foundation for your entire online experience.
The best privacy feature in the VyprVPN experience is Chameleon. This exclusive protocol takes encrypted data packets and wraps their metadata in a new layer of encryption, a process that helps defeat deep packet inspection (DPI) used by ISPs and governments to spy on user activity. With Chameleon in place you can break through censorship barriers, defeat ISP throttling, and gain open access to the internet in places like Russia and China. No complicated configuration is required, just choose Chameleon and stay private and anonymous!
Some of VyprVPN’s best features include:
- An entire network of servers owned and maintained by VyprVPN with no third parties involved.
- Unique Chameleon protocol helps defeat tough censorship blocks to maintain anonymity.
- Unlimited bandwidth and no restrictions on P2P or torrent traffic.
- Smart custom apps for desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.
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Are VPNs Banned in Russia?
A bill announced in mid-2017 confirmed rumors that Russia was moving towards banning the use of VPNs throughout the entire country. Contrary to a lot of English language reports, however, this bill did not ban VPNs, only websites that allow users access to VPN technology. It’s a crucial distinction that makes it more difficult for Russian citizens and in-country travelers to gain access to a virtual private network. VPN traffic itself isn’t blocked, so if you already use one you shouldn’t be affected by the new bill.
The ban takes effect November 2017 and will see Russian internet service providers blocking websites that let users download free VPNs or sign up for paid VPN services, including the recommended VPNs listed above. VPN apps on Google Play and the iOS App Store will also likely be removed, though the specifics of this remain to be seen. Proxy services are also included in the ban, as is the Tor Browser and all software that utilizes the Tor network or onion routing in general.
Is the Russian VPN Ban Similar to the Great Firewall of China?
A lot of people are comparing the Russian VPN ban to the ongoing censorship efforts in China. There are significant differences between the two, however, as China’s VPN block is far more vigilant than Russia’s initial efforts. The two countries may deploy similar methods in the future, but for now it’s not really a fair comparison. It’s much easier to obtain and use a VPN in Russia, especially if you start early before the ban goes into effect.
The Great Firewall of China actively blocks VPN providers and VPN traffic in mainland China. Russia’s ban only covers the former. The Chinese system utilizes ISP-level filters as well as deep packet inspection (DPI), a process that takes a closer look at every packet of data to see if it was encrypted with VPN technology. Russia doesn’t seem to be using DPI yet, which means it shouldn’t be difficult to step around the ban to download a VPN for personal or business use.
Start Using a VPN in Russia Right Away
The VPN provider block is just step one. Privacy advocates predict more drastic measures will soon grip the Russian internet, including keyword censorship, foreign website filters, and a complete ban on all VPN traffic. Freedom of expression will only get more difficult as time goes by, which is why it’s important to get a VPN as soon as possible to prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands.
The recent history of Russian data laws is a strong indicator that heavy censorship is on the way. In 2016 the Yarovaya law was passed, requiring in-country ISPs to keep detailed logs on all user activity. Metadata such as time stamps and connection duration are stored for at least six months, giving Russian officials a chance to build profiles of internet users they feel are suspicious. A 2015 law also prohibits storing data on Russian citizens on servers outside the nation, thus preventing users from redirecting their traffic through foreign resources.
Be Careful with Messaging Services in Russia
Along with the VPN provider ban, another bill was quietly passed that’s set to take effect January 2018. The bill simply states that all online messaging services are required to associate users with their real identities. This also holds true for end-to-end encryption apps, including WhatsApp and its many alternatives. Even though the content of encrypted messaging services will be unreadable, the Russian government can use the metadata to track users.
A VPN can help keep your VoIP communications and messaging contents secure, but with the metadata laws in place it isn’t easy to hide your identity or location. Your best option is to use a third-party messaging service that doesn’t officially do business in Russia and route that connection over a secure VPN. A decentralized chat program like BitTorrent’s Bleep is a good place to start. You can also sign up for a VyprVPN premium account and use their proprietary encrypted messaging service Cyphr.
Do you have any tips or tricks you use to keep your internet private in Russia? Let us know in the comments!