VPNs keep your online activity private and unrestricted. Some countries with repressive governments have outlawed VPNs in an attempt to maintain control.
VPNs are powerful tools that can evade all but the most sophisticated efforts to regulate the Internet and censor information. That is why repressive governments around the world have been making efforts to block or ban VPNs. Such legislation is generally unpopular and hard to enforce, which steers most countries away from outright bans.
Many countries simply try to block access to known VPN service providers. While this is difficult, it can be done if governments are willing to dedicated resources to the task. When you use a VPN, your Internet traffic is protected because it is encrypted and routed through the VPN server, obscuring your IP address, but this traffic can be stopped by blocking ports that are used by VPN protocols such as PPTP or L2TP or outright blocking the IP addresses of VPN services. Countries that are not worried about the economic impact, like North Korea, have simply blocked access to all overseas IP addresses. The most sophisticated tools, like deep packet inspection, can actually identify VPN protocols in packet metadata, allowing counties like China to find and block VPN servers in a more automated and targeted fashion.
Other countries that do not have the technology to block VPNs have passed legislation that outlaws VPN services that are not registered with the government. The most repressive countries have made all VPNs illegal and instituted severe punishments, hoping to scare people away despite the difficulties in detecting VPN traffic.
Certain countries, such as North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Vietnam, Bahrain, Turkmenistan, and Myanmar have very strict Internet censorship laws, meaning that using a VPN within that country can come with risks, even if there is not a known legal ban. Other countries, such as Syria and Libya, have taken actions to block and ban VPN traffic, but these governments do not have full control of their territory and infrastructure. In any case, the governments of all these countries can be considered as hostile to VPN use.
Countries that have banned VPNs
The countries below have either placed technological barriers that block VPNs or passed laws prohibiting the use of VPNs.
The Belarusian government has worked to restrict its citizens’ access to the outside Internet for years. In 2015 it banned both Tor and VPN services, although it appears Belarusians have found ways to circumvent the technological and legal barriers.
China has perhaps gone the furthest of any country to ban and block services like VPNs and Tor. Any VPN must be licensed by the Chinese government. Those that are not will be closed if they are in-country or blocked if they are based in a foreign country. China is one of the few countries in the world that has complete control of all the local Internet service providers, and they use deep packet inspection to monitor Internet traffic in and entering into the Chinese cybersphere. They are generally able to identify and block VPN traffic.
In 2013, Iran attempted to block access to VPNs based in foreign countries, only allowing VPN services that are licensed and registered with the Iranian government. While selling or promoting VPNs is a crime and citizens can be punished for using a VPN, VPN use among citizens and even government officials is still very common.
In trying to deal with ISIS’s online presence, the Iraq government has gone to extremes, not only banning VPN services and social media, but also instituting rolling blackouts of the Internet across the country. Even though the country is no longer under siege by ISIS, its draconian Internet restrictions remain in place.
In 2010, Oman passed a law that prohibited individuals from using VPN services. Anyone caught violating this law is subject to a 500 rial fine (roughly $1,300). Companies can apply for a permit to use a government-approved VPN. If a company is found breaking the law, it faces a 1,000 rial fine.
Russia has taken strong legal action to control free speech and access to information both within its borders and online. The Russian Duma passed the Yarovaya Law in 2016, which required that VPN services register with the government and log their users’ online activity. In 2017, the Duma passed another law that required approved VPNs to block their users from accessing certain websites the Russian government had blacklisted. Those that did not were theatened with bans. As ProtonVPN does not have a presence in Russia, nor do we log information which allows to establish whether or not we have users in Russia, we cannot and have not complied with these laws.
In 2016, the Erdogan regime began blocking VPN services and Tor. Now Turkey is using deep packet inspection techniques, similar to China, to detect and block VPN and Tor traffic. The rule of law has broken down in Turkey and the use of a VPN connection can mark you out as a person of interest for law enforcement. However, VPN usage in Turkey is quite widespread. The website Turkey Blocks monitors Internet censorship in Turkey.
In response to the recently implemented tax on social media, the use of VPN services by Ugandans soared. The Ugandan government responded by demanding that local Internet service providers block VPN services. There currently is no legislation against VPNs in Uganda, but this is an evolving situation.
United Arab Emirates
In 2016, the UAE revised its laws, making the use of a VPN service to “commit a crime or prevent its discovery” punishable by temporary imprisonment and a fine of up to 2 million dirham (roughly $540,000). While there are permissible uses for VPNs, UAE has also placed an outright ban on VoIP calls and numerous websites, including some French TV channels and Netflix. It is illegal to use a VPN to access any of these sites or to place a banned call.
Earlier this year, Venezuela’s largest Internet service provider attempted to block the use of Tor and VPN services, presumably on government orders.
If there is a commonality between all the countries on this list, it is that their governments want to control the information their citizens have access to. These governments are afraid that if they had to compete in the marketplace of ideas, they would lose. Instead, they have resorted to the 21st century equivalent of shutting down newspapers and burning books.
Our mission is to provide an Internet that is free and secure. Until that day arrives, we will continue to offer a free, unlimited VPN service to support those who do not have other means to access the information they need.
The ProtonVPN Team
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