Telegram Vows to Shore Up VPNs as Russia-wide Ban Affects Even Non-Telegram Users

TorrentFreak.com are reporting today that Telegram co-founder and exiled Russian businessperson Pavel Durov has vowed to donate millions of dollars in Bitcoin to providers of virtual private network (VPN) services.

Consistently routing messages through VPNs, which obscure message origins, may allow Russian citizens to continue messaging privately using Telegram despite a statewide ban.

Telegram, an encrypted messaging service with two hundred million users worldwide, was banned across Russia last Friday in an 18-minute trial hastily convened in Moscow after Telegram failed to provide authorities with digital keys to decrypt its users’ messages.

Russia has stated that being able to monitor communications within its borders is a matter of state security. Telegram, however, claims that possessing the universal decryption keys necessary to expose users’ messages is not part of its business model.

The 15 million banned addresses figure cited by Durov is almost ten times higher than a 1.8 million figure previously reported.

Many non-Telegram-related businesses are said have been caught in the dragnet of ISP bans: Volvo Russia, Gett Taxi. messaging app Viber, flower-delivery company Giveme.ru, and even Ruptly, a government-owned video news agency, are reported to have experienced service disruptions as the Russian state communications regulator, Rozkomnodzar, works its ban through Google and Amazon clouds.

Some parties on Twitter have speculated that Rozkomnadzor may even have disabled its own site during the ban, though others have related reports that the site is down due to “a powerful DDoS (denial of service) attack.”

Ironically, Telegram claims that its services remain largely operational in Russia due to messages being routed through VPNs.

Radio Free Europe reported a tweet by Durov transmitted yesterday:

“Despite the ban, we haven’t seen a significant drop in user engagement so far, since Russians tend to bypass the ban with VPNs and proxies. We also have been relying on third-party cloud services to remain partly available for the rest of our users.”

One Russian citizen, Mary Glazkova, however, told a reporter at The Verge that people unwilling to spend $50-120 on VPN proxy services are already migrating off the service to other messenger apps, including the very un-private Facebook Messenger.

Speaking to the same reporter, Anton Nekhaenko expressed resignation towards the ban.

“Politics is too remote,” for the average Russian citizen, they don’t feel like there’s a legitimate political process to engage with. So long as it only troubles ordinary people, the ban will continue,” said a Nekhaenko. “Thank God repressions are handled by such incompetent idiots.”

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