Russia Prepares RuStore VPN Ban After Declaring RuStore Installation Mandatory

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Russia's incremental moves to eliminate online privacy regularly target VPNs. To 'free' itself from Google and Apple, in 2022 Russia launched its very own app store, which ironically offers dozens of VPNs. After the government recently announced the mandatory pre-installation of RuStore on tech gadgets, a draft law will outlaw censorship-circumventing VPNs on RuStore.

digital-prison-sRussia has been tightening the noose on VPN services for years. Many non-compliant foreign companies exited Russia when faced with a choice; compromise your customers’ privacy, or else.

Any that remained were required to submit to state regulation, cooperate fully with the authorities, while ensuring that a massive list of domains and URLs censored by the state could not be accessed.

How that has played out on the ground in practical terms isn’t clear, but everything now points to a worsening situation that will almost certainly lead to even more censorship.

Google Play and Apple’s App Store ‘Replaced’ By RuStore

As Russia’s three-day ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine enters its 588th day, everything is going in accordance with the Kremlin’s plan. Indeed, even small inconveniences linked to sanctions and other minor irritants are being transformed into new opportunities for the Russian people.

Limited access to Google Play and Apple’s App Store, for example, prompted the launch of an all-new, independent Russian app store in May 2022.

RuStore Splash

As the image above shows, ‘guaranteed secure access to applications’ is delivered under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Digital Development. So whether people are influencing on Rossgram, meeting like-minded people on Topface, or doing their thing on InTokRUS, government support shouldn’t be too far behind.

A Multitude of VPNs Just a Click Away

Another great feature of RuStore is its comprehensive VPN app collection. While telecoms regulator Roscomnadzor continues to send a stream of legal requests to Google that have already disappeared hundreds of thousands of VPN-related URLs, RuStore currently offers a few dozen VPN apps.

Somehow those apps include VyprVPN, which was reportedly banned from Russia in 2021, and VPN Hub, which doesn’t work in Russia according to the reviews, but does contain a “bonus battery booster.”

Drop in a round, spin the cylinder, hope to get luckyRuStore

RuStore is reportedly doing well. In March, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that RuStore was installed by more than eight million users in its first year online, with people enjoying banking apps, games, and online stores. Such was the success of the store, the government soon instructed phone importers to ensure the app was preinstalled; in the event, it was left to retailers to install the app before phones were handed to customers.

About those VPN Apps…

Russia’s Ministry of Digital Development seems proud with RuStore and its achievements since launching last year. Now, however, Senator Artem Sheikin, Member of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, wants the Ministry of Digital Development to take a much closer look at RuStore’s VPNs.

Given that RuStore is positioned as a Russian platform for mobile devices, Sheikin wants the Ministry of Digital Development to conduct a review to discover the capabilities of the existing VPNs, and then establish criteria for allowing others into the store in the future.

“It seems that one of the most important criteria for their placement should be compliance with the legislation of the Russian Federation regarding non-provision of access to the register of prohibited information,” Sheikin wrote in an appeal to Maxut Shadayev, Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media.

Ball Already Rolling

While Shadayev may find himself reviewing VPNs for some time, TASS reports that Roscomnadzor has already prepared a draft order detailing the criterion for disqualifying VPNs from inclusion on RuStore.

Predictably, VPN apps must not facilitate access to sites that appear on the Unified Register, Russia’s blacklist for sites carrying whatever the state decides is “prohibited information.”

Russia’s Unified Register (here)Unified Register

As previously reported, Russia is in the process of outlawing “the availability of information that provides the opportunity of gaining access, including by downloading programs for electronic computers, to information resources and (or) information and telecommunication networks, access to which is limited on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

In short, if VPNs unblock blocked sites, they too will be rendered illegal. Providing information that allows people to unblock blocked sites is also set to become a crime, most likely on March 1, 2024. That includes “extremist platforms” such as Facebook and Instagram.

“I would like to note that it is especially important to limit citizens’ access to the products of Meta, which is recognized as an extremist organization,” Sheikin clarified.

A lack of encryption served with a side dish of state interference produces a VPN app so undesirable that not even two bonus battery boosters should be able to gloss things over. In reality, people will simply download them, or download others from elsewhere that may or may not contain something much, much worse.

Image credit: tweetyspics/pixabay


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