Starting yesterday, Russia went to war with free cross-platform messaging app Telegram. Authorities including the FSB wanted access to Telegram’s encryption keys, but the service refused to hand them over.
As a result, the service – which serviced 200,000,000 people in March alone – came under massive attack. Supported by a court ruling obtained last Friday, authorities ordered ISPs to block huge numbers of IP addresses in an effort to shut Telegram down.
Amazon and Google, whose services Telegram uses, were both hit with censorship measures, with around 1.8 million IP addresses belonging to the Internet giants blocked in an initial wave of action. But the government was just getting warmed up.
In an updated posted by Pavel Durov to Twitter from Switzerland late last night, the Telegram founder confirmed that Russia had massively stepped up the fight against his encrypted messaging platform.
Within the last two days, Russia blocked over 15 million IP addresses in attempts to ban Telegram on its territory. Regardless, Telegram remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents #digitalresistance https://t.co/2syVbVzXPg
— Pavel Durov (@durov) April 17, 2018
Of course, 15 million IP addresses is a huge volume, particularly since ‘just’ 14 million of Telegram’s users are located in Russia – that’s more than one IP address for each of them. As a result, there are reports of completed unrelated services being affected by the ban, which is to be expected given its widespread nature. But Russia doesn’t want to stop there.
According to Reuters, local telecoms watchdog Rozcomnadzor asked both Google and Apple [Update: and APKMirror] to remove Telegram from their app stores, to prevent local citizens from gaining access to the software itself. It is unclear whether either company intends to comply but as yet, neither has responded publicly nor taken any noticeable action.
An announcement from Durov last night thanked the companies for not complying with the Russian government’s demands, noting that the efforts so far had proven mostly futile.
“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 our users there,” Durov wrote on Telegram.
“Thank you for your support and loyalty, Russian users of Telegram. Thank you, Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft – for not taking part in political censorship.”
Durov noted that Russia accounts for around 7% of Telegram’s userbase, a figure that could be compensated for with organic growth in just a couple of months, even if Telegram lost access to the entire market. However, the action only appears to have lit a fire under the serial entrepreneur, who now has declared a war of his own against censorship.
“To support internet freedoms in Russia and elsewhere I started giving out bitcoin grants to individuals and companies who run socks5 proxies and VPN,” Durov said.
“I am happy to donate millions of dollars this year to this cause, and hope that other people will follow. I called this Digital Resistance – a decentralized movement standing for digital freedoms and progress globally.”
As founder of not only Telegram but also vKontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook, Durov is a force to be reckoned with. As such, his promises are unlikely to be hollow ones. While Russia has drawn a line in the sand on encryption, it appears to have energized Durov to take a stand, one that could have a positive effect on anti-censorship measures both in Russia and further afield.