As Russia went on to block access to Meta Platforms Inc’s flagship social media platforms, Instagram and Facebook, demand from internet users for tools to bypass restrictions surged, according to data acquired from one monitoring firm.
Instagram access in Russia was banned on March 14 in response to Meta’s decision in the past week to let social media users in Ukraine post messages like “Death to the Russian invaders”. Facebook was already banned over what Moscow said were restrictions on access to Russian media there.
On the eve of the Instagram ban, the demand for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that mostly encrypt data and hide the user’s location exploded by 2,088% compared to the daily average demand in mid-February, according to data from monitoring firm Top10VPN.
Russia has now been targeted by unexpected Western sanctions over its actions in Ukraine and is now battling to control the flow of information, ensuring that foreign social media platforms are affected by traffic slowdowns and, in the case of Instagram and Facebook, straight bans.
VPNs’ demand had already been rising in the region as Russian and Ukrainian websites fell victim to many cyberattacks. Russia banned many VPNs in 2021, but has so far failed to block them completely, as part of bigger campaign critics believe stifles internet freedom.
Top10VPN’s data analysis of over 6,000 entries to Russia’s central registry of blocked sites discovered that 203 news sites and 97 foreign exchange and crypto websites are now blocked in Russia.
Roskomnadzor, the state communications regulator, said on Monday that the number of cyberattacks against the IT systems and infrastructure of the Russian government had steeply increased since February 24. It warned the perpetrators that cyberattacks might result in criminal consequences.