censorship

Russian Government Blocks Encrypted Email Service ProtonMail Following Terror Threats

Russia’s Federal Security Service has ordered ISPs to block encrypted email provider ProtonMail nationwide due to recent bomb threats sent using the service

Vladimir Putin Pointing Finger
Charlotte Darrell
By Charlotte Darrell

According to a Russian-language blog, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has issued an order for ISPs to block ProtonMail due to security reasons. This comes after Russian police received several bomb threats in January 2019 that were supposedly sent using the encrypted email service.

While it’s still possible to access the ProtonMail website in the country, users have reported that they are unable to send or receive emails into their inboxes. Anonymous web browser Tor has also affected by the order, which blocked 26 internet addresses in total.

ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen told TechCrunch in an email that the block is “particularly sneaky” as ISPs are blocking access to back-end mail delivery servers rather than the ProtonVPN website that users see, which uses a separate infrastructure.

“The wholesale blocking of ProtonMail in a way that hurts all Russian citizens who want greater online security seems like a poor approach,” Yen said.

“If there is indeed a legitimate legal complaint, we encourage the Russian government to reconsider their position and solve problems by following established international law and legal procedures.”

ProtonMail’s official Reddit account stated: “Unfortunately there is no doubt that the block is intentional and done by the Russian government. It seems like it was ordered right before the protests planned for this past weekend. We are looking into some options to work around this.”

The mentioned protests are a retaliation against the government’s ongoing plans to severely restrict and control the internet. Lawmakers recently approved legislation to criminalize the posting of ‘fake news’ online, and Putin has backed a law to create a highly manipulated ‘Sovereign Internet’.

Some users on Reddit suggested using a VPN in order to circumvent the blocks, so long as it’s not also affected by Russia’s crackdowns, of which there are many.

One user wrote: “I get Russia is trying to protect against Terrorists but blocking websites and VPN’s [sic] won’t solve anything.”

ProtonVPN is the product of ProtonMail; the website describes it as a “project was born out of a need to better protect the activists and journalists that use ProtonMail”. However, ProtonVPN is yet to address the development on its blog.

You can read our full review of ProtonVPN here.