Sri Lankan ISPs are currently blocking any digital security tools that allow internet users in the country to circumvent censorship measures. This now also seems to include several different VPN services, according to new network measurement data released by NetBlocks earlier today.
The government claims that these restrictions have been put in place to prevent the spread of misinformation following the series of church and hotel bombings that took place on Sunday 21 April.
Reports indicate that one of the most popular commercial VPN providers was blocked at 4 AM UTC on Monday 22 April, 9:30 AM local time the day after the attacks.
Etisalat, a United Arab Emirates-owned telecoms services provider, is using two different DNS poisoning techniques to block several VPN providers in Sri Lanka. Servers owned by its subsidiary, Tigo, were discovered to be impersonating the blocked companies’ DNS servers and therefore preventing users from accessing the service.
VPN providers affected by the block include NordVPN, Hotspot Shield, PureVPN, TunnelBear, OpenVPN and several more, with the list expected to grow in the next few days.
Top10VPN’s monitoring of VPN demand in Sri Lanka saw a 12,000% increase in Google searches following the attacks, with citizens mainly using them as a means of accessing the services blocked by the authorities, such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp.
There is evidence of users having difficulty downloading, installing and connecting to a range of different VPN services, so even those who already have the software up and running on their devices are likely to experience problems.
The Sri Lankan government has faced a great deal of criticism following the implementation of these blocks, with critics warning that these drastic measures won’t allow people freedom of expression as they come to terms with the aftermath of the attacks. They’re also a severe impediment to independent media coverage, both inside the country and around the world.
This isn’t the first time the Sri Lankan government has done something like this. In March 2018 Sri Lankans were unable to access social media for a period of eight days while the government attempted to quell violent riots in the country.
There’s no way of knowing when internet users in Sri Lanka will be able to access VPN services once more, and there’s no indication of when the social media ban will be lifted either. Access Now is asking the country, along with several others, to reverse the blocks as part of the international #KeepItOn campaign, which is fighting against internet shutdowns around the world.