The recent restrictions imposed by the Russian government pose a threat to European companies who use VPN services as a mean to protect confidential information.
Concerns have been expressed by the Association of European Businesses (AEB), an organization that includes several hundreds of European companies, amongst the most notable being Air France, Volvo Cars, and Citibank. The concerns were regarding the adoption and entry into force of amendments to the Russian law on Information Security, Information and Information Technology, this new amendment limits the efficiency of anonymizers, i.e. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
These concerns were further expressed by the CEO of the Association of European Businesses Frank Schauff, who sent a letter to the Head of Information technology, Mass Media, and Supervisions of Communications from Roskomnadzor Alexander Zharov.
According to Anna Akhmadieva, representative of the Ministry of Communications, the letter made by Frank Schauff has already been received by the Ministry of Communications and Roskomnadzor, further stating that they were starting communications with Roskomnadzor on this topic and would give a response to AEB soon.
Virtual private network services are used by a great majority of International companies in Russia as one of the measures to keep their data secure while doing business. So in this case, the recently adopted law may be applicable to the Information and Technology systems and departments operating within VPNs and proxy technologies.
However, and despite the concerns the new law contains conditions that do not state all VPNs will be restricted rather, they will only be restricted if the correct process is not followed by the owners of such software, in such case, provided that “the circle of users of such software and hardware is defined by their owners” as to a correct registration to the authorities of these VPN applications, “The use of such software and hardware is carried out for technological purposes to ensure the activities of the person who uses them,” meaning so long as the legal process is followed, the person who uses these applications should have no problem.
However, the letter notes demand clarification as to whether they can still use the Virtual Private networks for their own needs and if they should inform the authorities about it.
Despite the AEB’s demand of clarification, according to Edgars Puzo chairman of the AEB Committee on IT and Telecommunications, there hasn’t been any explanations or clarifications for that matter from Roskomnadzor and the Ministry of Communications.
Internet Ombudsman Dmitry Marinichev believes the condition expressed in the law actually frees corporate Virtual private network from its effect. In addition, Leonid Evdokimov, the developer of Tor project and creator of the anonymous Tor network shared some thoughts on the matter regarding the recent laws, “The registry of VPNs that do not comply with this law will always be one step behind the existing infrastructure. Perhaps, of course, another scenario is possible: the blocking of all VPN-like protocols and the introduction of a list of good, but it seems that such an asymmetric answer is not yet discussed. And blacklists are practically useless”
Evdokimov also highlights that the main problem is not to filter traffic, but to distinguish Russian users from Non-Russian, for which there is no efficient solution. He also added, in relation to these unavailable solutions, and what would happen if VPN services providers started to filter traffic for all users, stating it would create “a very dangerous precedent” and if these measures were allowed to function “then any country in the world can demand from any business to filter something”.
Given the fact that VPNs can be used both for corporate and personal needs, then employees can easily use them to circumvent the blocking of websites. Lawyer of Roskomvoboda Sarkis Darbiyan states that “I think for the time being it (VPNs) will not bother the authorities. The Federal Security Service and Roskomnadzor will have a dig at blocking the most popular public VPNs for ordinary users.”
Fortunately for Russian users, tools like OpenVPN are available and grant the user the power to deploy their Virtual Private network, which Roskomnadzor will not be able to track, according to Darbinyan.