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Russian regulator reportedly blocks 36,000 VPN-related websites as usage soars 3,500%

Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine resulted in the imposition of major sanctions on the country. Everyone from video game developers, publishers, manufacturers and even content streaming services have suspended all sales and operations in Russia as part of the sanctions, as well as in solidarity with Ukraine.

The Russian government itself has blocked access to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in an attempt to prevent its citizens from seeing how the world has reacted to events, and also to curb pro-Ukrainian communication. This means that hacking and VPNs remain the only way for Russian citizens to access social media and content streaming. All of this has led to a 3,500% increase in VPN usage in the country, claims Lithuania-based cybersecurity firm Surfshark.

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The company further claims that this has led Russian telecommunications authorities to block more than 36,000 VPN-related sites in the past month. The last time Surfshark noted such a significant increase in VPN sales was in May 2020, when China passed the Hong Kong security law. Although the increase was not as high as that recorded in Russia, the number of VPN-related sales increased by 700%.

While these sanctions were put in place to oppose the actions of the Russian government, Valve also decided to suspend payments to certain Ukrainian developers. The developers took to social media to share a letter from Valve, which stated, “Your banking information has been disabled for the following reason: Due to the current environment, we are unable to send payments banks in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.”

It was later discovered that the email template that was shared was not complete and the user was asked to “correct [their] banking information as soon as possible” in order to continue receiving payments from Valve. Theories suggest that these Ukrainian developers may have used Russian banks, which have been targeted by sanctions.

For more information on the conflict and ways to help the people of Ukraine, you can check out the resources gathered here.

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