PHOTO FILE: The coat of arms of Russia is displayed on the laptop screen in this illustration taken on February 12, 2019. REUTERS / Maxim Shemetov / Photo file

February 28, 2022

MOSCOW (Reuters) – As Russian and Ukrainian websites fall victim to cyberattacks and Moscow restricts access to some foreign social networks, Internet users in both countries have turned to Internet tools to help circumvent the blockade.

According to the monitoring company Top10VPN, the demand for virtual private networks (VPNs), which encrypt data and do not determine the location of users, grew on Sunday in Russia by 354% higher than the average for the day from 16 to 23 February.

Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”, invaded its neighbor on February 24, attacking from land, sea and air. At home, he is fighting for control of the story, threatening restrictions on foreign and local media that deviate from the official version of events.

Photos and videos were slowly uploaded to Facebook, owned by Meta Platforms Inc, and Twitter, both of which were targeted by state communications regulator Roskomnadzor.

“The demand for VPNs grew in Russia when authorities restricted Facebook and Twitter last weekend to control the flow of information from its invasion of Ukraine,” Top10VPN reported.

Last year, Russia banned several VPNs but failed to completely block them, as part of a broad campaign, critics say, is stifling Internet freedom.

In Ukraine, Russian hackers have been accused of a series of cyberattacks that briefly took Ukrainian banking and government websites off the Internet a few days before the invasion. Russia has denied involvement.

Demand for VPN in Ukraine began to grow significantly on February 15 in light of cyberattacks, according to Top10VPN, and rose sharply after the invasion, with demand peaked at 424% higher than the average for the day in the first half of February.

On Monday, the websites of several Russian media outlets were hacked, their regular websites replaced by anti-war messages and calls to stop President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

(Reuters report in Moscow; edited by Toby Chopra)

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