Maria Montero

Russia blocks encrypted email provider ProtonMail

Russia has told ISPs to enforce a block against encrypted email provider ProtonMail, The head of the company has confirmed.

The blockade was ordered by the state’s Federal Security Service, formerly the KGB, according to a Russian-language blog, which obtained and published the order after the agency accused the company and other email providers of facilitating bomb threats. .

Several anonymous bomb threats were sent by email to the police in late January, forcing several schools and government buildings to evacuate.

In total, the order blocked 26 Internet addresses, including several servers used to encrypt the final connection for users of Tor, a popular anonymity network to circumvent censorship. Internet providers were asked to implement the block “immediately”, using a technique known as BGP blackholing, a way that tells Internet routers to simply drop Internet traffic instead of routing it to its destination.

But the company says that while the site is still loading, users cannot send or receive emails.

ProtonMail CEO Andy Yen called the blocking “particularly clever” in an email to TechCrunch.

“ProtonMail isn’t blocked in the normal way, it’s actually a bit more subtle,” Yen said. “They are blocking access to ProtonMail mail servers. So, and most other Russian mail servers, for example, can no longer send emails to ProtonMail, but a Russian user has no problem accessing. to your inbox, “he said.

This is because the two ProtonMail servers listed by the order are your back-end mail delivery servers, rather than the front-end website running on a different system.

The letter, translated, says that the Internet addresses listed caused “the mass distribution of obviously false reports of a terrorist act” in January, resulting in “mass evacuations of schools, administrative buildings and shopping centers.” (Image: supplied)

“Generally blocking ProtonMail in a way that hurts all Russian citizens who want greater online security appears to be a poor approach,” Yen said. It said its service offers superior security and encryption to other emails provided by rivals in the country.

“We have also implemented technical measures to ensure continuous service for our users in Russia and we have made good progress in this regard,” he explained. “If there is a legitimate legal complaint, we encourage the Russian government to reconsider its position and resolve the issues by following established international law and legal procedures.”

Russian internet regulator Roskomnadzor did not respond to a request for comment.

Yen says the bloc coincided with protests against the government’s efforts to restrict the Internet, which critics called a “kill switch.” The Kremlin, known for its long-standing efforts to clamp down and suppress freedom of speech, claimed it was to protect the country. Infrastructure in the event of a cyber attack.

Some 15,000 residents protested in Moscow on Sunday, during which users began to notice problems with ProtonMail.

It’s the latest in ongoing tensions with tech companies in the wake of Russian-backed disinformation efforts. Russia’s crackdown on the internet intensified in 2014 when it ratified a law ordering tech companies operating in the country to store Russian data within its borders. LinkedIn was one of the first victims of the law, leading to the site’s national ban in 2016.