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Massive VPN downloads during war

Apr 15, 2022

  1. Privacy and Security
  2. Massive VPN downloads during war

Governments from different countries use multiple techniques to control people and free speech. Increased surveillance, or internet restrictions, are popular forms of coercion that influence the defensive behavior of a society. As a result, people, by instinct, turn to privacy tools to protect themselves. Lately, massive 3.5 thousand percent growth in demand for VPN services could be observed.

Russians are beginning to experience problems with access to Western network services. Many sites are inaccessible, and some companies have suspended operations in connection with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Therefore, Russian Internet users are looking for workarounds (not all) to various regional blockades. As a result, the popularity of VPN services has increased significantly.

The current situation relates to problems with access to Western services that hit Russians during the invasion of Ukraine after February 24, 2022. As a result, many of them are looking for a workaround. Therefore, they directed attention toward VPN services. As it turns out, recently, interest in VPNs has grown tremendously. The service providers confirm the increased interest in their services. In some cases, sales in Russia increased by up to 3.5 thousand percent.

The problem of access to information in Russia is huge. People are being cut off from Western services and technology, and day by day, Western companies continue withdrawing from the country. Ordinary, but not all, Russians are finding out firsthand that their country’s invasion of Ukraine was a mistake. Popular streaming platforms such as Netflix have halted their operations. The situation is similar with social networks, which, however, have been forced in part by the actions of Roskomnadzor and the passing of a new law prohibiting information about Russian activities in Ukraine under threat of imprisonment.

However, it must be said that the increase in VPN term searches was already visible on February 25, which is shortly after the start of hostilities.

Initially, most queries came from the Kaliningrad region, but now St. Petersburg and Krasnodar Krai lead the list. It is also interesting to note that Putin banned the most searched term related to VPNs.

VPN service providers revealed the considerable rise of their website activities in the data. For example, it can be read from the comment of Dorota Klajn, Polish Country Manager at Surfshark (translation):

We have observed a significant increase in VPN sales coming from Russia. Such rapid growth means that people living in Russia are actively looking for ways to avoid government surveillance and censorship, whether by accessing blocked websites or social media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. As the number of websites being shut down grows every day, our services act as a window to view objective information and access untracked communication channels.

Moreover, after purchasing our services, users receive an after-purchase survey in which a large number of Russian customers say they bought VPNs because of the war and increasing censorship. For example, here is an unaltered quote from an anonymous user who explains why he needs a VPN now: “The war has started, and I’m worried that the government might start restricting internet access even more than before.

The percentage numbers presented by Surfshark are even more interesting:

Our average weekly sales in Russia had increased 3,500 percent since February 24, when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. The most significant jump was on March 5-6, when Russia officially announced the blocking of Western media, Twitter, and Facebook.

We saw a similar increase in sales when China passed the Hong Kong Security Law in May 2020. But back then, the increase was about 700 percent, so it wasn’t as significant as what we’re seeing today. Nevertheless, the rapid rise in VPN downloads in Russia in recent weeks is unprecedented.

The growth in sales reported by Surfshark is impressive but not isolated. ExpressVPN as well recognized changes in the market through visits to their website from Russian networks:

We’ve seen some trends indicating a growing interest in VPNs from Russia. Over the past week, we have seen an increase in traffic to our site from Russia of about 240 percent from week to week. However, we do not provide specific business data, such as the number of users by region.

It might be thought that this trend is common throughout the whole industry, but there are also service providers that have not seen much change. One of them is NordVPN, one of the most recognizable brands among VPNs globally. Their statement regarding the current situation can be found in the news articles, in which we can read:

We see an increasing number of visits to our site from Russia, but the increase is relatively small because Russia has never been our primary market. However, such spikes in VPN demand are not unusual. People turn to privacy tools whenever the government announces increased surveillance, internet restrictions, or other restrictions. We’ve seen similar spikes in different regions, such as during the Hong Kong protests in 2020.

In the current situation, it’s important to mention that NordVPN had an intervention from Roskomnadzor in 2019.

In 2019, Roskomnadzor demanded that NordVPN provide the Russian government with access to any servers located in Russia. As a result, we destroyed all of our Russian servers and removed them from our services because such a request goes against our values and the service agreement with our customers.

This might have led to the service’s lower popularity and recognition in the Russian market.

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Hi! I’m Magic,

Software, hardware, and test engineer with experience of 25+ years in military systems.

During years of work on multiple projects, I noticed that most people struggle with technical questions, and sometimes finding correct answers is impossible on the congested internet.
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