Which Countries Block VPNs, and Why?
Although VPNs are a great way to protect your information while browsing online, currently not every country in the world sees these privacy services as the best way for their citizens to encrypt their own data. In fact, there are some nations who are directly opposed to the use of VPNs for that very reason, and have gone so far as to directly ban the usage of them while you’re within their nation’s borders.
The punishment for using a VPN in these countries can range from a small fine to losing your internet access to actual jail time, depending on where you browse from. But what are the countries that currently ban the usage of VPNs, how do they detect you’re using one, and what can you do to get around the ban if you’re travelling or just want to stream your favorite Netflix show without any region blocks?
Read on in our guide to which countries block VPNs to find out!
Why do countries block VPNs?
The reason why your home country or a country you’re visiting on business might block a VPN can vary pretty greatly between nations, but here’s a quick breakdown the different reasons we’ve learned about in our research.
The most common reason why a government would ban the use of a VPN is to censor media and information that can get in or out of the country. Often this relates back to obvious areas of virtue censorship like preventing a predominantly Islamic country from being able to watch pornography or allowing certain types of TV shows or movies from making it through in a country where even the slightest amount of sex or profanity is considered a sin.
Although this feeds slightly into the idea of censorship, controlling the information your citizens can or can’t see is a more direct method of exerting influence over the way they think and feel on a daily basis.
Many totalitarian regimes throughout history had a very tight grip on what information made it through their borders to the people, and would often have checkpoints set up on roads and train routes to check and see if any dissenting books/flyers/pamphlets were getting through. These days of course, information can travel literally anywhere in the world at the speed of light, which makes controlling the narrative infinitely more difficult than it was in the pre-internet era.
This is why VPNs are such a scary tool to governments like this: they allow citizens to retake control of their own digital privacy, something that can be dangerous to a regime that relies on the ignorance of its own people in order to maintain its leadership position in the region.
To stifle dissent
Finally there’s the most oppressive reason of all: suppressing any passing of information that might lead citizens within the country to rise up against their oppressors and take back the free internet they deserve.
After the Arab Spring was triggered by the usage of Twitters, many countries (and more specifically, tyrannical Middle Eastern regimes) learned just how much power the internet could have in uniting people against their common enemy. Rather than lightening up their regressive policies and giving the power back to the citizens though, instead many nations simply doubled down on their oppressiveness and began the process of blocking access to major social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and even Google.
Unfortunately so far it looks as though this strategy has been somewhat successful, creating an internet for their citizens that is both heavily monitored and regulated for anyone connecting from that specific country.
How do countries block VPNs?
Now that we’ve established the “why” of blocking VPNs, it’s time to dive into the “how” of it all. If a VPN encrypts the connection of a user, how does a government or organization even know if someone is using one in the first place?
This is accomplished through a number of different methods, and will vary depending on both the country and the type of VPN protection you intend to use with your preferred service provider.
The first method of preventing the usage of VPNs in a country is by port blocking. Many VPNs rely on similar ports to connect through encryption protocols such as LT2P and PPTP, which means that if an ISP located within that country detects any traffic traveling over those ports, it can simply deny access to the rest of the internet until it detects you’re connecting over a pre-approved port structure.
Generally this is the least effective method of VPN blocking because many newer encryption protocols like OpenVPN and IKEv2 can randomize the ports they connect through, essentially making it impossible for an ISP to detect they’re being utilized in the first place. This is where the next, and much more effective, method of detection comes in.
Deep packet inspection (DPI)
Deep packet inspection is not anywhere near as easily fooled as port blocking techniques, primarily due to the way in which the technology fundamentally operates. Deep packet inspection (DPI) works by stripping the application layer of a data packet and examining the actual content of that data as it moves from a user’s computer, through the network, and out to the rest of the world via the ISP’s server network.
DPI can quickly identify the contents of a VPN-protected data stream based on a number preset indicators that an ISP network is designed to look for in real time. For years DPI was too complicated for an ISP to be able to run it without devoting significant amounts of network resources to the process, but recent advancements have made it much faster and more cost-effective for ISPs to run a DPI system without bogging the rest of their customers down as a result.
Which countries block VPNs?
Finally now that we understand the why and the how of the situation, which countries are actually banning VPNs around the world, and in what capacity?
The OG of blocking VPN usage, China was one of the first countries ever to recognize the power that the free internet could have on its citizens, and made big moves early on to try and censor any information that the central government disagreed with.
The first implementation of this took the form of the now-infamous “Great Firewall of China”, which blocks access to any media or information not approved by the state. The process of banning VPNs via the Great Firewall began back in 2012, but for years many providers were still able to get around the Firewall via some creative routing techniques.
Unfortunately in March of 2019 a new system was rolled out that was much more effective at detecting VPN traffic, and the government also issued a blanket law which prohibited the usage or operation of any VPN services within Chinese borders.
Russia is yet another country that has jumped on the “banned”wagon in recent years, viewing VPNs as a tool that only dissidents use to spread information that the state might disagree with. As of November 2019, no one in Russia is able to use a VPN and no VPN providers are allowed to operate within the country’s borders.
That in mind, as of July 2019 Russia has not released any details on how the country actually intends on enforcing the ban, and no one using a VPN in the country has said they’ve lost access just yet. We imagine this means that the state is still determining the best path forward for implementing a full ban, and at any moment a switch could be flipped that bans the usage of VPNs in Russia overnight.
United Arab Emirates
Of all the countries on this list, the UAE is probably the only one that will actually put users of VPNs in jail if they’re ever detected utilizing the privacy services offered by VPNs. Users could also be hit with a fine up to $400,000 for using a VPN in the UAE, no small sum for your average internet enthusiast, but probably a bit more manageable for the residents of Dubai.
Iran followed China’s lead back in 2013 when they banned the usage of any VPNs except those approved explicitly by the government. The list of Iran-approved VPNs is very small, and all of them still block access to the most popular sites used with VPNs like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, all of which are viewed by the government as tools that could lead to another Arab Spring in the region.
Iraq is one of the few countries on this list that we would say almost (almost) has a strong justification for banning the usage of VPNs in their country. According to the government (and this is general knowledge in the worldwide intelligence community as well), the terrorist organization ISIS regularly employs the services of popular social media sites like Twitter to spread their message of hate and recruit new members to the cause.
In order to prevent this the Iraqi administration has placed heavy restrictions on internet usage throughout the country, and has banned the usage of VPNs outright in an effort to stifle the spread of pro-ISIS propaganda throughout the region.
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. As a country responsible for placing the heaviest restrictions on all free-flowing information in the history of the modern technology, North Korea’s totalitarian tyrannical government does everything it can to restrict and censor all data going in or out of the country.
Currently the most effective method for citizens in the country to see what the rest of the outside world is up to is to have small USB drives literally snuck in over the physical borders of the nation, which means that the possibility of being able to use a VPN in the country is still quite a ways away.
Oman doesn’t explicitly say it’s illegal to use VPNs in the country, many popular providers are still blocked in the country. Again this is probably done in an effort to block another Arab Spring from happening, due to the government being very intent on maintaining their control of information that their citizens can or can’t access on a daily basis.
Turkey is another country that actively censors the internet usage of their population, due to the way the government views the threat of free flowing information on their supposedly democratic system of voting.
Turkmenistan falls into this same category, censoring information to maintain control. That said there are no laws on the books which actually ban the usage of VPNs, and many do still work if you know the right providers to go with.
This list covers only a small fraction of the number of countries that make some kind of effort to censor the internet around the world. VPNs are just one of the many tools that digital rights activists have at their disposal to try and get their fellow citizens to see their own governments and their activities in the light of day, and are constantly battling to make sure that information flows freely to anyone who wants to access it.
VPNs are one of the best and most effective tools that anyone concerned about internet censorship has at their disposal to fight back against the will of their oppressors. This is why those governments fear them, and it’s why we here at VPN.com will never stop doing everything we can to guarantee that everyone, regardless of race, religion, or nationality, has access to VPN services well into the future. To steal a quote from our own Washington Post here in the US: “Democracy dies in the dark”, which is why it’s vital that the fight for internet freedom continues every day, unabated by the ancient wills of dying totalitarian rulers and governments.