Cracking Russia’s Lock on TelegramLast Updated by John Bennet on October 22, 2018
Telegram is an instant messenger service based in the cloud that first got its start in Berlin in 2013. With client apps for all major browsers and the ability to send encrypted messages, photos, videos, and other file types, it has caught on quickly going from 100,000 daily users in 2013 to more than 200 million in 2018.
The service has expanded to voice calls, live videos up to one minute, and several other apps. It has also been blocked in Russia, but workarounds remain available if you know where to look.
The Rise and Fall of Telegram in Russia
Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov created Telegram just shy of his 29th birthday. The grandson of Russian war vet Semyon Petrovich Tulyakov, Durov grew up in Italy, but returned to Russia to create his first company, VK, a social network like Facebook. Under legal pressure he resigned in 2014 and left Russia, saying he had no plans to return.
In April 2018, it took a Moscow court just 18 minutes to approve a ban of Telegram asked for by Roskomnadzor, the Russian technology oversight body. The court granted the request because Telegram had failed to give Russian security services a means to read encrypted messages from Russian users of the app. A month earlier, Telegram had been defeated in its lawsuit against Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) – the modern-day KGB. Telegram had tried to counter the FSB’s demand for records access.
The demands by FSB are no unfounded. Intelligence officers in other countries found that ISIS agents had used Telegram to coordinate the 2015 Paris attacks along with recruiting agents for the 2016 Berlin market attack. FSB said it had “reliable information” that terrorists used Telegram to plan the April 2017 attack on the St. Petersburg metro that killed 11 people.
Durov responded to the decision via Twitter, stating “privacy is not for sale, and human rights should not be compromised out of fear or greed.”
The block has not been as effective as say, the country’s limitations of LinkedIn for similar reasons. Durov put a few hiccups in the system that have made it difficult for Roskomnadzor to block all usage of Telegram. The technique, called domain fronting, allows Telegram to host its service on another company’s systems and hide all traffic there.
Like a giant attempting to squash a bug, Roskomnadzor has gone after more wholesale methods against Telegram, adding huge numbers of IP addresses to its blocked list in order to shut the IM service down.
This has resulted in Google, Amazon, and Russian banks all being blocked at different times. As many as 15 million IPs were being blocked just two weeks after the court order. A week later, Russian citizens were reporting blocks at Twitch, Slack, Soundcloud, Viber, Spotify, and Nintendo.
The VPN Solution for Telegram
With the Russian government to squash Telegram by any means necessary, including disrupting dozens of other high-use websites, your best bet to access Telegram safely in Russia is to download and utilize a virtual private network (VPN).
A VPN works much like a proxy in that it routes your web traffic to a third-party server rather than straight to the Internet. But a proxy offers no protection against third-party overseers like your Internet Service Provider (ISP). To get that level of protection, when you download a VPN app and open up a connection, it will create an encrypted “tunnel” through which your requests will be sent to the third-party remote server located outside of Russia. Your Russian ISP will be able to acknowledge that you are browsing the Internet, but will not be able to see what pages you are browsing, thus keeping you safe.
The information you want will be transmitted to the remote server and decrypted there. You’ll then be assigned an IP address similar to ones used in the remote server’s location. Your requests are then sent on to the websites, with the Russian ISPs none the wiser that you are using Telegram or other sites.
The one downfall to this endeavor is that Russia is banning VPNs that do not comply with its ruling to ban the likes of Telegram. If you are traveling to Russia, the best idea is to download the client of a good VPN before you get there so that you can use it.
There are many quality VPNs capable of cracking Russia’s lock, but these three are at the top of the charts for quality and consistency.
NordVPN is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018 and has great security features including a kill switch, AE 256-bit encryptions and double VPN tunneling.
Private VPN has 2048-bit encryption, in-built leak protection and an automatic kill switch.
IPVanish has a robust 1,000 servers in 60 countries and 256-bit AES encryption to safeguard your data.