Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is quickly turning back the clock to the Cold War and the division of the world into two large blocs. In fact, the Western powers have imposed very heavy sanctions on Russia, and unlike the last century, today there is also another front of the conflict, very important and difficult to control. We are obviously talking about the internet, both as a channel for cyberattacks and as a place for sharing and circulating information.
And this squeeze corresponds, as shown by the data provided by SensorTower to CNBC, an explosion in the use of VPN apps on Russian soil: between February 24 (the day when Putin launched the offensive) and March 8 are in fact, there were 6 million downloads of these apps between Play Store and App Store, with a 1,500% increase compared to the 13-day window prior to the attack. SurfShark also reported that sales in Russia, again as of February 24, have surged by 3,500%.
VPNs are a tool that masks the user’s real IP address, also simulating a different geographical location than the actual one. In this way, those who surf from Russia can access sites and services that would otherwise be blocked and slowed down. It is not surprising, therefore, the boom in their use to be able to return to use the internet, bypassing government censorship on the one hand, and also the limitations imposed by Western tech companies on the other. And in the background the specter of a drastic Chinese-style choice is stirred, with a further authoritarian squeeze on the internet.