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VPN Censorship: China and Iran Are World's Biggest Offenders

(picture Source: Getty Images)

People around the world have turned to VPN services more and more in recent years, especially during times of political crisis. We’ve seen VPN downloads skyrocket in Russia after the war started, widespread anti-government protests in Iran, and more recently, Senegalese en masse using these services to keep the internet revolution going.

Governments all over the world are trying to prevent citizens from using this powerful software because it encrypts Internet connections and spoofs users’ IP addresses, allowing them to access censored websites and provide a degree of anonymity.

But what is the state of VPN censorship around the world? How do governments block the use of this software, and most importantly, which countries block VPNs the most? Researchers at Top10VPN decided to find answers to these questions. The results provide a clearer picture of the state of Internet freedom and digital rights violations around the world. Unsurprisingly, China and Iran top the list of the biggest offenders.

Worldwide VPN Blocking

The Top10VPN survey on the state of VPN blocking worldwide analyzed millions of Internet measurements collected by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) in over 100 countries over the past six months , from January 1 to May 15, 2023.

For the scope of the study, the experts decided to focus only on the most common way governments disrupt access to VPN services; blocking the provider’s official website. It’s worth mentioning that there are other VPN blocking tactics, such as forcing app stores to remove VPN apps, making VPN use a criminal act, and interfering with the Internet protocols that enable VPN connections.

VPN Blocked

> China

more than eight times more blocked VPN sites than the global average of 8% (812%)



, U.Sand

Hong Kong

censored 4% of VPN connection attempts

> Most of the worst offenders are MENA countries, but


One of the countries with the least VPN blocking (1%)

As mentioned earlier, China VPN and Iran VPN were the most blocked services at 73% and 69% of attempts respectively. Considering the global average is only 8%, this is quite a staggering figure.

Other countries in the top 10 for VPN censorship were Yemen (62%), Saudi Arabia (60%), Oman (49%), United Arab Emirates (44%), Egypt (39%), Qatar (38%), Russia (32%) and Uzbekistan (32%).

explain Regarding the findings, Samuel Woodhams, a digital rights researcher at Top10VPN, told TechRadar: “Russia’s blocking of VPN sites really caught our attention. Given the recent rise of anti-VPN rhetoric and the increasing criminalization of VPN use, we Higher blocking rates expected.”

The Kremlin has long opposed the use of VPNs in Russia. In April, the government even launched a new disinformation campaign to dissuade citizens from using the tools.

“Access restrictions on VPNs and other tools are still three times the global average, but a long way from China and Iran,” Woodhams said.

Top10VPN's chart showing the most censorship methods used among countries that block access to VPN websites most frequently failure refers to a situation where the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) cannot automatically determine the cause of the interference. (Source: Top10VPN)

As the graphic above shows, countries employ a variety of tactics to prevent citizens from accessing the official websites of the most popular circumvention tools.

The largest perpetrators (China and Iran) mainly turned to DNS tampering. This describes various strategies for interfering with connectivity at the DNS level, such as blocking certain IPs, configuring it to give error responses to certain queries, and more.

Another widely used tactic is HTTP/HTTPS interference. Again, this is a broad term that includes censorship methods such as deep packet inspection (DPI) and TLS breaks, which allow censors to monitor and block connections. IP-based blocking doesn’t appear to be as common as it used to be, the researchers noted.

In terms of the most blocked services, Tor Browser appears to be enemy number one for restriction circumvention tools in all 10 countries. This may be due to its high security and popularity. Other heavily blocked popular services include Hola VPN, TunnelBear, Hotspot Shield, Nord VPN, Surfshark, Mullvad, Proton VPN, Lantern, and more.

Woodhams said the Top10VPN team will continue to record how often these sites are blocked to track Russia and other countries that will increase censorship in the coming months.

What are the risks to users’ digital freedoms?

“Blocking of VPN sites and other privacy-preserving technologies is an important reminder of this.” Governments try to control people online in many ways. Unfortunately, access to these tools is often limited in the countries where they are most needed,” Woodhams told TechRadar.

There is no question that the country that cracks down hardest on the use of privacy-first and censorship-evading tools is the one with stricter enforcement of the Open Internet State control—whether in terms of online surveillance or levels of censorship. This means a greater impact on the digital rights of citizens, disproportionately affecting people’s well-being, privacy, freedom of expression, and access to online resources and information.

Tor Browser seems to have been enemy number one with the most restriction circumvention tools in all 10 countries.

“However, it’s not all bad. We found evidence that people were able to access these tools even in some of the most restrictive countries,” Woodhams said.

Fortunately, workarounds for bypassing the strictest censorship policies still exist. For example, Researchers found that lesser-known circumvention tools, namely Ceno, OpenPGP, and Lokinet, are available in the top 10 censored countries.

Provider websites are also not the only way to download VPN services. App stores and third-party sources are too A viable option, but we advise caution against downloading malicious versions of the app.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend people living in countries where VPNs are heavily censored to download multiple apps in order to jump from one app to another Just in case these get blocked. Check out our best free VPN page for your pick of the more secure freebies on the market.

Fewer – well-known tools like the newly launched Snowstorm are also effective tools for reconnecting splintered networks and reclaiming your digital rights once and for all method.Top10VPN's chart showing the most censorship methods used among countries that block access to VPN websites most frequently

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Chiara is a multimedia reporter dedicated to reporting stories , to help promote rights and denounce abuses in the digital aspects of life — wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics entangle.She primarily writes news, interviews, and analyzes TechRadar Pro, TechRadar, and Tom’s Guide on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs. Have a story, inside scoop, or some interesting tech stuff to tell? Contact [email protected]



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