Turkey’s blocks access to Tor and VPNs
Turkey under the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has not exactly built a reputation for being an open and free society. And following the coup attempt there earlier this year, the Presidents efforts to stifle opposition have grown exponentially.
And the latest target in his regimes efforts to control the internet is VPNs and the Tor network.
VPNs blocked in Turkey
A report from earlier this month on the Turkey Blocks website, which monitors and reports on online censorship in the country, indicated that the Government was attempting to block the Tor network and the Tor browser and also attacking the functionality of certain VPNs.
Given the state of online freedom in the country, it is little wonder that both VPN and Tor use has been on the rise in Turkey, and it seems this has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be. And having blocked a whole host of websites that have reported anti-Government news or advocated political opposition, and been seen to throttle social media sites whenever they feel the need, they are not turning their attention to these privacy tools.
The Turkish Information Technologies and Communications Authority (BTK) initially instructed [in Turkish] the blocking of the Tor network in the country back in early November. Up until earlier this month, that decision did not appear to have been enforce.
In the same document, they also specified that various different VPN services should also be blocked. The list they had put together included VPN Master, Hotspot Shield VPN, Psiphon, Zenmate VPN, TunnelBear, Zero VPN, VyprVPN, Private Internet Access VPN, Express VPN, and IPVanish.
As with their efforts to block Tor, at the time of this instruction, very little changed and these VPNs continued to operate as normal within Turkey. But in recent weeks that has all changed.
The first hint of this change was seen in a number of reports [also in Turkish] in local technology media publications which suggested that the Government in Turkey was now looking to enforce this ban on VPNs and Tor, and that this ban was intended to be put into place across the country.
VPN block now implemented
Again, there was no instantaneous change, but according to Turkey Blocks, the ban did come into force on 12th December. At present, it does not cover the entire country, but the majority of urban and populated areas do appear to be effected. This means that for the majority of Turkish people it is, at present, not possible to use the Tor Network or many of those listed VPN services.
This should not be a cause for huge panic at this stage although at present, this does mean that access to a free and open internet is severely curtailed in much of the country. But there are a number of solutions that have presented themselves to this.
Firstly, with Tor there is the Tor’s bridged nodes solution. This is a tweak to the Tor network that was created to help users in Syria overcome a similar block which was put in place there. It has proved effective and tests suggest that it does also work in Turkey.
Turning to VPNs, and anyone who uses either a custom or private VPN will find they can still make use of their service without any problems at all. Those that don’t have not been forgotten either.
Those VPNs identified by the Turkish regime are already working overtime to create workarounds to allow users in Turkey to access their service again at the earliest opportunity. The only way the Turkish government can block a VPN is by identifying and blacklisting VPN-related IP Addresses. Changing IP Addresses is just one means by which they are likely to get around the block.
But if you can’t wait, there is of course the option to switch to another VPN. There are hundreds of different ones on the market, most of which are not identified and blocked by the Turkish Government. Our recommendation would be to give Buffered a go as it is one of our top scoring providers and is also still working in Turkey.
This is not the first-time Governments have attempted to block VPNs and it will most likely not be the last. But it has about as much chance of long-term success as King Cnut holding back the tide. Technology will find a way, and sooner or later, those VPN providers will restore full service in Turkey.