ProtonMail is now running normally in Russia, the popular encrypted email service was blocked after students at a sports competition were using it to spread anti-regime propaganda.
The Russian news aggregator service Habr reported that Russian
“The largest Russian telecom operators MTS and Rostelecom block traffic to the SMTP server of the Protonmail secure e-mail service out-of-place according to a letter from the FSB. Apparently, for quite a long time, but no one has paid much attention so far.” wrote the Habr author Pas.
“We began to rake out the mail logs and found that the connections of our servers to ProtonMail MX servers (22.214.171.124, 126.96.36.199) end with network timeouts. It looked strange for a number of reasons and was similar to the use of the blocking mechanism practiced in Russia.”
Pas obtained a letter from Russia’s FSB security agency, the message is dated back 25 February 2019 and orders one of the ISPs to block ProtonMail fearing abuses of the service by terrorists. Below an excerpt of the letter:
“We have seen more frequent cases of false reports of terrorist activity aimed at objects of social and critical infrastructure. In January 2019, Russian cities saw mass evacuations of schools, administrative buildings
In its work, the Center [of Information Security, an FSB unit]detected internet resources used for mass dissemination of intentionally false information about terrorist acts.”
The authorities believe the ProtonMail service could be used by terrorists or by dissidents during the XXIX World University Winter Games” in Krasnoyarsk, for this reason, they included the encrypted mail service to the list of resources that must be blocked by 20 February 2020.
“The block does not prevent Russian citizens from using or accessing ProtonMail, it just makes it difficult for Russian mail servers (like mail.ru) to communicate with ProtonMail. As of now, the blocks are still in place, but we have implemented some technical measures to largely reduce the impact of the blocks, so services in Russia are operational at this time.” reads a post published by ProtonMail.
“If the situation changes, we will take additional measures as necessary to ensure the proper functioning of ProtonMail in Russia. “
According to ProtonMail, the method implemented by Russian authorities for blocking the service seems to be inconsistent with that claim.
The activity made by Russian ISPs is preventing messages from being sent to ProtonMail, as opposed to blocking delivery of messages from ProtonMail.
Russian ProtonMail users believe that the block may be related to the mass protests this past weekend in
“Moreover, when it comes to criminal cases, Switzerland is a neutral jurisdiction that honors international legal norms, and ProtonMail, based in Geneva, also follows this model. If the Russian government brings a criminal matter (such as fake terrorist threats) to the Swiss Federal Police or to ProtonMail’s internal abuse team, it will be investigated. Making false terror threats is illegal in Switzerland, and it is against our terms and conditions to use ProtonMail for criminal purposes. If there is evidence to corroborate the claims, we would take action against the accounts in question. However, the Russian government did not contact us.” concludes ProtonMail.
“If there is indeed a legitimate legal complaint, we encourage the Russian government to reconsider their position and solve problems by following established international law and legal procedures, rather than attempting to deny millions of Russian citizens access to better email security and privacy.”
(SecurityAffairs – Russia, censorship)