The Tor browser, which allows users to surf the internet anonymously and access prohibited webpages, has been blocked across much of Russia, according to recent reports from an internet-monitoring group.
The Open Observatory of Network Interference, or OONI, reported last week that Tor's system of proxy servers in Russia had partly stopped working at around 5:21pm Moscow time on December 2.
While Russian authorities had not yet commented officially on the block, on Monday, politician Anton Gorelkin addressed the matter on Telegram, writing, "I have never been a supporter of blocks, but in Tor's case I simply don't see an alternative." Tor was used primarily for illegal activity, he claimed, and he concluded, "Tor, for me (and, I think, for all well-thinking people), is an absolute evil, which we must fight as firmly and with as little compromise as possible."
The Tor Project, an organization that maintains software for the network that powers the browser, has reportedly previously received a warning from Russia's online watchdog, Roskomnadzor. According to the developers, they were told that the caution related to the hosting of prohibited content.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Roskomnadzor confirmed that access to Tor had been restricted. The Tor Project have also since issued a statement saying that their homepage has been blocked within Russia.
One Twitter user, ValdikSS, assessed the extent of the block that had reportedly been in place since before December 3, concluding that Moscow seemed to be the most affected region of the country, and that most large internet providers in Russia had complied with the block.
Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, is a free, open-source software that enables anonymous internet communication. It makes the user's activity difficult to trace, as well as providing access to websites that have been blocked. This has made it a popular method of protecting internet privacy and bypassing censorship, but the software has been criticized for enabling illegal activity online, such as drug dealing.
For now, only parts of Russia seem to be affected by the block, with OONI's tests indicating that most users in the country can still access Tor. On Tuesday, Russian experts weighed in, with the website Tjournal saying that a complete block of Tor across the country was unlikely, but that it's conceivable for 80% of Russian users to be barred from the software in the future.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Russia had blocked six virtual private network (VPN) services ahead of the country's parliamentary elections, warning that they had helped circumvent court-ordered blocks on material designed to influence the vote. The only country to have completely blocked Tor is China, where the government maintains much stricter control over the internet than in Russia.