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VPN bans: How they work and who’s behind them

The conversation about internet freedom and privacy is ongoing and especially relevant now as governments and corporations tighten their policies toward using VPNs. This shift challenges digital rights and freedom by controlling and restricting the internet as an open, global platform. Read on to discover who’s behind VPN bans and how they’re enforced.

VPN bans: How they work and who’s behind them

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Virtual private networks and their primary use

A virtual private network (VPN) is a cybersecurity tool designed to encrypt your internet connection and safeguard your privacy online. A VPN hides your IP address by establishing an encrypted tunnel between your device and a server to transmit your data away from prying eyes. It aims to enhance your online security and privacy, protecting your device from online threats and allowing you to enjoy a seamless online experience without censorship and surveillance.

What are VPN bans?

VPN bans are restrictions that governments, organizations, and internet service providers (ISPs) impose against the usage of a VPN. These entities ban VPNs in specific environments to prevent users from circumventing censorship or hiding their online activity. VPNs are restricted through technologies that detect and block VPN traffic, limiting or denying access to VPN services.

Who initiates VPN bans?

VPN bans are typically initiated by a range of entities, each driven by their own distinct motivations. However, the purpose of a VPN ban is usually related to control and monitoring of internet usage within the entities’ jurisdiction.


Some governments implement restrictive internet policies to maintain social and political stability and manage public opinions by controlling information access and blocking access to certain websites. A VPN is a tool that changes a user’s IP address and makes it look like they’re browsing from a different virtual location, allowing access to these blocked websites. To prevent users from circumventing these limitations and to maintain the status quo, governments ban VPN usage.

In response to how advanced the privacy protection of a VPN is, governments within and outside the Five Eyes alliance ban VPNs to protect their national security. Authorities aim to limit the spread of extremist ideologies, reduce the risk of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, and prevent the spread of misinformation, undermining trust in governmental institutions.

In countries with restrictive regimes, ISPs play a significant role when determining that users play by the rules regarding VPN use. It is important to note that your internet service provider (ISP) can see the fact that you’re using a VPN. It might be obligated to block VPN traffic, log user activity, report it to the government, or even take action based on local law. Using a VPN in countries where it is banned may lead to legal penalties, increased surveillance by authorities, or even imprisonment (typically when used for illegal activities or cybercrime).

Countries where the use of a VPN is restricted or limited include:

  • China. While using a VPN in China is technically legal, all VPN services operating in this country must be approved by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Most VPN providers in China are obliged to log user data, which significantly reduces online privacy. The Chinese government implemented the Great Firewall in the early 2000s to control access to foreign websites and online services.
  • India. VPNs are legal in India. However, VPN service providers in India must log VPN traffic and provide the information to the government under request, which defeats the whole purpose of a VPN. The main concerns that led to such enforcement were maintaining national security and preventing cybercrime.
  • Iran. Iran started limiting VPN access in 2013. While using a government-approved VPN is legal, these services are heavily regulated and monitored. The government aims to limit internet access to Western media and social networking sites that could help citizens organize against the regime. So any attempt to use a non-approved VPN may result in up to a year in prison.
  • Russia. In 2017 Russia banned all the tools that may help users bypass internet surveillance, including VPNs, proxies, and Tor. Similar to other restrictive governments, Russia seeks to control the spread of “extremist materials.” However, you can use government-approved VPN services that log your online activity, which undermines the VPN’s primary purpose.
  • Syria. The Syrian government implemented VPN restrictions in 2011 as a part of broader internet censorship that began with the civil war. Authorities block access to certain websites and monitor how citizens use the internet to suppress opposition.
  • Pakistan. VPNs are not banned in Pakistan. However, their usage is highly restricted. The government only allows approved VPN services. Moreover, VPN providers are obligated to log user online traffic and provide it to the government, whose aim is to combat illegal activities and cybercrime. These restrictions came into force back in 2020.
  • Turkey. Turkey started blocking VPN services along with the Tor network in 2016. Besides restricting these cybersecurity tools, the Turkish government occasionally restricts popular social media sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and X to fight terrorism.


Corporations tend to block VPNs for practical reasons centered around productivity and focus at work. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel and hides a user’s real IP address, allowing employees to bypass corporate browsing filters. Limiting VPN access can help minimize distractions and prevent access to non-work-related websites, for example, social media.

While keeping internet usage at work within professional boundaries is one of the main concerns that lead corporations to blocking VPNs, it extends to security too. If, for example, the VPN connection is compromised, it can open the door for unauthorized access or data exfiltration. So, limiting VPN use might ensure that the company’s private assets remain under lock and key.

Other organizations

Beyond governments and corporations, other organizations may also ban VPNs to regulate internet usage on their networks:

  • Schools, colleges, and universities sometimes block VPNs within their networks to ensure academic integrity and prevent students from accessing inappropriate content. Blocking VPNs on these networks also helps educational entities control and prevent cyberbullying.
  • Major online streaming companies restrict VPN use on their websites to ensure compliance with copyright and geographic content distribution laws. These platforms use VPN detection technologies (which we’ll cover below) and block users who attempt to bypass these restrictions.
  • Financial institutions restrict users attempting to use their service while connected to a VPN server to prevent fraud and unauthorized access to financial information. Banks and other financial services only allow connections to their services from expected locations only.

How are VPNs blocked?

Governments and companies that aim to prohibit their citizens or employees from using VPNs apply various techniques to block these cybersecurity tools. The first method is pretty straightforward, a company or governmental authorities gather a list of IP addresses used by a particular VPN service and blocklist those IPs on the network. It is also possible to configure a firewall to block VPN ports. The mechanics are simple: If you attempt to access a server via a blocked port, the firewall or system will deny the request and prevent communication between your device and a server.

Governments and organizations also employ deep packet inspection (DPI), a form of packet sniffing, to detect VPN traffic in a user’s network. It analyzes bits and pieces of data moving between your computer and a server and detects patterns and signatures typical of VPN protocols. Once it detects VPN connections, it will stop a VPN activity.

How VPN bans affect everyday internet users

People use VPNs to improve their privacy and prevent third parties from monitoring their online activity. These third parties may include bad actors aiming to steal personal information or governmental agencies seeking to limit citizens’ access to the Western media. So VPN restrictions significantly change the online experience for everyday internet users, potentially creating a limited, monitored, and less secure online environment.

The future of VPNs and internet privacy

While concerns about data privacy and cyber threats continue to grow, more individuals and businesses are expected to turn to VPNs for enhanced security and privacy protections. Cybersecurity experts expect that future VPNs may employ artificial intelligence to assess users’ needs and automatically adapt configurations to customers’ browsing habits and ensure optimal protection. VPNs may become a default feature of operating systems or hardware, working in the background to guard the user against online threats.

Rising demand for online protection has shifted the VPN landscape and increased interest in decentralized VPNs (dVPNs). dVPNs use nodes provided by volunteers, which eliminates the need for centralized servers and makes it hard for entities to monitor or censor internet traffic. While a dVPN has its drawbacks, it is yet another tool to enhance online privacy.

If you’re interested in a more comprehensive review of the future of internet privacy, read our blog post about cyber security predictions for 2024.


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