Inside the Face-Off Between Russia and a Small Internet Access Firm

The cat-and-mouse experience of Proton, a Swiss company, shows what it’s like to be targeted by Russian censors — and what it takes to fight back.

After Moscow erected a digital barricade in March, blocking access to independent news sites and social media platforms to hide information about its unfolding invasion of Ukraine, many Russians looked for a workaround. One reliable route they found came from a small Swiss company based nearly 2,000 miles away.

The company, Proton, provides free software that masks a person’s identity and location online. That gives a user in Russia access to the open web by making it appear that the person is logging in from the Netherlands, Japan or the United States. A couple of weeks after the internet blockade, about 850,000 people inside Russia used Proton each day, up from fewer than 25,000.

That is, until the end of March, when the Russian government found a way to block Proton, too.

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