Open Technology Fund

Mapping online censorship

Explore state-sponsored censorship in Russia, China, Iran, Egypt and Cuba.

Map of Russia
Russia's flag


  • Several legislative measures passed ostensibly to counter terrorism and ‘extremist’ content are open to broad interpretation and have allowed for a sweeping crackdown on free media, civil society, and views that run counter to the Kremlin line.
  • Authorities from Roskomnadzor, a Russian agency tasked with overseeing mass media and electronic communications, carries out the work of implementing internet censorship, drawing from three sources: the courts, state regulators, and regular citizens.
  • From November 2012 - March 2015, Russia blocked 52,000 web sites.
  • Russia floods the internet with disinformation, propaganda, and pro-government content in attempts to drown out opposition voices and suppress the truth.
  • Russia continues to block access to LinkedIn after the US company refused to comply with the country’s new data localization laws that require storage of any personal data on Russian citizens inside Russia.
  • Russia is the second-most popular country for Tor users.
  • CDN browser plug-ins, which bypass the need to send a domain name system (DNS) request, are popular among Russian users.
Map of China
China's flag


  • China’s Great Firewall is a multifaceted system that utilizes a mix of technological methods, tools, and manpower to restrict access to information in China and exert control over public opinion.
  • China reportedly employs millions of employees and civilian volunteers alike in its ‘50 cent party’ to surveil the internet, moderate discussion forums, censor messages, and post ‘opinions’ that are in line with Party ideology and effectively drown out dissent. While blocking and filtering countless websites, comments, and posts every day, the government also fabricates nearly 450 million social media posts per year.
  • China’s Great Cannon, a new ‘offensive’ censorship weapon, is capable of hijacking and redirecting millions of internet users’ traffic to launch “man-in-the-middle” style assaults on websites through sustained distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
  • Tightening its control, China is currently instituting a “clean-up” of the nation’s internet, cracking down on unregistered domestic companies that sell VPN services by now requiring them to obtain a government stamp of approval in order to operate. Unauthorized VPN options are rendered illegal by the move.
  • On the local level, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing have moved to bar its citizens from circumventing the Great Firewall by targeting individuals with fines for using circumvention services and punishing businesses that provide such services.
  • Many Chinese internet users rely on VPNs, or Virtual private networks, to “leap over” the Great Firewall. A VPN encrypts a user’s internet traffic and sends it onward via an intermediary computer. A user’s traffic flows through an encrypted “tunnel,” obscuring its content. A list of popular VPNs used in China can be found here. However, the Chinese government has been known to monitor VPN traffic and cut access when being used to access blocked websites. VPN providers can also log your internet activity.
  • Lantern is a free p2p (peer-to-peer) circumvention software that routes internet traffic through a relay of fellow trusted users, so internet users in uncensored regions can provide access to users in censored regions.
Map of Iran
Iran's flag


  • Popular social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook remain blocked in Iran.
  • Iran is currently rolling out in phases its own ‘national internet,’ a sort of domestic, Iran-only intranet that cuts off Iranians from the outside world.
  • In the absence of popular foreign internet functions and tools, Iran has developed its own, such as Aparat, a browser developed and controlled by the government.
  • In the leadup to Iran’s presidential elections set for May 2017, authorities have begun requiring administrators of public Telegram channels with more than 5,000 followers to apply for government permits, while also arresting individual Iranian Telegram users for posting “lies” and “anti-cultural material.”
  • Twelve administrators of Telegram channels supporting opposition and moderate political candidates were arrested in March 2017.
  • For Iranian internet users, popular circumvention options include circumvention suite Psiphon and other popular VPN services.
Map of Egypt
Egypt's flag


  • During the Arab Spring in January 2011, scores of Egyptians turned to circumvention technology amid a massive internet shutdown to access social media platforms blocked by the government.
  • Five years later, circumstances have changed but a lack of free speech has remained constant, as critical bloggers and social media users face reprisal from Egypt’s military government under vague laws that empower authorities to censor at will.
  • In December 2016, Egypt blocked access to encrypted messaging app Signal. The makers of Signal responded by updating the app with enhanced circumvention technology so Egyptian users could get around the ban.
  • Prison terms have been handed down to Egyptian users for insulting religion online while LGBT netizens have been arrested for posting YouTube videos for the crime of “inciting debauchery.”
  • Egyptian NGOs have been repeatedly attacked by a sophisticated adversary in the form of a targeted phishing campaign called Nile Phish.
  • In 2016, Egypt jailed 25 reporters - third only to Turkey (81) and China (38).
  • In times of increased censorship, many Egyptian internet users have turned to Tor in the past, such as during the 2011 Arab Spring and the country’s 2013 military coup.
  • Use of secure messaging applications like Signal.
Map of Cuba
Cuba's flag


  • Internet penetration remains low in Cuba, with regular internet access attained by only about 5% of Cubans. Wifi hotspots are springing up, but the high cost of connecting remains a barrier for most Cubans.
  • Prohibitive costs aside, the Cuban internet is heavily filtered and monitored. The web sites of some dissident groups and independent media are blocked.
  • Cuba’s media environment is one of the world’s most repressive, as privately owned media are prohibited by the constitution.
  • To access the internet via an unreliable and censored public Wi-Fi network for one hour, Cubans pay about $2 USD - or a tenth of an average Cuban’s monthly salary.
  • Many Cubans are still able to access foreign media, news, and information via the ‘sneakernet’ - or offline internet - known as el paquete. Each week, a vast distribution network delivers USBs loaded with the latest foreign entertainment, news, movies, and music.
  • Connectify Hotspot is a popular tool that turns a PC into a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing users to ‘share’ that single internet connection with multiple devices. This is especially useful to Cuban users given the high price of getting online.

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