The Russian government has blocked access to the encrypted e-mail service ProtonMail. They say it was used to send fake bomb threats. ProtonMail is a mail service that uses end-to-end encryption to protects the data of their users. Due to the encryption the service uses, it was not possible for the authorities to trace the perpetrator(s).
Anonymous Bomb Threats
The Russian watchdog Roskomnadzor has indicated that ProtonMail has been used time and time again to make false bomb threats. Russia has been dealing with bomb threats in different regions of the country for several months. As a result, they regularly evacuate public spaces or buildings as a precaution,which they say causes a lot of disruption. Earlier this month, Smartmail.com was blocked because this service was also used to make false bomb threats. The autorities say that they have tried to retrieve the data about the anonymous bomb threats from Proton. However, ProtonMail says they have not been approached by the Russians about this issue.
It is unlikely that the bomb threats will stop altogether now that ProtonMail is blocked. After all, it will not be difficult for the criminals to find another method to continue their practices. The only thing that is achieved with this action is that ordinary Russians do not have access to this privacy-focused e-mail service. Now the only way to use ProtonMail in Russia is through the Tor browser or with a VPN.
It is not the first time that a service like ProtonMail has been blocked by the Russian government. Since January 23, the Dutch mail service StartMail can no longer be used in Russia. The government said that it had received thousands of false bomb threats through SmartMail. It appears that after they shut down StartMail, the perpetrators started using ProtonMail instead.
Response From ProtonMail
Protonmail says they are currently trying to get in contact with the appropriate authorities to ensure that their service will be available to Russian users as quickly as possible. In the meantime, they advise their users to work with Tor so they can still access their e-mail. In addition to ProtonMail, their VPN service ProtonVPN is also largely blocked in Russia.