If the country of Turkmenistan had a motto, that motto would be “Just Don’t Do It”. Turkmenistan’s confusingly eccentric and egomaniacal leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (who prefers to be cordially referred to as His Excellency or Distinguished Supreme Commander in Chief) has passed laws abolishing term limits and appears to intend to install himself as president for life.
Like any suspicious government would, Turkmenistan is attempting to take control of all mediums by which information can be sent out of or brought into the country. The country’s latest VPN block was a secretive and immediate move from an undoubtedly disorganized establishment.
Who Regulates The Internet in Turkmenistan?
Many countries with heavy internet censorship or monitoring have a ministry or a branch of government specifically tasked with handling internet affairs, like Russia’s Roskomnadzor or China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Turkmenistan has no such authority established, yet they still maintain control over the people’s access to the internet.
With no governing body to make decisions, it is unclear who decides what is blocked or censored and when to block or censor something. These orders are obviously coming somewhere from the top, if not from His Excellency himself. Berdimuhamedow signs things, and they happen. There is no clear chain of command, laterally or otherwise. Berdimuhamedow says something, and unchecked action is mysteriously taken without opportunity for scrutiny.
An Oddly Quiet Move
Berdimuhamedow’s administration spoke not a single word about the move to ban VPNs. VPNs were always technically illegal, but they still worked. People continued to use them, up until the day that the majority of them seemed to stop functioning within Turkmenistan’s border. Turkmenistan’s loose and vague structure with no sub-authorities that misappropriates all of the power directly to the top does not facilitate the need for court involvement or the passage of a law to block or ban something.
The only hint that a VPN ban may have been in the cards is a law, vaguely titled “Law on Cybersecurity”, that was signed by Berdimuhamedow in early September. This law had less to do with cybersecurity and more to do with broad and sweeping internet bans.
This is far from the first time Turkmenistan has blocked or banned something without transparency or a vote of any kind. The country even forbids things as simple as satellite dishes, as they can easily be used to pick up transmissions from outside of the country.
People were simply shocked that their VPNs didn’t work one day, and the government never released any kind of statement acknowledging that an official block went into effect.
How Is VPN Use Detected?
Regular VPNs allow for the type of traffic to be detected by an internet service provider, but will not let that internet service provider see what the traffic is doing. Even though anyone attempting to eavesdrop may see that the user is protecting their data, they have no way of knowing what that data might be. Tools and resources like deep packet inspection (DPI) can help ISPs determine what traffic seems to be coming from a VPN, and block that traffic from occurring.
VPN users in Turkmenistan that discovered the block were using regular VPNs that were detected by their internet service providers, who denied them access to the internet with an active VPN. Stealth VPN users were not impacted by the block.
What is a Stealth VPN?
A Stealth VPN cannot be detected by an internet service provider. Stealth VPN protocols make the traffic appear to be normal HTTPS traffic. ISPs can see that the traffic is secure, but they will interpret it the same way as they would if someone without a VPN were to connect to any HTTPS domain. Since almost every website utilizes HTTPs, a stealth VPN will never raise a red flag for censorship authorities or blocks put in place.
A VPN That Works in Turkmenistan
TorGuard users were not impacted by Turkmenistan’s VPN blocks. Since TorGuard offers multiple stealth options, it’s ideal for use in countries where VPNs are blocked. The connection is fast, secure, easy to use, and completely undetectable by authorities. You can circumvent any block or region restriction with a stealth VPN – even if the block is for VPNs themselves.