Belarusians actively use Psiphon app to go online

Today it is possible to bypass almost any restrictions on the Internet / Yevgeny Tonkonogy​
Today it is possible to bypass almost any restrictions on the Internet / Yevgeny Tonkonogy​

Since mid-August when the Internet was first blocked in Belarus, Belarusian users have used 4.81 petabytes (!) of traffic via the Psiphon application, Michael Hull, president and co-founder of Psiphon, told Euroradio. 

The mentioned 4.81 petabytes or 4810 terabytes is a huge amount of information. You can fill up to 17.5 thousand iPhones with 256 gigabytes of memory with it.

Psiphon became widely known to Belarusians in August 2020. Thanks to this application, it is possible to bypass Internet blocking. It is still popular in the country today, but now the peak of its use is on Sundays. For example, on December 6 alone, during a protest march, Belarusian users connected to Psiphon 1.234 million times.

Michael Hull also told Euroradio about the number of Belarusian users of the app. In August 2020, there were almost 2.5 million of them - almost half of the entire adult population of Belarus. Then, when the Internet was turned off only on Sundays, there were fewer active users, but the numbers are still impressive. In November, for example, more than 312 thousand Belarusians used Psiphon.

1 млн подключений в воскресенье: как белорусы используют Psiphon
During "peace days" the number of connections in Belarus fluctuates around 100-300 thousand and peaks happen on Sundays / Euroradio/Psiphon

Mr Hull also answered our question about how Psiphon, which was specially created to fight against Internet censorship in authoritarian and totalitarian countries, manages to circumvent the restrictions which the authorities impose with the help of modern DPI technologies dealing with network packet filtering and analysis.

"Psiphon now has nine configurable protocols designed to bypass all kinds of blocking," Hull says. "Undoubtedly, DPI is a new generation of filtering which is the most sophisticated to date because it is done in real time. Nevertheless, Psiphon was able to "confuse" and bypass the DPI filtering system, which has been implemented in Belarus and is the main reason why Psiphon is so widely used. Other VPN services are simply not prepared to deal with such complex challenges".

That said, Hull notes, the Belarusian authorities have taken the issue of Internet blocking very seriously.

"Belarus has used almost all the available methods. There is no point in enumerating them because they are all interrelated," he says.

However, so far, everything that is used for Internet censorship in Belarus can be bypassed.

How the Internet is blocked in Belarus

It is known for certain that at least one company has sold technologies for blocking to the Belarusian authorities, namely the DPI. This is the American Sandvine, which was officially sold to the country by the Russian "Infosystems Jet".

Sandvine called the deal with Belarus unethical after the scandal broke out over the emergence of this information. However, the authorities can still use the technical solutions, while they will not get technical support or updates.

The Belarusian authorities tried to buy DPI equipment back at the end of 2018, spending $2.5 million was expected. However, they ended up buying the equipment without any tenders. It is not known how much they spent.