A free and open internet should be a basic right. But unfortunately, this hasn’t become completely true across the globe yet. Governments around the world actively engage in censorship, throttling, surveillance, and similar activities that undermine internet freedom.
A VPN can help bypass these roadblocks; however, not all server locations offer the same level of internet freedom. While some countries have excellent internet infrastructure and a stellar reputation for data protection, others fail to preserve users’ privacy.
So, what are the countries that require extra privacy precautions for VPN connections?
5 Bad Server Locations for VPN Connections
Whether you’re using a VPN for torrenting, gaming, streaming, or normal browsing, the country you connect to can massively affect your online experience. Connecting to a bad server location will undermine your privacy, throttle your internet speed, or even land you in prison in some countries.
Based on extensive research, here are the five countries you should avoid connecting to when using a VPN.
1. North Korea
There is very little clarity on how the People’s Republic of North Korea governs internet activity and the use of VPNs. Only a small segment of the population, including government officials, researchers, and students from elite universities, has access to the global internet. The rest of the citizens can only use a highly restrictive intranet service called “Kwangmyong“.
Since Kwangmyong is a closed-off service, VPNs don’t work with it. Even if you can find a VPN with North Korean servers, connecting to them won’t do you any good. Access to most social media websites and news sites is blocked. This means you won’t be able to scroll through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and international news sites if you decide to get a North Korean IP address.
Most of the state websites are painfully slow to load and only a few are updated frequently. These mostly include news sites that are heavily biased toward the glorification of the repressive regime and its Supreme Leader.
Since the use of internet is permitted only to a few privileged individuals, it becomes practically impossible to obtain information on internet performance. According to Comparitech, the last survey on global internet speed comparison (that included North Korea) was conducted by Akamai in June 2016. With an average speed of 2 Mbps, North Korea ranks 134th among 170 countries in internet speeds. It’s no surprise that North Korean digital infrastructure isn’t suitable for a smooth VPN connection.
The Chinese communist government has probably the largest and most sophisticated censorship apparatus in the world. This censorship system, also known as the Great Firewall, has existed since the late 90s and blocks any content that the government disagrees with.
In 2018, the government raised the already high stakes of censorship by banning unlicensed VPNs. This means that only those VPN services that are approved by the state can operate within the country. The provision provides the government a backdoor to monitor web activity of VPN users, which essentially defeats the purpose of using a VPN.
Despite the VPN ban, there’s no case of tourists being penalized or detained for using a VPN. So as difficult as it is to get a VPN in China, you still can evade the restrictions if you download a VPN before arriving there.
But keep in mind that you won’t be able to access most social networking platforms like Facebook and YouTube, international news websites like The New York Times, and foreign journals with a Chinese IP address.
When it comes to cybersecurity, Russia is always in the news, and often for the wrong reasons. The suspected US presidential elections hack in 2016, the infamous Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021, and the numerous recent cyberattacks have all led to a mention of Russia, or Russian-backed groups.
It comes as no surprise that the Russian government goes to great lengths to monitor internet usage within its borders. And to top it off, their efforts are terrifyingly effective too.
Since 2017, the government has banned the use of non-approved-VPNs. VPN service providers that still operate in Russia must agree to certain terms, including those that require the companies to log users’ data. This is why most reliable VPNs, such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and IPVanish don’t have any servers in Russia to preserve users’ privacy.
Russian government also has an internet blacklist that it uses to block certain websites. While the overall intentions behind the content ban seem noble, many suspect that the government routinely uses it to muzzle its critics.
Unlike North Korea and Russia, the laws about VPNs in Iran were much looser. But ever since the protests against the death of Mahsa Amini began on 16 September 2022, the Iranian government has taken steps to stop the use of VPNs.
The country has a history of blocking access to a number of social apps and perform regular internet outages in certain regions. So, when the authorities blocked WhatsApp and Instagram following the protests, users turned to Virtual Private Networks to bypass the restrictions. According to the Top10VPN’s report, VPN demand have surged by over 3,000 percent since the start of the protests.
To make access to VPNs harder, Iran blocked the Apple App and Google Play Store apps, and is now planning to criminalize the sale and use of VPNs. It has already started blocking VPN vendor websites and deactivating VPN servers in Iran. Given the widespread censorship and lack of accessible VPN servers, it’s no use getting an Iranian IP address.
After the Syrian civil war, access to online services and websites has severely come under attack. The country has become a censorship haven as no one is allowed to produce or access content that criticizes the government.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)—technology that makes phone calls possible over a broadband internet connection—is entirely blocked, and even internet cafés are asked to monitor users’ browsing habits.
The Syrian authorities also orchestrate frequent internet shutdowns, but to be fair, the disruption is partly due to physical attacks on the internet infrastructure.
Freedom to Connect?
No one wants to live in a world without free and open internet. Yet access to internet is strictly censored and monitored in these five countries. While Virtual Private Networks try to preserve our online freedom, these authoritarian regimes place VPN regulations that either ban or monitor online activities performed using a VPN.
To preserve your privacy and access websites without compromising your speed, you should instead know the best countries for VPN connections.