Syria is one of the worst locations in the world in terms of Internet freedoms. Things are so bad, in fact, that Reporters Without Borders ranked them 177th out of 180 countries around the world – darn near last place. Given the violent history, it’s not surprising why. Syria was in the midst of a terrible civil war in late 2011 that still continues today. Because things are so hectic and chaotic, we don’t know what the near future holds for the Internet landscape in Syria, but we do know that Reporters Without Borders had deemed the nation an enemy of the Internet. The extremely oppressive government has taken extraordinary measures to police the entire Internet with surveillance mechanisms and censors multitudes of websites.
The most troubling issue is that the government has even taken measures to censor websites that will aid users in circumventing governmental surveillance and restrictions. In fact, the government has launched attacks upon the domestic Internet in the form of viruses, phishing, hacking attempts, man-in-the-middle attacks, and other dubious techniques. The consequences for those who get caught accessing inappropriate content or posting offensive messages have been harsh, including jail time, murder, torture, and execution.
One appalling example of this kind of treatment is Taymour Karim, a journalist who was arrested and tortured by law enforcement. The police had wiretapped his Internet activities so extensively that they had records of phone calls via Skype and hundreds of pages of transcripts. They had collected this information via a virus that had, unbeknownst to Karim, infected his computer.
One such virus technique used by the government, called Blackshade, was later discovered when people received strange messages from contacts whose accounts had been compromised. Though there are occasional outages, the Internet is still accessible in Syria. And users need to exercise extreme caution using the Internet, because it is almost completely controlled by SCS (Syrian Computer Society) and STE (Syrian Telecommunications Establishment).
Using a VPN for Protection
The general public has a clear understanding that the government watches all communications very closely, and they have blocked some of the most popular websites including Wikipedia, Blogspot, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Amazon. In addition, any content that speaks ill of the government and websites with religious messages are censored. As such, users cannot afford to make the mistake of posting messages on social media profiles that reveal their identity. Instead, they need to either use an anonymous account or simply not post messages for their own safety.
Past these precautions, users also need to protect their Internet connection with a VPN tunnel. Not only will a VPN tunnel encrypt data to prevent the government from intercepting and reading digital transmissions, but it will also add a layer of anonymity. The government won’t be able to track what websites you access (as long as you don’t have a DNS leak), and users will be able to circumvent censorship programs. Having said that, remember that the government has taken measures to block anonymity and security services.
However, the government can’t ever hope to censor every IP address of every evasion tool – especially because new services are constantly cropping up and IP addresses change over time. For that reason, Tor is a service that will help users access the Internet anonymously after exercising a little patience finding a Tor node that hasn’t been blocked.
It also seems in the past that Syrian ISPs had successfully blocked protocols such as PPTP and L2TP, but others alternatives such as SSTP and OpenVPN still function. Yet again, bear in mind that things can change rapidly in the near future. However, the two protocols that haven’t been blocked use SSL/TLS, which looks very similar to HTTPS traffic. Blocking these protocols would be detrimental to governmental communications, so it seems highly unlikely, if not impossible, that they would do so. With that said, let’s take a look at several alternatives for the best VPN for Syria.
VPN for Syria – Top Picks:
ExpressVPN offers a well-round service and access to fast and reliable servers with guaranteed 99% uptime. They use the strongest security algorithms to encrypt data, and they are available on all the major operating system platforms. Currently they have servers in 78 countries, some of them in neighboring nations close to Syria, and they even have a 30-day money back guarantee. Furthermore, they have fantastic 24/7 support, unlimited data and bandwidth, and they allow simultaneous connections between 1 computer and 1 handheld device. However, they are based in the US and they do cost a little more than most other providers.
PureVPN is another good choice for users in Syria because they have servers scattered all over the globe, making it easy for users to find a nearby VPN server to connect to. Right now they have 500+ servers in 140 countries, and they are always updating their network. One feature of their service that is superior to ExpressVPN is the ability to connect up to 5 devices simultaneously, though their money back guarantee only lasts for 7 days. They too support all the major operating systems, and they are much cheaper than Express VPN – about half the cost. A 1-year subscription makes the monthly cost $4.16.
PIA VPN is different than other VPN services for three reasons. First of all, they are one of the most inexpensive providers. An annual subscription causes the monthly rate to plummet to $3.33. Secondly, they allow up to 5 simultaneous connections per account, making the monthly cost per device only $0.67 cents. Thirdly, they have more capacity on their network than most other providers. Right now they operate about 3,100+ servers, but they only have servers in 24 countries. They are a good choice for users who use Bit Torrent because they allow P2P traffic on their servers, and they have a nice DNS leak protection feature in addition to 24/7 support. Last but not least, they have a 7-day money back guarantee.
TorGuard VPN is a good fit for users in Syria who distrust the United States government since they are based out of Panama. They have a moderate global presence with 1,200+ servers in 42 countries, so users in Syria will be able to find nearby servers to connect their VPNs to. Like PIA VPN, TorGuard allows up to 5 simultaneous connections per account, though they lack a free trial. Two other notable features of their service include strong security using AES-256 encryption and 24/7 customer support. Last but not least, they aren’t priced too highly or two lowly. Instead, they have middle-of-the-road pricing at only $5.00 per month.
VyprVPN is our last pick for users in Syria, and they have some handy features to enhance security that other providers lack. In addition to using strong encryption, they also have features such as NAT firewall for an extra layer of protection, a VPN kill-switch, per-application tunnel routing, and up to 50GB of cloud storage. Their premium package allows up to 3 simultaneous connections, and their pro version allows up to 2 simultaneous connections. Like TorGuard, VyprVPN is not based in the united states. They are actually based out of Switzerland, and they allow users a free trial of their service – but it has monthly data restrictions. The pro version of their service is likely the best value, and it can be purchased for only $6.25 per month.