Russia bans Telegram encrypted messaging app

But can Russia actually block it? Telegram may have a workaround.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
2 min read
Telegram Messenger
Sergei Konkov\TASS via Getty Images

Last year, Russia threatened to ban Telegram, after claiming the encrypted messaging app was used in a terror plot that left 16 people dead.

Now, multiple news sources are reporting that Russia has made good on that threat. According to Russian news agency TASS, Reuters, The New York Times and others, a Russian court gave the state communications agency Roskomnadzor the immediate authority to ban Telegram on Friday. 

Technically, the service has not been blocked yet.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) had originally wanted Telegram to simply turn over its encryption keys, so it could spy on messages sent between Telegram users in the hopes of foiling terrorist attacks. But in the case of Telegram, that's not necessarily possible. 

The company claims it doesn't have those keys because it uses end-to-end encryption, where users -- not Telegram -- have the keys to their own secret messages. That's not unique to Telegram, by the way. Signal, WhatsApp and others use end-to-end encryption for private chats as well.

Mind you, it's not clear whether Russia actually can stop Telegram, even if it's technically banned. According to a blog post attributed to Telegram founder Pavel Durov, the app has built-in workarounds for such bans. 

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

If Russia forces local ISPs to block Telegram, users may need to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to fully avoid the ban. Roskomnadzor head Alexander Zharov wouldn't tell TASS when or how Russia would block Telegram, only that it would be soon.

"I won't say when I will attack," he reportedly said. 

Telegram plans to appeal the ban, and won't change its app to avoid a ban, company lawyers told TASS. 

An amusing wrinkle: The Kremlin itself reportedly uses Telegram to communicate with journalists. It'll apparently need to find an alternative.

Roskomnadzor, Telegram and the Russian Embassy didn't immediately respond to CNET requests for comment.

Laura Hautala contributed to this story.