Torn apart by bloody civil war since 29 November 2011, the situation regarding internet use in Syria is both uncertain and subject to rapid change. What is certain is that the oppressive Assad regime, labelled an enemy of the internet by Reporters Without Borders since it started making the reports in 2006, has done its best to block hundreds of websites and monitor all internet activity in the country.

In order to do this, the Syrian government has resorted to blocking censorship evasion tools, man-in-the-middle attacks, phishing, spyware viruses, and a network of real-life informants, and the consequences for dissidents caught criticising the government have been severe, including torture and summary execution (22 journalists and 18 netizens were jailed in 2012, and 18 citizens killed).A chilling example of government tactics is the case of Taymour Karim, a journalist and activist who was arrested in December 2011, and held for 71 days while he was tortured by the police. During questioning the police showed him 1000 pages of transcripts taken from conversations and files shared on Skype. It was later revealed that Mr Karim’s computer had been infected by spyware, downloaded by a virus in a document sent from a contact’s compromised Skype account.In June 2012 the Syrian government launched a virus infection campaign known Blackshade (after the name of the virus it employed), which was fortunately exposed when a member of the Syrian opposition received a dubious message from a compromised colleague.

Perhaps the most surprising thing has been that internet service has continued more or less continuously (except for the occasional blackout, such as those in May this year and November last year) throughout the troubles. All web traffic in Syria (even, as far as we can tell, traffic originating in areas under rebel occupation) is controlled by the Syrian Computer Society (SCS) and the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE), which uses a US designed hardware and software system to filter and monitor internet traffic.

This system was built and maintained by Blue Coat Systems (labelled as an internet enemy by Reporters Without Borders), although it is unclear how deeply they were involved in the sales process, as Dubia based firm Computerlinks has been fined for supplying the technology to the Assad regime). Blue Coat Systems is usually in remote contact with their equipment for things such as updates, but have reported that this contact has been broken. However in May, Reporters Without Borders discovered 34 new Blue Coat servers in Syria, which Blue Coat has declined to explain.

VPN use in Syria

It is fair to assume that all internet traffic in Syria is monitored by the SCS and STE on behalf of the Assad led government. In April this year, online magazine The Syrian published a leaked list if 634 websites that are blocked in Syria, which include Amazon, Wikipedia (Arabic version), Blogspot, many religious websites, and of course anything critical of the Assad government.

Although banned until late last year, we understand that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been unblocked. It should be noted however that the only way to safely post on social networking sites if you live in Syria is to practice self-censorship, or to use a pseudo-identity and access the web though an anonymising tool such a VPN or Tor.

Using such tools will also help you evade the internet blocks, and allow you surf the web anonymously and free of government surveillance. However, as of last the year the Syrian government has taken robust measures to block both Tor and VPN use (in addition to web proxy sites which feature prominently on the list discussed above).

Given its peer-toper nature, blocking Tor completely is difficult, but the government does its best to keep track of the IPs of known Tor nodes, and block them, This means that while with a little perseverance it should be able to access the internet anonymously through Tor, it may require multiple connection attempts to find a node that has not been blocked.
Similarly, the Syrian government has made great efforts to block VPN use. As we understand it (and please bear in mind that while this information is as accurate as we can determine, the situation is poorly reported, confused, and highly fluid), the PPTP and L2TP VPN protocols have been completely blocked.

SSTP and OpenVPN are still working as they use SSL/TLS (HTTPS), and blocking them would effectively hamstring the internet in Syria (not something the government is above, as the blackouts that have occurred demonstrate). However, we have heard reports of the government blocking security certificates, which both OpenVPN and SSTP rely on to work, and which may make some VPN services unavailable (PureVPN cited this to us as the reason their service cannot be used from Syria).

It is probably a very good idea for users in Syria to look at our article on How to hide OpenVPN traffic (forwarding through TCP port 443 is quite easy to do in many custom VPN clients, for example, and should be quite effective). We also recommend changing your DNS server away from one controlled by a Syrian ISP (instructions for this can be found in this article).

We have heard occasional reports of some Middle East users being refused VPN accounts because of payment processing issues. However, when we contacted various VPN providers they all denied this was a problem, or that anyone had ever been refused an account on grounds of their geographic location. If any problems do arise, many VPN providers accept Bitcoin payment, which sidesteps the entire problem (and is also a very good idea if you want to hide the fact that you are using a VPN service from the Syrian government – just remember to perform the transaction when connected to Tor for maximum anonymity).

Summary

Rank Provider StartingPrice Grade Link

1

ExpressVPN_Logo $8.32/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

2

logo $6.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

3

logo $11.52/month Read Review > Visit Site >

4

logo $7.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

5

$6.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

Winner

ExpressVPN

  • PROS
  • Easy-to-use software
  • Excellent speeds
  • Good customer service
  • CONS
  • Bit pricy, but worth it for the features

ExpressVPN have been around for a while, and have slowly and methodically built a great company. When we tested them their speeds were excellent, the sofware was really easy to use, and their 24/7 customer service also delivered on the promises.

Their pricing is not the cheapest, but you do get what you pay for. As I said above, the price is worth these positive points. The company boasts servers in 78 different countries, which means you can appear to be in any country you want.

Try Out the Best VPN for Syria Today!

Visit ExpressVPN »

30 day moneyback guarantee

2nd place

PIA

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Great attitude to privac
  • Very fast
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • VPN client has some great features
  • P2P: yes
  • Android app
  • Router config guide
  • Pre-configured routers available
  • Servers in Romania
  • CONS
  • US company

Despite being a US company, Private Internet Access has always shown the utmost regard for its user’s privacy and anonymity. Keeping no logs ‘of any kind’, using shared IPs to make identification any individual user with any online activity very difficult, and accepting anonymous payment via Bitcoin, PIA is also one of the most fully featured VPN providers on the market, supplying a Windows and OSX client with DNS leak protection, IPv6 leak protection, port forwarding and an internet kill switch. It has servers in Romania, an awesome Android app, and preconfigured routers are available.

» Visit PIA


3rd place

Hide My As

  • PROS
  • Servers in Turkey and Jordan
  • Great VPN client makes changing servers very easy
  • Lots of other freebies on-site to help maintain anonymity on the internet
  • CONS
  • Keeps logs and has a history of collaboration with the authorities
  • A bit pricey

Hide My Ass is a large international VPN provider with servers located in Turkey and Jordan (which may be useful if your connection is slow, although servers in Europe may be more secure). It also supplies a good VPN client with an internet kill switch and port forwarding. A UK company, HMA does keep logs, but this is unlikely to concern most Syrian users.

» Visit HideMyAss


4th place

Mullvad

  • PROS
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • No logs
  • Good speeds
  • Cheap
  • Client features internet kill switch and DNS leak protection
  • P2P: yes
  • Servers in Sweden and Netherlands
  • CONS
  • Servers a long way from Syria

Mullvad is great little VPN provider whose only real downside as far as Syria is concerned is that its servers are all located some distance away in Northern Europe. Other than that, the Windows, OSX and Linux software is great, and features DNS leak protection, port forwarding, an internet kill switch, and server load information. Mullvad keeps no logs, and accepts anonymous payment not only using Bitcoin, but also by cash sent in the post!

» Visit Mullvad


5th place

CyberGhost

  • PROS
  • No logs
  • Great free service
  • Groovy VPN client
  • P2P: yes
  • Accepts Bitcoin
  • Cervers in Romania
  • CONS
  • VPN client is Windows only (although OpenVPN setup guides are provided for other platforms)

This no logs Romanian provider until recently lost a few points with us for not accepting payment by Bitcoin, but this may have now changed (a statement was issued saying it did now accept Bitcoin, but the website payment options says nothing on the subject, and support is taking its time replying our queries). Regardless, the 30 day free trial is great, and the free service is also very usable. The Windows software is attractive and includes many features, including an internet kill switch.

» Visit CyberGhost


Conclusion

Access to the internet in Syria is heavily monitored and filtered, and free expression of political and social opinions can be very dangerous. Tor and VPN are excellent ways to avoid this, but due to the potential risks involved should be used with extreme care. We are not aware of anyone (yet) getting into trouble for trying to use these tools, but the government has done its best to block them and you may experience difficulties.

If any of the above information is incorrect or out of date we apologise, and would love to hear form any readers about their experiences so we can get a clearer picture of the situation. We also urge readers in Syria to be very careful, and wish you the best of luck.


And here’s the summary once more:

Summary

Rank Provider StartingPrice Grade Link

1

ExpressVPN_Logo $8.32/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

2

logo $6.95/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

3

logo $11.52/month Read Review > Visit Site >

4

logo $7.00/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

5

$6.99/mo Read Review > Visit Site >

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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2 responses to “5 Best VPNs for Syria

    1. Hi Mareck,

      I wrote this article back in August 2013 (before all hell broke lose.) It is therefore not in the slightest bit current, and with the situation in Syria changing so fast, I don’t think I would dare try to update it now. That said, VPN remains a good way to evade censorship and government monitoring, and the recommended providers are still good suggestions. If using VPN in Syria is likely to get you into trouble, please be very careful (and perhaps consider using Tor rather than VPN). For added safety, Tor and VPN can be combined.

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