Would you risk running a VPN in the United Arab Emirates?

Those caught could face jail time and substantial fines.

Would you risk running a VPN in the United Arab Emirates?

Iain Thomson of The Register writes:

A royal edict from the president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may have effectively made it illegal for anyone in the country to use a VPN or secure proxy service.

Those caught could face jail time and fines of between 500,000 and 2,000,000 UAE dirham (US$136,130 and $544,521).

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The wording is ambiguous and technologically illiterate. Essentially, it seems, you are not allowed to use systems that hide the fact that you’re committing a crime or covering one up. If you’re routing your network traffic through a secure VPN or proxy server, you could be evading the eyes of the state while breaking a law, and that’s now a big no-no.

You could claim you were using the VPN or proxy for legit reasons, and that no criminal activity was being committed or concealed, but since your packets were encrypted, you may have a hard time proving your innocence.

That certainly does sound like a bit of a pickle for businesses and individuals who want to use the internet safely while in the United Arab Emirates.

You want to run VPN software to secure your communications, and keep your confidential information out of the hands of hackers sniffing data out of the air at public Wi-Fi hotspots, and beyond the grasp of over-reaching intelligence agencies. There are also plenty of people who have legitimate excuses for using the internet anonymously, and concealing their true identity.

But let’s take a closer look at the wording of this new legislation:

Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dh500,000 and not exceeding Dh2,000,000, or either of these two penalties.

The key thing to emphasise in the above is, I would argue, the words “for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery”.

Hopefully the UAE is planning to use this legislation to crack down on illegal activities on the internet, rather than those who use a VPN and other secure proxy services legitimately.

But if you were to find yourself *forced* to reveal what you had been doing (to prove it wasn’t illegal) well, you’ve just flushed your privacy down the lavatory.

I would worry that we could find ourselves slipping into a situation where the very use of a VPN and encrypted communications is considered itself inherently suspicious, rather than sensible.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

6 comments on “Would you risk running a VPN in the United Arab Emirates?”

  1. Bob

    There's a better reference article at ArsTechnica* which gives you an insight into their ulterior motive/s:

    "Blocked services include all VoIP services except for Skype, and those provided by the UAE's two main telecom companies, Etisalat and Du. Specifically, people are not allowed to use the VoIP services built into Snapchat, Viber, and WhatsApp in the UAE. The bans seem to be in place purely to ensure that the top two telecom companies' profits are not undermined by the free calls available with messaging apps."

    "Privacy Online News explains who are likely to suffer the most under the new law: "the millions of migrant workers that have come to rely on using VPNs to access free VoIP. The only officially sanctioned VoIP services, the ones offered by Etislat and Du, have already proven to be cost-prohibitive for the average UAE Internet user." Immigrants represent 88 percent of UAE's population according to the blog post."


  2. Phil Potts

    The last statement is a forthcoming reality that's been on the horizon for a while. The very act of keeping an activity private is, in itself, suspicion of wrongdoing. Like paying for something with cash. Here we go.

  3. John

    @Bob sure, this may have a commercial background too (which is a nice thing to have as a side-effect).

    Yet, the far more discomforting thing about all this is: now it is the UAE trying to label anyone a criminal by prejudice. My fear: within decades from now, both you and I are presumed criminals for even using a VPN in our own countries too – where ever we are in "The West". The fact that I just want to protect myself from internet criminals, and that I have nothing "innate nor in action" that could be called illegal, that simply does not count by then aymore, does it?

    I'm really afraid that even all Western societies will eventually go this same road, forbidding VPN's, since… well… "The terrorists are out there !!!" and ("thus") we should abandon our way of living by giving up many of our civil rights. (Which would only be making f-ing terrorists & the likes very happy – as they DID manage to bring down modern society that way.)

    It will only depend on the amount of deaths that society can bear, before such measures would be implemented.

    Yes, it's my grim view on our future freedom. And the threat on our civil liberty comes from both sides…

  4. DavID

    "But if you were to find yourself *forced* to reveal what you had been doing (to prove it wasn't illegal) well, you've just flushed your privacy down the lavatory." Some of your privacy. Having to reveal activities to legal authorities, (if "requested"), might be significantly preferable to having them also visible to hundreds or more unknown parties by not using a VPN.

  5. Shih Campbell

    This needs to be updated guys as vpn is no longer banned in UAE. Just make sure you have a working vpn server though once you visit the country. I am using Astrill and it works great in the area.

  6. sanjay kc

    i use vpn for free internet in du. may i got trobble or not?

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