Best VPN for UAE. Get UAE IP Address (Dubai). Bypass Restrictions. Unblock VPN, Censored Websites & Porn.

PureVPN Deal Important Note!
Because local ISPs in the UAE are likely to completely block VPN access, you must use custom protocols specifically designed to hide VPN connection. To reiterate, OpenVPN will not work in the UAE unless it’s obfuscated to look like normal HTTPS traffic.

Even though VPN providers listed below can bypass VPN restrictions in the UAE, as of 2018 their websites might be inaccessible from within the UAE because the Emirates government has started blocking VPN services. This means that you won’t be able to subscribe to their VPN service once you are there.

Try using Google Translate to access the websites and purchase a subscription. Google will act as a proxy that might bypass the restriction. If you are outside of the UAE planning to travel there, it is best to setup the VPN before before you head for the UAE.
UAE Mass Surveillance

Best VPN with servers in UAE:

The UAE government built pervasive surveillance as a part of their extensive censorship efforts. A wide range of online content is banned in the UAE and the free speech is heavily criminalized. The UAE cybercrime law was expanded to criminalize social media posts which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and hefty fines of up to $540,000.

Aside from ToTok, an in-house Emirati app suspected in conducting mass surveillance, VoIP services such Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, FaceTime, Snapchat, Telegram, or any website that facilitates in bypassing the restrictions, are strictly banned in the UAE.

The UAE also either completely blocks or heavily censors a wide range of political, religious or culturally offensive content, pornography, gambling, online dating, LGBT, news and human rights websites, even political hashtags on Twitter.

VPN is a perfect tool that allows online users to access blocked content and unblock any website. The problem is that both Emirati ISPs, Etisalat and Du Telecom, use deep packet inspection to sniff out VPN traffic and block it, however, each uses a different vendor to accomplish the task. While it is still legal to use VPN in the Emirates, popular VPN services are, therefore, blocked.

Etisalat and Du can easily spot typical VPN tunneling protocols, which is why the most popular OpenVPN is the worst choice to use in the UAE as it quite certainly does not to function properly. There are, however, obfuscation methods that completely hide the fact that you are using VPN, that can also bypass local Internet restrictions.

Since the UAE government puts a lot of effort into Internet censorship, their firewall constantly evolves making it more and more difficult to connect to the Internet without restrictions. Depending on your needs, we recommend the best no logging VPN services with advanced security measures, reliable performance, excellent selection of secure VPN servers (some of which offer a Dubai IP address), along with VPN masking tools to bypass VPN ban in the UAE.

If you need a VPN that will properly function while you are staying in the Emirates, we offer an in-depth explanation later in this article. We will also explain why some VPN services work on Du Telecom, but do not work on Etisalat network.
 

VyprVPN GoldenFrog Logo

Get 81% off VyprVPN  

ANNUAL PRICE: 2.50 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 12.95 USD

Switzerland based VyprVPN is a leading no logs VPN provider with over 700 ultra fast servers worldwide that support gigabit VPN speed (1,000Mbps). VyprVPN was independently audited by Leviathan Security that confirmed VyprVPN to be a no logging VPN service. Unlike most VPN providers, VyprVPN doesn’t rely on 3rd party hosting – they own and manage their own VPN servers.

With over 200,000 IP addresses in 64 countries, VyprVPN offers a fantastic choice of VPN locations. For VPN users who need an Emirati or a Middle Eastern IP address, VyprVPN has servers in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel.

In addition, VyprVPN is an excellent provider to bypass even the strictest firewalls that block VPN connection in UAE. For this purpose VyprVPN designed a proprietary VPN protocol called Chameleon. The protocol scrambles OpenVPN to hide VPN use and make it undetectable via deep packet inspection (DPI). Chameleon allows you to use VPN on very restrictive Emirati networks that completely block VPN, which are also ubiquitous in the Middle East.

All VyprVPN servers run on the highest encryption using the most modern encryption methods. NAT firewall is an additional layer of security since it blocks unrequested inbound traffic.

VyrpVPN apps have a DNS and IP leaks protection and a kill switch to protect your device from accidentally accessing the Internet using your real IP address. VyprVPN kill switch works deeper than a typical kill switch. It remains active even after you quit the app, so when enabled, it works as a firewall and completely blocks Internet access until you connect to VyprVPN.

VyprVPN infrastructure is amazingly fast offering ultra fast gigabit speeds and low ping times for high speed HD streaming. Being one of the fastest VPN services, VyprVPN boasts some of the best VPN speeds.

VyprVPN has dedicated streaming servers that can bypass Netflix proxy error and also work with BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Spotify.
To read a full VyprVPN review click HERE.

 

PureVPN Logo

Try PureVPN for $0.99  

TRIAL: 0.99 USD
ANNUAL PRICE: 6.49 USD/mo

Hong Kong based PureVPN is a no logs VPN service that was independently audited by Altius IT, a leading California-based independent Certified Information Systems Auditor. Altius IT team members are experts in higher-level network security audit, risk management, assessment, and security consulting services.

PureVPN has 2,000 high-speed VPN servers in 140 countries with over 50 servers located in the Middle East including the UAE (Dubai), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Oman. Hence, PureVPN is a great choice to get the Dubai IP address while also offering the best selection of Middle Eastern IP addresses.

Secure high-speed PureVPN infrastructure offers advanced security features for anonymous Internet use. PureVPN custom apps have a built-in WebRTC, IP and DNS leak protection. Kill switch is feature that guards the users from unencrypted data leaks when the internet connection drops. PureVPN even has a DDoS protection add-on.

PureVPN has a port forwarding feature that allows you to forward your encrypted VPN traffic through port 443 (typically reserved for encrypted browsing). PureVPN, thus, can unblock restricted websites and bypass Internet censorship in UAE.

Additionally, the provider considered the importance of uninterrupted streaming by introducing Dedicated Streaming add-on that will boost streaming speed and enhance performance. PureVPN optimized streaming servers are best to get a buffer-free streaming experience in UAE.

PureVPN is also one of the few VPN providers that can effectively unblock Netflix. For this purpose PureVPN setup dedicated Netflix servers. At the moment the provider can unblock Netflix USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Japan.

In case you want to limit your VPN use to specific websites/services only, Split Tunneling feature lets you decide which applications to send through unencrypted channel and which one to secure with an encrypted VPN service.

Split tunneling is commonly used in case you need the UAE VPN for torrenting only. More so, PureVPN offers over 60 dedicated torrenting servers and a port forwarding feature to maximize your upload and download speeds.

To read a full PureVPN review click HERE.

 

NordVPN Logo

FINAL SALE: 70% off NordVPN  

ANNUAL PRICE: 3.49 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 11.95 USD

Panama based NordVPN is one of the best security oriented VPN companies with amazingly fast infrastructure. NordVPN is a no logs VPN service that was independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers AG based in Zurich, Switzerland (one of the Big 4 auditing firms) to back the claims that they don’t log identifiable user information under any circumstances. Additionally, NordVPN offers a Double VPN – a privacy feature that sends your Internet traffic through two VPN servers, encrypting it twice.

NordVPN offers over 5,000 servers in 62 countries, dedicated & shared IP types, and 6 simultaneous logins. When it comes to the Middle East, NordVPN has servers in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Israel and Turkey. So if you need the UAE IP address, NordVPN is a perfect choice.

NordVPN implemented a strict no logs privacy policy, offers double data encryption, obfuscation tools and other advanced security features. NordVPN obfuscated VPN servers are a perfect choice to use on restrictive networks in UAE. These VPN servers are generally recommended for countries that block VPN altogether because the technology can bypass even the most advanced network firewalls.

NordVPN Obfsproxy servers not only unblock VPN on strict firewalls, they also hide OpenVPN and make your VPN use completely undetectable in the UAE. Neither your ISP nor the Emirati government will know that you are using VPN.

NordVPN can, thereby, bypass Internet restrictions, online censorship and network firewalls in the UAE. NordVPN can unblock censored websites in the UAE and bypass VoIP calling ban on Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, FaceTime, Telegram and more.

Besides, NordVPN has a Smart Play technology offering an encrypted connection to access geo-restricted content on Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and similar services. If you are a torrenting user, NordVPN has torrenting VPN servers as well.

To read a full NordVPN review click HERE.

 

ExpressVPN Logo

Get 3 months FREE with ExpressVPN  

ANNUAL PRICE: 6.67 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 12.95 USD

Based in the British Virgin Islands, ExpressVPN is an excellent no logs VPN service for privacy oriented VPN users who want to protect their data from government surveillance, bypass censorship and access restricted content in the UAE.

ExpressVPN has been independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a top team of security audit experts with access to ExpressVPN servers’ codebase to verify their no logging claims. The audit also checked that TrustedServer technology operates as described. TrustedServer is a name ExpressVPN uses to describe their security tech that has VPN servers running on RAM only (not on hard drive). TrustedServers are wiped every time they are rebooted, which eliminates any possibility that the government could seize VPN servers and access sensitive user data.

ExpressVPN has Middle Eastern VPN servers in Algeria, Egypt and Israel along with technology that hides VPN use. The provider wraps OpenVPN into SSL and reroutes VPN connection through HTTPS port 443. This setup completely hides VPN use from network admins in the UAE and makes your VPN traffic appear as regular encrypted Internet browsing, thereby, making ExpressVPN a perfect choice for VPN users in the UAE. Assuming your restrictive network blocks VPN protocols and VPN ports, ExpressVPN can unblock VPN on virtually any network.

ExpressVPN custom apps have a built-in DNS leak protection to ensure that no data is leaked while the app is running. Even though ExpressVPN is extremely reliable, kill switch is another useful feature that guards your real IP address from leaking.

ExpressVPN is a perfect choice for high speed Netflix streaming. The provider can unblock Netflix USA and UK, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and a number of other streaming services.

Additionally, the provider has one of the fastest infrastructures with over 3,000 servers in 94 countries. Ultra fast ExpressVPN is one of the few VPN services with VPN network that supports gigabit Internet connection, making it a perfect choice for ultra high speed streaming and torrenting.

Overall, this ultra fast infrastructure, dedication to security, and a number of software features definitely makes ExpressVPN the best VPN service for the UAE.

To read a full ExpressVPN review click HERE.

 

Perfect Privacy VPN Logo

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ANNUAL PRICE: 9.99 EUR/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 12.99 EUR

Perfect Privacy is an ultra fast (gigabit servers) VPN provider with a heavy focus on advanced online security. As the name suggests, Perfect Privacy VPN has some of the most secure VPN features for maximum anonymity in the UAE.

For the fastest browsing experience, you can choose between Egypt, Israeli or Turkish VPN servers. But like we mentioned above, the provider’s focus is not the amount of servers they own, it’s security, privacy and complete anonymity.

Perfect Privacy has one of the best and most advanced kill switch implementations. Their integrated firewall enforces all traffic to be sent through secure tunnels thereby protecting their users from all known IP leaks not only when the app is running, but also after OS reboot. Essentially, it prevents unsecured online access when you restart your device until the VPN is up and running.

In addition, Perfect Privacy offers a unique Multi-Hop VPN feature that allows cascading over up to 4 OpenVPN servers at the same time along with SOCKS5 and Squid proxies. So you can create a chain of 6 VPN locations at the same time which basically eliminates any possibility of tracking you down. While this setup surely provides more anonymity, it will dramatically slow you down, which may be an issue for some VPN users in the UAE.

Perfect Privacy can bypass strict firewalls in the UAE by obfuscating OpenVPN to look like normal HTTPS traffic with Stealth VPN or OpenVPN over SSH fearure. For additional firewall penetration Perfect Privacy allows 5 custom port forwardings or 3 default random ports.

Basically, if you are in the UAE and your WiFi network completely blocks VPN, Perfect Privacy can bypass firewall and unblock VPN on virtually any network.

NeuroRouting is an AI based routing that determines the most secure and fastest route through the Internet. It also automatically changes your external VPN IP address depending on the destination. Another fantastic anonymity feature is the provider’s ability to resolve .onion (TOR) addresses without the need for the Tor Browser.

Overall, Perfect Privacy VPN is a perfect tool to avoid mass surveillance, bypass Emirati internet restrictions, access censored websites, and securely stream multimedia content.

To read a full Perfect Privacy review click HERE.

 

TorGuard VPN Logo

Get 10% off TorGuard VPN Lifetime Deal  

ANNUAL PRICE: 4.49 USD/mo [promocode]
MONTHLY PRICE: 8.99 USD

Offering over 3,000 servers in 55 countries, all mainstream protocols and top-notch security, TorGuard rightfully earned its place as a top VPN provider. To get a Dubai IP address, TorGuard offers VPN servers in the UAE (Dubai) and Israel.

No logs TorGuard is a reliable, fast and secure VPN service for the UAE. TorGuard desktop apps have a kill switch feature that actively monitors your Internet connection to protect you from accidental IP leaks when your WiFi is unstable.

Stealth VPN is a technology that TorGuard uses to bypass Deep Packet Inspection firewalls, such as those used by the Emirates government to censor and restrict online content. Consequently, TorGuard is a highly recommended VPN service for users who live in the regions with particularly restrictive governments, and would like to unblock censored websites or services.

Besides a great number of security features and ability to unblock VPN on restrictive WiFi, TorGuard is also an ultra fast VPN service with gigabit servers (actually, 10 Gbps). This infrastructure allows the fastest VPN speeds with a reliable streaming and browsing experience.

Unlike most VPN providers, TorGuard VPN can bypass Netflix proxy error with their Netflix streaming IPs. TorGuard can unblock a number of Netflix regions (USA, UK, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and Singapore), Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and virtually any streaming or social media service.

TorGuard is not only one of the best VPN services, it also offers OpenPGP encrypted email service with 2 factor authentication and up to 10Mb free storage.

To read a full TorGuard review click HERE.

 

Hide.me VPN Logo

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ANNUAL PRICE: 4.99 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 9.95 USD

Based in Malaysia, Hide.me is one the most secure and fastest VPN providers offering ultra fast gigabit VPN servers that deliver the fastest VPN speeds for users on gigabit Internet connection.

Hide.me is a no logs VPN service with gigabit VPN servers in UAE (Dubai) and Egypt. Hide.Me VPN is extremely reliable and very fast which makes it a perfect choice for security oriented users who would like to enjoy uninterrupted streaming and browsing experience. The provider can unblock censored content in the UAE and bypass local government restrictions.

Hide.Me is one of the best VPN services to use in the UAE since it has advanced VPN masking tools to bypass strict firewalls and censorship. Hide.Me masks (obfuscates) OpenVPN traffic with TLS-Crypt so, since ISPs in the UAE block VPN by analyzing traffic patterns, this methods can bypass the most advanced firewalls in the Emirates. The technology also encrypts every OpenVPN packet twice, sort of like Double VPN encryption.

Additionally, the provider offers a dynamic TCP/UDP port-forwarding (UPnP) with up to 10 TCP/UDP ports, a useful feature on WiFi networks that block VPN ports.

Hide.Me custom VPN apps have a number of advanced features for maximum protection. Hide.Me VPN has a built-in protection against IP and DNS leaks. Kill switch is an excellent tool to shut down Internet access when the connection to a VPN server is dropped. Stealth Guard takes this even further by blocking access to predetermined apps even when the VPN is OFF.

For instance, once you add Chrome app to your Stealth Guard settings, Hide.Me app will block Internet access for Chrome browser unless the VPN connection has been established.

Hide.Me supports perfect forward secrecy, an advanced security feature that tells OpenVPN to regularly renegotiate encryption keys.

More so, you can selectively tunnel only specific traffic via secure servers. Split tunneling feature allows this or, alternatively, SOCKS5 proxy can be setup on your browser/torrenting client and re-route only that traffic. Port forwarding feature is a great addition as it can speed up torrenting or streaming when your ISP throttles select traffic.

To read a full Hide.me review click HERE.

 

CyberGhost VPN Logo

Get 80% off CyberGhost VPN  

ANNUAL PRICE: 2.45 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 12.99 USD

Romania based CyberGhost is a no logs VPN provider with over 6,500 ultra high speed VPN servers in 90 countries. CyberGhost VPN has servers in The United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Israel and Turkey. The wide selection of VPN servers in the Middle East and the UAE VPN server makes the service an excellent choice for VPN users who need a Dubai IP address.

CyberGhost is also one of the most secure VPN services. The provider has a number of advanced security and privacy features that are not offered by competitors. CyberGhost desktop apps have DNS & IP leaks protection, as well as an automatic kill switch that guards your connection if VPN disconnects.

Anti-fingerprinting and tracking protection blocks websites from storing personally identifiable data. A built-in ad-blocker and anti-malware blocks annoying ads along with malicious websites. Automated HTTPS redirect forces unsecured websites to go to HTTPS, ensuring that you browse the most secure version of it.

Data compression is another interesting feature that compresses data to reduce your Internet usage.

CyberGhost, additionally, offers dedicated high-speed streaming servers to unblock Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer and other multimedia services. You can also choose to connect to dedicated VPN servers optimized for torrenting.

Split tunneling is a feature that excludes specific websites from passing through the VPN tunnel. CyberGhost split tunneling only works to bypass predetermined websites, like Netflix.com, and cannot be used for other apps, like torrenting.

For faster streaming and torrenting, CyberGhost VPN allows switching between TCP/UDP protocols (UDP may be faster comparing to TCP).

If you are on a restrictive WiFi network that blocks VPN ports, typically found at hotels, airports, restaurants and the like, desktop VPN apps can automatically test a wide range of ports and connect to the random VPN port that works.

To read a full CyberGhost review click HERE.

 

ZenMate VPN logo

Get 80% OFF ZenMate VPN  

ANNUAL PRICE: 1.75 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 11.99 USD

ZenMate is a no logs privacy oriented VPN provider with a number of built-in security features for advanced protection from tracking and various IP leaks. ZenMate has over 3,700 ultra fast VPN servers in 74 countries that are great for streaming, torrenting and gaming since the infrastructure is optimized to take the best routes, low ping times and virtually eliminates lag.

ZenMate offers high-speed Middle Eastern VPN servers in the UAE (Dubai), Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Turkey. When connected to the UAE VPN server, you get a Dubai IP address so you can browse geo-restricted websites.

The provider is an excellent choice for the VPN users who would like to stay anonymous online and stop the government from tracking individual browsing history or compiling sensitive personal data.

ZenMate gigabit VPN servers are the best for uninterrupted streaming experience. The provider can also unblock a number of geo-restricted streaming services including Netflix (USA, UK, France and Germany), BBC iPlayer, HBO, Amazon Prime and more.

ZenMate premium software for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android is lightweight, efficient and extremely reliable – it takes a split of a second to switch servers. During our lengthy in-depth testing, ZenMate VPN never disconnected, not even once. But if you need that extra security, ZenMate kill switch is your fail-safe security measure.

Additionally, if you would like to use your VPN for browsing only, you can install ZenMate browser extensions on Chrome, Opera and Firefox browsers.

To read a full ZenMate review click HERE.

 

PrivateInternetAccess VPN Logo

Get 77% off PIA VPN  

ANNUAL PRICE: 2.85 USD/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 11.95 USD

PIA is a leading no logs VPN service with over 3,000 VPN servers that deliver great speeds and a reliable performance. Private Internet Access has Middle Eastern servers in The United Arab Emirates (Dubai), Israel and Turkey. If you need a UAE IP address, you can connect to Dubai VPN server.

PIA offers an easy to install VPN app for all devices with security and privacy features that protect VPN connection from unexpected data leaks. PIA was once subpoenaed by the FBI and the only information they could provide is that the cluster of IP addresses being used was from the east coast of the United States. The FBI case confirms that PIA indeed does not log any user activity.

Their NAT firewall does a great job protecting from cyber attacks, built-in kill switch secures from unprotected data leaks. In addition, PIA apps have a DNS and IPv4/IPv6 leak protection.

PIA VPN service in one of the best choices for the UAE as the provider gives unrestricted and uncensored access to blocked or censored websites. Aside from unblocking various restricted sites (gambling, porn, religious content), PIA can also unblock Netflix USA and Netflix UK libraries, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, Amazon Prime.

For faster streaming and torrenting PIA software offers switching between different connection types and ports. The settings have UDP (faster) and TCP connections types that, depending on network, can speed up traffic. UDP is also greatly preferred for torrenting and streaming.

Additionally, PIA allows port forwarding to 443, 80, 110, 53, 8080, 9201. Port 443 is the most widespread option because it is used to bypass firewalls that block common VPN ports. For instance, forwarding traffic through port 443 will likely bypass VPN block on most public WiFi networks in hotels, airports and similar.

SOCK5 proxy is another excellent feature that can re-route only certain traffic through VPN tunnel eliminating the need for split tunneling. SOCKS5 is widely used with torrenting software due to its convenience. Once installed on uTorrent, for instance, it works for p2p traffic only.

To read a full PIA review click HERE.

 

AirVPN Logo

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ANNUAL PRICE: 4.50 EUR/mo
MONTHLY PRICE: 7 EUR

AirVPN is an Italian VPN provider created by privacy activists whose main goal is data protection. AirVPN has over 200 servers in 23 countries that have Perfect Forward Secrecy through Diffie-Hellman key exchange DHE. Essentially key negotiation is performed every 60 minutes to avoid data breach if the key is compromised. AirVPN offers OpenVPN dynamic port forwarding on 80 TCP/UDP, 443 TCP/UDP and 53 TCP/UDP. Additionally, AirVPN offers OpenVPN over SSH and OpenVPN over SSL that mask OpenVPN and make the use of encryption tools invisible to some of the most advanced firewalls. To read a full AirVPN review click HERE.
 

Mass Surveillance in the UAE

Both physical and online surveillance is prolific across the UAE. The country has one of the highest concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world with some of the most sophisticated capabilities that can keep track of people and objects in real time. The government is using deep packet inspection for online data analysis, filtering and monitoring of all social media channels and browsing activities, including messaging and VoIP. The software can even turn on the phone’s camera and microphone to capture activity in the phone’s vicinity.

Mobile phone and Internet users are required to register their personal information and ID. The telecom industry is tightly controlled by the government, text messages and phone calls are being monitored and recorded.

Dubai has an estimated 35,000 security cameras with roughly 20,000 in Abu Dhabi alone. The city launched the Falcon Eye, a country wide surveillance initiative to integrate electro-optic systems, cameras, license plate recognition systems and a command centre. The cameras are watching public spaces, buses, taxis, metro, roads and highways, gas stations, department stores, every public and commercial facility, or literally every corner of the country.

Falcon Eye applies unique identifiers to people to be followed, and provides full data on individual’s movements and activities. The devices used to collect the info are not limited to street cameras, smart devices connected to the Internet are used as well.

UAE Hacking Devices

Big Data Analytics is the central interface that organises this gathered information to identify patterns of behavior and potential threat levels.

The system can be used to compile hours of surveillance video in order to track anyone in the country. The cameras use facial recognition software to track a person’s every move and automatically capture license plates to keep track of the movement and real-time location of the vehicles.

The UAE already has the national ID card system which contains biometric data on all UAE residents. The cameras feed biometric data into the central Analytics that can connect unknown “moving objects” with the facial recognition database.

Since late 2016, Dubai police have partnered with DarkMatter to use its Pegasus “big data” software to track anyone in the Emirates. Police, of course, has virtually full access to the surveillance footage.

“Every person is monitored from the moment they leave their doorstep to the moment they return to it. Their work, social and behavioural patterns are recorded, analysed and archived. It sounds like sci-fi but it is happening today in Abu Dhabi.”

It all started back in 2008 with the DREAD program that was later codenamed Project Raven. The UAE used it to hack and spy on a wide range of targets, from terrorists to human rights activists, journalists and dissidents.

Various hacking methods, covert computer networks and anonymous Internet accounts were used for surveillance operations.

By 2009, DREAD operatives were building a spying software, codenamed “The Thread”, that would allow UAE to steal files from Windows computers and send them to the government servers.

In 2013, NSO, an Israeli cybersecurity company specializing in spying and surveillance equipment, made its first deal with the United Arab Emirates. The following year security researchers confirmed that the Emirates government installed NSO spyware on the Ahmed Mansoor’s iPhone (a prominent human rights activist). His email was hacked, location tracked, bank account emptied of $140,000, his car stolen and he was beaten twice within a week.

UAE Mass Surveillance

Established in 2015, DarkMatter is an Emirati cyber intelligence and hacking firm with an office in the same building with the Signals Intelligence Agency, the Emirates’ NSA. DarkMatter hired former American NSA and CIA analysts, the top Israeli intelligence operatives to work with the Emirati intelligence officials on surveillance tech.

The company works directly with the Emirati government agencies on intelligence missions, like hacking the government ministries in Turkey, Qatar and Iran, targeting the UN’s offices to compromise the email accounts of foreign diplomats, human rights groups, executives of FIFA, the world soccer organization, tracking anti-regime journalists and dissidents, or turning a simple household item, such as a baby monitor, into a spy device.

UAE Hacking Devices

DarkMatter reportedly uses the best hackers to perform offensive surveillance operations, to locate and hack any person at any time.

We have started monitoring all the social media channels – all websites and profiles are monitored.

In 2017, BBC reported that BAE Systems, the UK defense giant, has sold advanced surveillance tech to the UAE, capable of deep packet inspection, “IP monitoring and data analysis”.

In 2019, the UAE government announced that DarkMatter would merge with 22 other companies, along with the government-owned Emirates Defense Industries, the Emirates Advanced Investments Group and Tawazun Holding, to create a defense conglomerate titled Edge, focused on cyberattacks.

VoIP blocked in UAE while ToTok, an Emirati spying app, replaces WhatsApp and Skype calling

VoIP video and audio calling are blocked in the UAE. According to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), VoIP services are covered by the UAE’s regulatory policy that requires an entity to request a license to provide VoIP services in accordance with the Regulatory Framework.

This regulation was allegedly enacted to shut down and prosecute unlicensed Internet cafes that offer VoIP services, and block competing apps such as Skype.

WhatsApp voice feature was blocked in 2015, as was a similar feature offered by Facebook. Viber has been banned since 2013, along with FaceTime. Discord, a chatting app used by gamers, and Snapchat voice services had its VoIP feature blocked in 2016.

Etisalat and Du are two major telecom providers in the Emirates that block free VoIP apps. Both providers offer Internet calling plans at an additional cost of about $15/mo for mobile devices and $30/mo for home WiFi. Etisalat Internet Calling Plan and Du Internet Calling Plan can only be used with the following supported VoIP apps:

  • HiU Messenger
  • Voico UAE
  • C’ME
  • BOTIM

This means that even if you pay to unblock VoIP features in the Emirates, WhatsApp, Skype, FaceTime, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat calling features still won’t work.

The only way to completely bypass VoIP blocking and use your favorite app is to setup a VPN that encrypts all traffic, making selective VoIP blocking impossible.

The best VPN services we listed above can unblock VoIP video and audio calling on Skype, WhatsApp, Viber or any other messaging app.

In 2019, the Emirates released a free VoIP video and voice calling app, ToTok, that was marketed as a perfect replacement for the banned WhatsApp and Skype calling features. The New York Times investigation into the app and its developers, however, revealed that ToTok is, in fact, a spying tool that, once installed, tracks every conversation, movement, relationship, appointment, sound and image.

Breej Holding is the company that developed the app. The New York Times added that it is most likely a front company affiliated with DarkMatter and is linked to Pax AI, an Abu Dhabi-based data mining company that appears to be also connected to DarkMatter.

After the report, both Google and Apple removed it from the App Stores for violating the policies. While Google allowed ToTok after a series of updates, Apple is still reviewing the app.

One digital security expert in the Middle East, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss powerful hacking tools, said that senior Emirati officials told him that ToTok was indeed an app developed to track its users in the Emirates and beyond.

ToTok tracks users’ location, contacts, it has access to the microphone, camera, calendar, multimedia, chats, messages and other data. The app uploads the entire address book and media content (such as images and videos) to the server, allowing the Emirati intelligence operatives to analyze user calls, contacts and messages.

Etisalat vs Du Telecom: DPI Methods & VPN Blocking

Etisalat and Du Telecom use deep packet inspection (DPI) to sniff, censor and block online traffic.

For network protection Etisalat uses Network User Behavior Analysis Security Monitor developed by McAfee, also known as Smart Filter. While Du Telecom uses NetSweeper filter.

Since the filters were developed by different vendors, there is a difference in the types of content that gets blocked by each provider. Du is reportedly less strict, while Etisalat blocks a wider range of websites and services.

CitizenLab has also documented websites that are incorrectly blocked in the UAE because both SmartFilter, used by Etisalat, and NetSweeper, used by Du, have miscategorized the websites as pornographic.

Etisalat tends to aggressively block VPN, while the same VPN services work just fine on Du. So if you are on the fence when it comes to your telecom provider, we recommend Du due to their less draconian censorship practices.

Online Censorship in the UAE

“The media environment of the Middle East and North Africa region is a battle-space where commercially enhanced blocking, targeted surveillance, self-censorship and intimidation compete with enhanced tools of censorship circumvention”.

The Emirates blocks content related to terrorism, pornography, gambling, online dating, LGBTI content, the promotion of criminal activities, the sale or promotion of illegal drugs, as well as religious, social and political speech that goes against the main ideology or offensive to religion. Emirati authorities typically block websites that criticize the government and contain “immoral” media content, such as nudity. Social media is heavily censored, while the most popular VoIP apps are blocked. Change.org was later blocked as well as a result of an online petition to appeal VoIP block.

Prohibited content also includes information related to circumvention tools, such VPN and proxy services. Etisalat and Du both use DPI methods to block VPN protocols like OpenVPN. As of 2016, using circumvention tools to commit a crime is illegal. VPN itself is legal, however, it is illegal to use VPN to download unauthorized media content, access restricted websites, services or similar. Punishment under the Cybercrime Law can range from a fine of up to $540,000, to jail time of a up to 15 years.

Most recently the UAE censorship expanded to block websites from the rival countries, like Qatar. The Emirates work with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia to isolate Qatar that they accuse of supporting “terrorist” groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The authorities blocked a number of Qatari media websites and websites owned or funded by Qatari citizens. The UAE also expanded the cybercrime law to criminalize “sympathy for Qatar” in July 2017, punishable with a 15-year prison sentence.

A number of anonymous Twitter accounts are dedicated to harassing and intimidating political dissidents and activists online.

In March 2018, the state announced new regulations for for social media influencers who now must apply for a license issued based on a number of qualifications, such as age, a clean criminal record, good reputation and a university degree.

The UAE cybercrime law criminalizes a wide range of legitimate online activities. Overall freedom of speech environment in the UAE is poor, while journalists and scholars are often persecuted for expressing their views on political topics. In May 2018, the activist Ahmed Mansour was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “spreading sectarianism and hatred on social media.”

Unblock VPN on Etisalat and Du Telecom

Unfortunately, both Emirati telecom providers use DPI to block VPN services and VPN protocols. DPI can inspect traffic and selectively block common encryption protocols. The only way to unblock VPN in UAE is to use advanced VPN masking tools that hide VPN use altogether.

These tools were designed specifically to trick ISPs into thinking they are regular HTTPS connections without raising any suspicion. The best tools to hide VPN are generally also undetectable so Etisalat and Du will not even know you are using a VPN.

The issue is that Du seems to be using less advanced DPI methods to sniff out VPN traffic, wile Etisalat uses Smart Filter that can inspect encrypted HTTPS packets and, in some cases, can detect VPN.

So some VPN masking techniques may be more suitable, depending on your ISP. The following are the best VPN masking tools to bypass deep packet inspection in the UAE and unblock VPN even on the most restrictive networks.

Chameleon is offered by VyprVPN.

Obfsproxy is offered by NordVPN.

OpenVPN over SSL is offered by ExpressVPN and AirVPN.

StealthVPN is offered by TorGuard.

SoftEther is offered by Hide.me

OpenVPN Scrambling is offered by StrongVPN and IPVanish.

For more info please refer our Best VPN for Middle East article that provides more details on the subject.
 

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