04/12/2012 11:03 am ET

A Startup's Tool Helps Evade Iran's Censors, For Now

In early 2011, David Gorodyansky watched the Arab Spring unfold on his company’s server logs. “We came into the office, we’d see that our usage in Egypt went from 100,000 to 1 million overnight,” says Gorodyansky, co-founder of AnchorFree. The 30-employee Mountain View (Calif.) startup makes free virtual private network (VPN) software which Internet users install on their computers to secure their connections and reach websites blocked by censors.

Egyptians turned to VPNs when the Mubarak regime blocked access to Facebook and Twitter, which activists used to share information and organize protests. Workarounds such as AnchorFree’s Hotspot Shield, which Gorodyansky says has been downloaded 60 million times since 2007, are becoming increasingly important for people in countries where the Web is censored, particularly as repressive regimes get better at blocking access.

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