Editor's Note: This story has been revised from the original. The headline has been changed; the article clarifies MetaMask says it was defaulting to Infura servers but not blocking IP addresses; and it includes comments from ConsenSys about the affected regions.
Venezuelan users of two major ConsenSys software products, MetaMask and Infura, found themselves all but cut off from the Ethereum network today, with many reporting they had been blocked from their wallets. (Disclosure: An editorially independent Decrypt receives funding from ConsenSys Mesh.)
But the blockade wasn't meant for them, but rather was the result of adding IP addresses from two separatist regions in Ukraine: Donetsk and Luhansk.
Infura, which hosts Ethereum nodes and operates blockchain infrastructure on behalf of companies, says the problem was accidental and has been resolved. It came about, Infura says, due to accidentally reconfiguring settings "more broadly than they needed to be" to comply with "new sanctions directives."
A spokesperson for ConsenSys told Decrypt, after this article was originally published:
"Infura closely monitors changes to US sanctions programs announced by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and narrowly tailors its internal controls to comply with the law. Currently, those regions are Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and the Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Infura's compliance with the law is required and does not necessarily reflect the service's views on any public policy issue."
Russia was not mentioned, but ConsenSys confirmed that Infura is blocking access to all IP addresses within the three contested regions of Ukraine.
MetaMask tweeted that the Infura reconfiguration resulted in a knock-on effect for wallet users—but that users weren't blocked. "MetaMask relies on Infura as the default endpoint," tweeted its official account, adding, "but this setting can be modified by users if desired, or in case of any service interruptions."
MetaMask is a client-side wallet that strives to make the blockchain maximally accessible to everyone. Infura had a misconfiguration this morning, but it has been corrected now. https://t.co/CYAhvGunHo
— MetaMask 🦊💙 (@MetaMask) March 3, 2022
A MetaMask support page titled "Why MetaMask and Infura cannot serve certain areas" stated that "MetaMask and Infura are unavailable in certain jurisdictions due to compliance with laws." The post was updated on Thursday and no longer features MetaMask in the title or explanation. It now reads: "By default, MetaMask accesses the blockchain via Infura, which is unavailable in certain jurisdictions due to legal compliance."
The U.S., European Union, and other jurisdictions have implemented heavy sanctions against Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In addition to freezing hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign reserves and severing individual Russian banks' ties with the SWIFT communications network, Western countries have also levied restrictions on state-tied companies, government officials, and oligarchs.
U.S. sanctions apply to companies doing business in the U.S., including ConsenSys and its products, to make sure no assets can make their way to prohibited governments, companies or individuals.
But transactions of cryptocurrencies between most private citizens are not supposed to be directly affected as the sanctions are meant to be targeted. Therefore, the wholesale Infura blockade of "certain jurisdictions" has raised fears that ConsenSys has restricted access to innocent people in a bid to comply with government directives.
Ethereum watchers have long complained that the project, which has been estimated to support most of the traffic on Ethereum applications, is already too centralized—though it does have competitors, among them Alchemy.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Venezuelan government and banking sector have also long been on the receiving end of U.S. sanctions, though individual Venezuelans are not targeted.