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Building A Censor-Resistant Web?

from the one-option dept

With recent efforts to take down various websites, which we've been documenting here on Techdirt, there's been increasing discussions about ways to create a more "censor-proof" internet. We've discussed the idea of a decentralized DNS system and now Aaron Swartz is proposing a "censor-resistant web" system that makes use of hashes and authentication certificates. It's an interesting idea, though it does seem like there are a lot of moving parts, which might make it more difficult to implement. Either way, as we've been predicting for a while now, a lot of the events of the past few months have really only served to expose bottleneck intermediaries and to alert people to infrastructure that needs to be more decentralized.


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  1.  
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    w3st3n (profile), Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 6:51pm

    Xnet

    Famous science-fiction author Cory Doctorow once used a decentralized, censor-resistant "alternate" internet called the Xnet as a plot device in his book called "Little Brother". Xnet is a decentralized netowrk similar in design to The Onion Network and Freenet - every data packet transmitted trough it is completely encrypted, etc. In the book it was primarily used as a secure communications network that can be used by anyone - the main character, w1n5t0n, connects to it via a hacked future version of an Xbox running a fictional, security-minded flavor of Linux caled ParanoidLinux).

    I haven't read the book in a long time, so my description of the Xnet may be a bit fuzzy. It would, however, be really awesome if some real life version of the Xnet in reality. It could be the safest (and in a worst-case scenario, the last) option to securely transmit information.

     

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  2.  
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    CMK (profile), Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 8:12pm

    Interesting, but...

    A short spell and grammar check would make the post more readable... :)

     

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  3.  
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    Radjin, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 9:41pm

    Something that is sorely needed

    When the web was built it was designed to be indestructible or at the very least very hard to disable. I think it high time we make it more secure and less controlled either by the government or those who say they are doing us a favor by giving us access.

    Oh yes, nice on topic post there CMK... (Everybody's a critic)

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 10:04pm

    Re: Xnet

    Try Osiris-Serverless Portal System

    ...or one of the many darknets that are already available.

    http://www.anonymous-p2p.org/index.html

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 10:35pm

    other decentralized networks

    freenet
    i2p
    gnunet

     

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  6.  
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    Sun, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 3:15am

    We need something between what we have now and darknets without sacrificing performance. Maybe we can have a dns system using dht like they do for torrents. Still use central servers for dns but every browser could use dht dns as a backup.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 6:32am

    Decentralized DNS is a step towards having a non-functional web. Various players would get in the game, this one not recognizing the same third level extentions as that one, someone playing games with addresses, someone making redirections, etc. The idea is pretty much a fail.

    The power of the internet is that it is designed to be functional almost regardless of any sort of point to point failure. DNS is a real key player in all of this, and really does require that everyone play by the same rules. So breaking it up or letting others run their own, well.

    You can run your own DNS system if you like, just get people to change their DNS servers to the IPs that you are using. You can create all the root TLDs you want, and have a good old time. In the end, you don't have to scrap the current system to do whatever it is you want. But just don't screw the original system up.

    Building a "censor resistant" web is also sort of a pointless concept. No matter how much you hate it, the internet will be subject to the laws of Sovereign Nations that allow it to operate in their country. Attempting to bypass that makes it more likely that the authorities pull the plug, and that the networks will be built not to be efficient, but built to allow control (which is while all of China's internet traffic goes through a limited number of gateways... it's easy to pull the plus). Imagine the internet with the US having only two peering points to the outside world, or countries like the UK having all their traffic through a single (government controlled) peering point. It is possible. Push hard in the wrong place, and governments who wish to control content will make the moves to do so.

    The internet is mostly a free, open place. Push too hard, and the most restrictive countries will step in and put their foot down. If you really want freedom, then you need to back off a bit and keep it that way.

     

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  8.  
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    Ryan Diederich, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 2:40pm

    first poster

    I too have read a book with a similar network setup.
    'Daemon' and the sequel 'Freedom' by Daniel Juarez

    The book outlines a scenerio in which a game designer writes a decentralized program that begins to take control of the world. It is able to hire workers and everything.

    The workers and followers use a network called the Darknet, where they can communicate with the Daemon and eachother, as well as gather useful information.


    I too see this as the future of the internet. There are too many smart youngsters (and older folk as well) that are fed up with government and what they are doing. It WILL happen, and there wont be anything they can do about it.

    All I can hope is that it would be in my lifetime, because I would really enjoy seeing/experiencing it.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 7:39pm

    Re:

    What a single point has that can stop encrypted traffic that emulates other traffic?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 7:41pm

    Re:

    Push hard enough and others will find a way around any censorship attempt.

    The internet is not something you can regulate like other things.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 25th, 2010 @ 9:56am

    Re: first poster

    Sadly, one of the issues of the internet is that the data has to travel over many lines and through many hands, and just as much as people try to hide their activities, they actually make themselves more obvious.

    There isn't anyone out there planning a completely seperate network, and that pretty much negates the entire idea.

    Plus no matter the method, the results are the same: Piracy is still piracy, breaking the laws of a country are still breaking the laws, and illegal conduct, no matter how you try to hide it, is always obvious in the end.

     

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  12.  
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    Ben, Dec 25th, 2010 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Interesting, but...

    So, another wannabe secretary!

    Do you also sit on the bosses lap?

     

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  13.  
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    Jackson, Dec 25th, 2010 @ 7:07pm

    A Coward wrote: "No matter how much you hate it, the internet will be subject to the laws of Sovereign Nations that allow it to operate in their country." A parallel satellite based internet system might solve the problem of sovereign nation interference. Unless of course, I misunderstand how the internet works.

     

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  14.  
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    Jose_X, Dec 25th, 2010 @ 8:51pm

    Re: Re: first poster

    >> and just as much as people try to hide their activities, they actually make themselves more obvious.

    What activities are you talking about people hiding?

    Avoiding censoring is not about hiding but about making sure that information can be found by as many people as possible.

    >> There isn't anyone out there planning a completely seperate network

    Well, if the laws are fair, people will abide, but if the laws are not, eventually you will see people disregarding frequency allocation and other government imposed restrictions as they build their own other networks.

    Also, if the intent was to hide, then that already happens through encryption. Encryption need not be obvious. Can you differentiate that an https session to a shopping site isn't actually transferring something else for those that know the secret password? Can you figure out that a long list of files transferred over a few days using various routes actually includes hidden bits of information that the target can assemble in the end?

    Anyway, file sharing (if this is what you are getting at) means just that, sharing files. I don't see how you can make communication between people illegal without invoking a tremendous backlash.

    >> Piracy is still piracy

    I took a sneak and got a clue that perhaps you were talking about alleged copyright violations (aka "piracy").

    I'm not sure what this has to do with censoring, but since you bring this up, I would also like to bring to attention that people should start demanding "open content" from those they patron. Give money to those that share rights with you. Don't patron those that want to own your culture.

    Also, people can complain to their government representatives about damage they belive locking up of culture is doing to their financial and social well-being.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2010 @ 6:58am

    Re: Re: Re: first poster

    When it comes to the ruckus for an alternative DNS and various forms of "darknets" (and trust me, they have been tried before, long before most of the kids on here even had a computer), they are used mostly to disguise or try to hide illegal activity.

    The most obvious reasons are things like piracy and illicit discussions, such as political upheavals. Those people who choose to try to hide usually have something to hide. That in itself makes them suspicious, especially in countries who attempt to control access to the internet (and there are many of them).

    Can you differentiate that an https session to a shopping site isn't actually transferring something else for those that know the secret password?

    Actually, it is incredibly easy to tell the difference. One of the amazing things about the internet is that everything looks different when you start to look at the flows and the movement, the sources and the destinations.

    Can you figure out that a long list of files transferred over a few days using various routes actually includes hidden bits of information that the target can assemble in the end?

    Again, if you are taking steps to hide your activity by using encryption or certain types of connection, your activity will look different from other users. If you are talking a secret code to pass small messages, that might work to a certain extent, but it would require a significant effort to setup and they receive.

    Uses of the common dodges, like VPN or open gateways / relays would stand out like sore thumbs. Rather than blocking you, they might just monitor you instead.

    Nobody is saying that there is 100% blocking from any country, but those who do choose to do blocking (such as some Muslim countries), are often very effective at making sites or materials generally unavailable. Remember, these are places where the only incoming internet connections are peered through government controlled facilities. If you connect to the outside world, they know what you connected to.

    It is what it is. When there is discussions on TD about alternate DNS systems, it is for either piracy or the dissemination of sites like Wikileaks. It is rarely for anything noble.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2010 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    How the hell are sites like WikiLeaks not noble? I don't buy that "unpatriotic" crap the Americans dish out--how agents are compromised.

    That isn't a reason to stop people from having a right to know what their government is up to, or whether it is moving for their interests.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2010 @ 12:19pm

    Re:

    If you are willing to invest the billions to do it, well, knock yourself out.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2010 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    Wikileaks isn't noble for the same reason that Fox News isn't noble: It isn't about exposing things for better good, it's about playing "caught you!" and trying to embarrass people.

    Wikileaks is about the cult of Assange. You know he signed a book deal today for his autobiography, mid 7 figures plus? If he was into the cause more than himself, he would turn it down and keep working. Instead, he is going Hollywood. Noble indeed.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 26th, 2010 @ 8:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    You see only in an open and free place people don't use those things and they are relegated to illegal activities, but once privacy and rights start to crumble everyone will start to use it so the illegal stuff takes a second place.

    Tor is distributed in internet cafe's in China. Retroshare, GNUNet are great to communicate and share data, most programmers understand how DPI works analyzing traffic patterns and devised ways to counteract that.

    We have come a long way since the days in Greece where people rolled a piece of cloth on a stick and wrote on it(maybe the first steganography attempt).

    Every government that attempted to curtail the flow of information failed, not a single one succeeded in history.

    Just some recent events:

    - IPRED was created in Sweden, most people just started using VPN's that are outside the jurisdiction of that government, but still is not the state of the art in stealth although good enough for the moment.

    - Japan have some of the most strict laws in the world regarding imaginary goods, until recently search engines couldn't even function there because of the law, not to mention privacy laws. Is so strict that you can't show peoples face on TV you have to blur them and modify their voices and still companies bypass that using contracts and the public using Winny(encrypted anonymous filesharing program).

    - In China internet cafe's give people TOR so they can navigate what they want.

    - In Italy there was this push to censor the media to control it better, which kickstarted a dozen projects to bypass that like Osiris-SP.

    - In France you have dozens of projects aiming at securing peoples rights. With the most famous one that is growing fast being Jamendo.

    It is a circle, all of this happened before, those in power forget why those rules are there and why they were put there.

    In your case you care about copyrights, but you don't seem to know the history of it. Once in the U.K. copyrights were abolished because of abuse of the monopolies granted to others that lead to a revolt that cost the heads of the noble and priests, only to be recreated in a watered down fashion years latter.

    There is this inherent drive for freedom in society and that is what undermines the attempts to control it.

    Marquis de Sade, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac all lived in different eras and they wrote exactly about the same subject(freedom), the libertines in the middle ages the beatnicks of the 60's, the hippies of the 70's, the punks of the 80's, the EMO's of the 90's, they are all the same thing. When people in power cross that line that balances the fragile need for freedom and order things get ugly, because trust is broken and without trust there is no psyops capable of regaining the hearts and minds of people.

    It is funny how something deemed cheesy nowadays is so important for stability.

     

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  20.  
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    AJ, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 5:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    "Those people who choose to try to hide usually have something to hide."


    The statment above is just plain dumb. I do not put a lock on my door because I'm doing something illegal in my house, I put a lock on my door to keep out the crazy people. I lock my car and encrypt my traffic for the same reason.

    Your one of those idiots that blame the tools for the crime arn't you? "If people didn't have hammers they couldn't bash each others heads in! Nevermind that they couldn't build houses either......"

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    "It isn't about exposing things for better good, it's about playing "caught you!"

    Hense the name Wikileaks? Of course it's a game of "caught you" that is what whistle blowing is! If they have to worry about getting caught and the penalties that follow, maybe they will change their behavior....

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    Every one of your examples isn't doing something to hide, it is doing something to protect yourself.

    Now, if you painted your house camoflage, covered it with brush, got rid of the driveway and front path (because they show there is something there) and lived without light or sound, then perhaps people would wonder if you have something to hide.

    Just locking the door hides nothing. It isn't the same as encrypting your traffic.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 6:57am

    Re: Re:

    The same answer as always: There isn't any 100% solutions, if you are really willing to work hard at it, there will always be a way to get some traffic through. It might takes months to get enough traffic to watch a youtube video, but if that is what you desire, there you go.

    However, it would be clear, running software to do that sort of thing would make your activities high suspicious. Over time, authorities can figure out your traffic without even having to really decrypt it, only looking at patterns and sources.

    Those countries who want to control the internet do so mostly be controlling the flow into the country. Just as the price of your computer comes down, so does the price of the tools they need to do things like deep packet inspections and pattern matching. Cat and mouse, and when they win, someone disappears for a long time.

     

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  24.  
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    AJ, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 7:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: first poster

    Hiding is a method of protecting. Something is protected if it is hidden from the people you are trying to protect it from. Hiding something behind a locked door would be an example of both encrypting and hiding......

    example of hiding information for protection...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_hiding
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stega nography

    or perhaps...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_through_obscurity

     

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  25.  
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    Dean Landolt, Dec 27th, 2010 @ 4:40pm

    Re:

    "The internet is mostly a free, open place. Push too hard, and the most restrictive countries will step in and put their foot down. If you really want freedom, then you need to back off a bit and keep it that way."

    This is absurd. And your otherwise thoughtful (if ill-informed) comment suggests you know this as well. For starters, you cannot say "mostly free" and "push too hard" in the same breath -- is it free or not? If it were, you couldn't "push too hard". You can't say "the most restrictive countries will step in and put their foot down" -- they already have. Are you saying they'll put their foot down harder? Sure, but they're far from "mostly free" (such a silly phrase anyway). You *certainly* can't say "imagine the US having only two peering points to the outside world" without providing some roadmap where this were feasible. You just say "It is possible" -- sure, but *wildly* improbably.

    But your points about DNS are spot on -- it's not *fixable* but it's definitely feasible to route around it. It may be inextricably linked to the internet but it's by no means required.

     

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  26.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Re: Interesting, but...

    "Do you also sit on the bosses lap?"

    Probably if he pays in iTunes cards ...

     

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  27.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 5:17pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Over time, authorities can figure out your traffic without even having to really decrypt it, only looking at patterns and sources."

    That is just it. By setting up onion routing through random connections monitoring becomes obsolete. If 10% of your internet is doing this through 1 to n levels of routing-forwarding, with multiple connnections at each node, and re-encryption at each node, it becomes impossible to follow. With extended or reduced packet size while keeping the data the same you can never determine what is going where.

    Here is another one for you, setting up short term direct connects out side of the country and routing back in.

     

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  28.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 28th, 2010 @ 5:22pm

    Re: Re: first poster

    "Plus no matter the method, the results are the same: Piracy is still piracy, breaking the laws of a country are still breaking the laws, and illegal conduct, no matter how you try to hide it, is always obvious in the end."

    Who is talking about piracy? I am talking about privacy and the right to not be monitored by a government that keeps its own acts secret.

     

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