As Governments Get Censorship Happy, New Technologies Popping Up To Route Around That

from the damage dept

We’ve been discussing more and more movements from various governments towards censoring the internet, whether it’s things as simple as “filters” of “bad sites” or more recent efforts by governments to shut down speech they don’t like from people they don’t like. However, as tends to be the case, technology seems to quickly come to the rescue. Late last week a new effort from J. Alex Halderman started to get some attention. Called Telex, it’s a system for getting around internet censorship on a massive level, by using a variety of distributed nodes and disguising the type of traffic being sent over them. The idea is to try to make it effectively impossible to filter out certain sites.

So if you’re in China, and you want access to a banned site like YouTube, you just type into your browser, and the Telex station will see that connection, and disguise it as something innocuous. You might be watching YouTube, but to a censor, it will just seem as if you’re visiting a harmless, non-blocked site.

But that’s not the only new technology popping up. Via Ross Pruden, we learn about a relatively new offering, called Where’s The Party? which is designed as a “censorship-resistant mirror network.” Basically it’s a system that will mirror content more easily.

What’s interesting also, is that this alerted me to, a project that is connected to Where’s The Party? is (as you might have guessed) a mirroring system for content that is targeted in an attack likely to bring about a Streisand Effect response. I had no idea existed, despite my minor claim to fame of having coined the phrase “Streisand Effect.” I have to say that’s pretty cool…

But the larger point remains: as various governments move more towards trying to censor the web, technologists will create the technologies that make each of those efforts obsolete before they can get very far.

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Comments on “As Governments Get Censorship Happy, New Technologies Popping Up To Route Around That”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It’s amusing, but a program like Telex shows and incredibly high intent to bypass the filters, and in China, that would be a pretty high level crime.

“censor resistant” stuff all sort of ends up in the same pile, if you are trying to avoid blockages which are legal in your country, you are just adding to your potential legal miseries in the long run.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The thing is it doesn’t show, the traffic gets masked as another thing that is why it is called steganography, it hides things in plain sight.

Besides I don’t think the Mongolians care about Chinese law that much, I also don’t think a lot of discontent people care about laws that say what they can and cannot say.

And I doubt in any other country people would care if they really want to say something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The mongolians care very much about Chinese law, because if they screw up, they can go to jail, “training camps”, or even end up dead. Yes, you can get the death penalty for helping people route around the great firewall of China.

The traffic is “masked”, but like any system, the way it is done isn’t going to really be masked. If you are doing it, it is visible in it’s own way. It undoubtedly has some feature, some method that makes it easy enough to spot.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The mongolians care very much about Chinese law, because if they screw up, they can go to jail, “training camps”, or even end up dead. Yes, you can get the death penalty for helping people route around the great firewall of China.

millions of chinese practice falun gong despite it being officially banned by the chinese communist party. i don’t think the chinese government has as much control as you think it does:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The two sources on Falun Gong participation are a shaky news article and the US state department. You don’t think that the US has some interest in supporting dissenting movements in China, do you? 😉

The Chinese government has much more control than you think. You need to experience it first hand to understand how it works, and why it works, and how it works down to the “apartment block” level. Tolerance is high, but observation and application of the laws when it is decided they need to be applied is absolute.

BuzzCoastin (profile) says:

blocked access to the Telex station?

> So if you’re in China, and you want access to a banned site like YouTube, you just type into your browser, and the Telex station will see that connection, and disguise it as something innocuous.

Only if China or the UK don’t block access to the Telex station. China can block the TOR connection and to bypass the Great Firewall you need a VPN, which can then reach TOR.

So at the end of the day the average Joe is dependent upon governments and ISPs to allow access to anonymous networks. There has to be a better way.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: blocked access to the Telex station?

…i stopped reading the telex articles at “would require major ISP support”

that’s sure as hell not happening.

it requires major ISP support from ISP’s who are not complicit in censorship. FTFA:

“We like to envision this technology as a possible government-level response to government-level censorship,” he says, with governments providing incentives for ISPs to install Telex.

as in, a major american ISP (like level3) can provide support for dissidents in countries with censored network connections by running telex.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 blocked access to the Telex station?

Ha, American ISPs are more likely to copy China’s current system than they are to help route around it.

all american telcos and ISPs will do what the american government tells them, even when it’s illegal. just ask AT&T and verizon about their little eavesdropping project after 9/11.

that’s what the article means by “government-level response”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Arms race [was blocked access to the Telex station?]

China can block the TOR

Tor: Bridges

Bridge relays (or “bridges” for short) are Tor relays that aren’t listed in the main Tor directory. Since there is no complete public list of them, even if your ISP is filtering connections to all the known Tor relays, they probably won’t be able to block all the bridges. If you suspect your access to the Tor network is being blocked, you may want to use the bridge feature of Tor.

The addition of bridges to Tor is a step forward in the blocking resistance race. It is perfectly possible that even if your ISP filters the Internet, you do not require a bridge to use Tor. Many filtering programs look for unencrypted Tor directory requests to recognize that you’re using Tor, but Tor version and later use encrypted directory queries by default. This change means that most filtering programs are now unable to recognize Tor connections. So you should try to use Tor without bridges first, since it might work.


It’s an arms race.


Anonymous Coward says:

Surely you don't think this is the ONLY approach?

We will not permit the censorship of the Internet.

By anyone.

There are at least twenty different projects that I’m aware of which are using distinct approaches to routing around the assholes (whether governments or companies or ISPs or anyone else) who have the audacity to believe that they will be permitted to interfere with the Internet. I’m sure there are many more that I’m NOT aware of…yet.

Some of these will work out, some won’t. Some will be dead ends, some will lead to fresh approaches. But the end result will be the same: the censors will be defeated.

chris (profile) says:

Re: "Routing around" Youtube requires high bandwidth.

Who’s going to pay for it, and how do you keep the high traffic hidden from a simple monitor?

tunnels are encapsulated+encrypted routes inside existing routes. you pay (or your school, corporation, or gov’t pays) for your censored connection and your tunnel goes thru that. tor is a way to smuggle anonymized traffic through an existing network.

of course there’s overhead, especially when you are tunneling through a protocol that isn’t meant for sustained connections, like DNS. tor, i2p and all other anonymous networks are incredibly slow, but that basically means that you have to be patient.

streaming video (like youtube) probably isn’t a good application for a tunnel. downloading files via a low bandwidth friendly protocol and saving them to a portable disk for offline viewing is probably a better approach.

bit torrent would be a great tool for collecting materials from a tunneled link. it lets you pull files from multiple sources at once, and with a good client you can manage the bandwidth usage and number of connections.

wget is a great tool for snarfing files and even whole websites for later review.

getting materials to and from the internet is just part of your anti-censorship toolkit. you’ll also want to run a darknet to get collect and disseminate materials to people who don’t have access to your tunnels, or who have access to different tunnels. pirates do this already, trading DVDs and portable hard drives IRL in order to save ratio. this works really well when you and your friend have hookups on different private trackers.

projects like the pirate box or the digital dead drop would be great darknet solutions for distributing and trading contraband materials. you can use block crypto on these devices if you are worried about the contents falling into the wrong hands.

BuzzCoastin (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Routing around" Youtube requires high bandwidth.

good points, nice wiki

Getting censored sites from China is one thing but TOR and crypto networks are for more clandestine purposes.

Telex works as long as the blocker has an enemy who is willing to host Telex; probably won’t be a shortage of those.

There is no such thing as total anonymity yet, but the cost of knowing can be a deterrent to the snoop dog.

dfed (profile) says:

Oh hey, well now we’re seeing the UK follow suit with NSA and half the arab world:

Listen, UK.

Stop trying to shoot the messenger. Stop wasting time looking like you’re doing something to address the problem by hunting down some kids and start addressing the needs of your populace. Stop trying to become more controlling of communications over this. Take a step back and look at the social, political and economic reasons why your youth decided they had little to lose by rioting and address that.

Or, you know, you could keep turning more into an oppressive state that spies on it’s own citizens, shuts off the telecom messaging systems and ponders creating a kill switch for internet social media because of your problems.

That could totally solve your problems, right? Let me know how that works out, UK.

steve davidson (profile) says:

Changing world

The Chinese are fighting a losing battle, and I think they know it, but that doesn’t keep them from trying to block all the content and freedoms they can for the current generation and hope to punt the issues into the next generation for them to monitor and attempt to dominate, but they are losing ground. It’s a flat world, and there are too many profits to be had by opening up the marketplace, thus innovative technologies are going to dominate. You just can’t stop progress, and sometimes even slowing it down has an opposite effect….

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