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The History Of Haystack... And Why Online Censorship Will Remain Difficult

from the there-are-always-holes-in-the-wall dept

Over the years, it's been fascinating to watch the battle over internet censorship, monitors and filters, along with the equally rapid attempts to get around all of those things via technology. Many folks are familiar with anonymous proxies, like Tor, which do help provide anonymity, but can still be blocked once the censor is aware of the tor node. If you follow this space, you're probably already aware of Haystack, which is, in some ways, a step up from Tor and has been getting more and more attention lately. Newsweek actually has a pretty good article on the history of how Haystack came about, involving a 20-something programmer who had little interest in political activism or Iran, until he started seeing the various protests and responses after the Iranian election. Something clicked, and helped along by a "disaffected Iranian official" who sent him the details of how Iran's internet filter worked, and led to Haystack, which hides traffic inside what looks like legitimate traffic (and, in the case of Iran, is specifically designed to hide in traffic that is popular in Iran).

What struck me most about the story is just how improbable a story it is if you look at it in a vacuum. We're talking about a 25-year-old guy, with little interest in Iran or activism, suddenly scratching an itch -- and within a week he had an Iranian gov't official leaking him information that was useful in building a system that could get around the Iranian internet censorship filter. That's impressive, no matter how you look at it. It also highlights why it's always going to be difficult to successfully censor the internet on a wider scale. Someone, perhaps from a totally unexpected place, is going to figure out how to get around it.

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  1. icon
    Sam_K (profile), 7 Aug 2010 @ 12:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Speed of innovation

    It seems you misunderstood what I was getting at. What I am talking about is this:

    Let's say you have connected up a small ad-hoc network with the houses near you, using ethernet, WiFi, etc. Now you can reach any house in your neighbourhood without using any Telco network.

    OK, now you want to expand that network to connect up with the houses in the next town. That won is say, 10km away, and there is nothing but state forest or rural land in between. How do you bridge that gap?

    The same situation arises when you want to connect up that local ad-hoc network to the existing Internet. Whoever provides a gateway out into the "real" Internet is going to get absolutely hammered by people wanting to use that link (assuming they don't have one of their own) So that person gets a really fast connection with lots of data that costs them a lot more. Now they need to charge the other network users to recoup their costs for such a fat connection.

    Congratulations, you just started an ISP.

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