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Anarchy On the Net: Censorship Circumvention Methods

March 19, 2010

We all know countries block their citizens access to the internet reasons from wanting to block indecency to wanting to block political descent. While many of the methods have been used for devious purposes such as media piracy and child pornography groups, this blog would like to make clear it doesn’t not condone these practices. This post deals with political examples of citizens fighting against oppressive censorship policies.

The first method is called a proxy. It seen as the simplest circumvention method because the user just puts the url in an unblocked proxy site which then fetches the site itself. Students might be familiar with proxies if they used proxies to gain access to banned sites at school. On an international scale, internet users in China have used proxies to access Google uncensored. Methods such as Tor, Psipons and I2P’s mentioned later are basically advanced proxies as well.

Tor is a network that uses cryptography hides your internet traffic activity through a series of layered routers similar to an onion. Its website explains it as “bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.”

Below is a link to a video explaining how Tor works

Psiphon is another is another program that allows users to see blocked sites. The catch is the program has to be installed on a computer with uncensored internet which acts as a proxy for sending encrypted information to computers in other countries. The Chief Technology Officer at Psiphon, Nart Villeneuve, says The idea is to get them to install this on their computer, and then deliver the location of that circumventor, to people in filtered countries by the means they know to be the most secure. What we’re trying to build is a network of trust among people who know each other, rather than a large tech network that people can just tap into.”

A VPN or Virtual Private Network allows the user to to create a secure connection in another country and browse as if they were actually in the other country. VPN’s use a strong encryption to create “network tunnels” within the bigger network that appears as an ordinary stream. On wikipedia, a simplified explanation is given as “a secured “pipe” within the wire that is your connection”

A Sneakernet is a term used to describe any physical way of transporting electronic media on a storage device from one point to another. We understand them as usb flash drives, compact discs and portable hard drives. An organization called Internet Without Borders is currently developing a program to develop a sneakernet program in censored regions by collecting flash drives through donations. Sneakernets have been growing in popularity in places like Cuba which reportedly has the lowest internet access ratio of all the Western hemisphere. There a video was passed around of a college student asking National Assembly President Ricardo Alarc├│nwhy they could not travel abroad, stay at hotels, earn better wages or use search engines like Google.

So everyone uses circumvention methods in one way or another whether you’re a student sharing music or dissident bloggers in Zimbabwe using Tor. The website meaning “enough is enough” where pro-democracy bloggers post terror atrocities as well as content such as election day updates.

Just by running a Tor network or Psiphon on your computer, even if you dont need to circumvent your countries censorship methods, can help someone like those brave bloggers on Sokwanele.