Thursday, March 29, 2007

Circumventing the Internet censors

In those countries that monitor internet usage it takes a foreign "friend" and/or filter beating software to allow them to surf the net without Big Brother watching. Researchers and academics in China and Iran for example are using software like Psiphon or Tor to surf the net without being oberved by their governments. Tor works by itself, Psiphon requires someone you trust, outside the monitored area to allow you to use their system by proxy. The drawback to Psiphon is that the "friend" can monitor what the user does, so trust, the basis of social networking, is crucial. How does it work?

Psiphon, a new open-source software program developed at the University of Toronto, allows academics and others in foreign countries to bypass government Internet filters. Here's how:

  • A user in a country with censorship tries to access a prohibited site, like Amnesty International's. The government filter blocks him.
  • The user locates a friend or family member in a country without government censorship. (For various reasons, connections to personal computers are not generally blocked.)
  • The uncensored friend installs Psiphon, sets up a Psiphon "node," and passes a Web-site address and password back to the user in the country with censorship, sometimes on paper or via telephone.
  • The user logs in to the node, connecting him with the friend's computer. Psiphon encrypts the information with a secure connection known as "https."
  • The friend's computer transmits unrestricted Internet access back to the user, circumventing the filter.

But lest we get smug and believe our freedoms are inviolate - take heed. "Western universities control Internet use, too. Students and faculty members, forget about legalistic "responsible-use agreements" that suspend their right to, say, download music or run businesses on university computers. Vague clauses in those agreements give colleges latitude to ban other activities, says Paul A. Cesarini,... Bowling Green officials confronted Mr. Cesarini for using Tor in his office to prepare for classes on cybersecurity. They said Tor violated the university's computer-use policy and asked him to stop - he refused. But not before entertaining the stone visage and stern demands of the tech police.

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