Security and Prevention

[1] Circumvention
[2] Privacy
[3] Toolkits

1. Circumvention

How To Bypass Internet Censorship (

Description: Created as an openly available resource under the FLOSS Manuals project by a group of authors at the Book Sprint, “How To Bypass Internet Censorship,” as described on the site, “provides an introduction to the topic and explains some of the software and methods most often used for circumventing censorship. There is some information on avoiding surveillance and other means of detection while bypassing censorship, however this is a large topic by itself so we have only touched on it where it coincides directly with issues of circumvention.”

User Profile: Information about numbers of users and the kinds of uses this tool is being put to use for are unavailable on the site.

Psiphon (

Description: Created by the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto and first released in December 2006, psiphon is “a censorship circumvention solution that allows users to access blocked sites in countries where the internet is censored”. The software leverages trusted friend and family networks residing in countries with uncensored internet access. Through psiphon, the circumventor is able to send encrypted requests for unaccessible content through the computer in the uncensored country (a “psiphonode”), which acts as a server and relays the information back. In turn, the owner of the psiphonode is able to view all the activity being performed through their connection. Psiphon also eliminates the security hazard associated with installing new software: circumventors merely log onto the server using their web browser and using the internet.

User Profile: Owing to the sensitive nature of psiphon’s use in countries with internet censorship, it is difficult to identify the precise number of users and the purposes they are putting the software to. The Citizen Lab does not archive any of the “check in” signals it receives from those running psiphonodes, and those running the computers in uncensored countries can easily opt to not send check ins to the central servers. However, news stories tend to indicate that it is being used by a variety of political activists and human rights workers.

Yemen Portal Add-On (

Description: This tool is an extension aimed at providing users in Yemen -and possibly in other countries- a means to access, which is banned in Yemen and some other countries. YemenPortal itself features an integrated web-based proxy, which allows users of this tool to access dozens of blocked websites through the site (though not all blocked websites are accessible because of limited bandwidth and resources). Development is currently pursuing models that would allow full access of censored sites.

User Base: Due to the nature of the tool, the exact number of users and the purposes to which Access is being put to use is unclear at best. Though given the numbers on the Firefox Add-ons directory, the number of total downloads is small, sitting at 154 as of January 28th, 2009.

2. Privacy

Tor (

Description: Tor is an anonymity network that allows users to browse and communicate on the internet anonymously. Each user becomes one of many “onion proxies” which connect to a Tor network of routers. The software generates many temporary paths that (successively encrypted) traffic passes through before reaching an “exit proxy” where it is then forwarded on to its originally intended destination. This cloaks the activity of the Tor user, with traffic appearing to originate only from this final exit proxy. Many services that run over Tor’s proxy network have also been created, enabling users to anonymously chat, e-mail, browse, and search the internet. A list of software incorporating Tor is available at the project’s Wikipedia entry.

User Base: Due to the nature of the tool, the exact number of users and the purposes to which Tor is being put to use is unclear at best. However, as of August 2007, the number of routers bouncing traffic within the Tor network was slightly over 1000. The project site suggests that the software is used by diverse groups of people, including journalists, NGOs, activist groups, corporations, and the US Navy.

3. Toolkits

NGO-in-a-Box: Digital Security and Privacy Edition (

Description: Released in September 2005, the NGO-in-a-Box: Digital Security and Privacy Edition is part of Tactical Technology Collective’s ongoing efforts to curate quality open source software in an effort to make these tools easily implementable by nontechnical users and meet budget and bandwidth limitations. This edition was produced in collaboration with the Front Line Human Rights Defenders. Their site, notes that the package contains software, tutorial, and other reference guides to the following broad categories of tools (a full listing available on the site)

*Password Tools
*Data Storage, Backup, and Destruction Tools
*Encryption Tools
*Internet and Communication Tools
*Firewall Tools
*Virus, Adware, and Spyware Cleaner Tools

Note: This database also covers the audio and visual focused edition of the NGO-in-a-Box product. See here.

User Profile: No aggregate numbers seem to exist, though the Tactical Technology Collective’s website gives some sense of the extent to which the toolkit has been distributed worldwide. To date, 2,500 hardcopies have been distributed in response to requests in 45 different countries. Furthermore, the group has trained “over 800 NGO members in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East” (for more information see here). There are some testimonials available on their site that also suggest that the product has been used in some cases by activists seeking to evade government censorship or repression (though how representative these are remain unclear).

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2 Responses to “Security and Prevention”

  1. » Iranian Government Says It Will Increase Blocking of Web I&D Blog Says:

    […] hopes that its talk about pervasive filtering will lead to self-censorship by bloggers. A number of circumvention tools also make it much easier for Iranians to get around blocked sites, further undermining the attempts […]

  2. Internet & Democracy Blog » Circumvention in Iran and China Says:

    […] before, including Tor and Psiphon. (You can learn about additional circumvention resources in our tools database.) The piece also mentions Rebecca MacKinnon’s research, which we’ve written about here […]

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