US 'surf safely' plan fails Iranians
P2pnet - Report Section
May 5, 2004
Anonymizer, a $29.95 service sponsored by the US International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) to help Iranians bypass much of Iran's Net censorship, is in fact stopping them from surfing altogether.
Far worse, "[...] despite IBB Anonymizer assurances that Iranian users can surf the Web "freely and safely," tests suggest the vast majority of traffic can be monitored by Iranian authorities and local ISPs, says the OpenNet Initiative.
"Iranian users may not be aware that their use of the service may identify them to Iranian government authorities as citizens wishing to view forbidden content, or as supportive of the ideas found within that content," it says.
The ONI is a new international research project involving researchers at the University of Toronto, Harvard University and the University of Cambridge and founded because the number of states seeking to control the Internet has risen rapidly in the recent years, says the ONI, going on:
"Mustering powerful and at times compelling arguments - 'securing intellectual property rights,' 'protecting national security,' 'preserving cultural norms and religious values,' and 'shielding children from pornography and exploitation' - extensive filtering and surveillance practices are being proposed and put in place to curb the perceived lawlessness of the medium.
"Although these practices occur mostly in non-democratic regimes, many democratic countries, led by the US, are also seeking to police the Internet."
In Unintended Risks and Consequences of Circumvention Technologies: The IBB's Anonymizer Service in Iran, the ONI says Irani guidelines for ISPs and users reportedly warn them to avoid all content seen as being in breach of social and cultural norms.
"In practice, the filtering of Iranian ISPs extends to cover political as well as pornographic web sites," says the report here
Last September the IBB sponsored the launch of a service through Anonymizer, "designed to allow Iranian Internet users to bypass much of Iran's national filtering regime," says the report, going on that in December 2003 and April 2004, it ran a series of tests to gauge the accessibility of sites through the IBB Anonymizer service.
"We found that many web sites blocked by Iranian ISPs could be successfully accessed through the IBB Anonymizer service," states the report.
"However, filters built in to the IBB Anonymizer service, intended to prevent Iranians from using it to view pornographic sites, also have the unintended consequence of blocking access to numerous non-pornographic pages and sites."
The problem, says the ONI, appears to be the IBB Anonymizer's unreleased list of automated "trigger" keywords applied to domain names before pages are shown to IBB Anonymizer users.
"These "trigger" keywords appear to generate a significant number of false-positive results, resulting in a significant amount of collateral blocking - 'overblocking' - of non-pornographic sites," it continues.
"For example, the IBB Anonymizer service blocks non-pornographic websites dealing with women's health issues because the keyword 'breast' is within their domain names. Likewise blocked is the anchor page for links to the U.S. Department of State's overseas missions - usembassy.state.gov - because it contains the trigger keyword "ass."
"The service also blocks almost any site containing the word 'asian' in the domain. Some of these apparently unintentionally blocked sites are themselves blocked within Iran, resulting in a situation where sites are effectively doubly blocked - by Iranian ISPs and by the IBB Anonymizer service."
The IBB and Anonymizer confirmed in separate e-mail exchanges with ONI researchers that the circumvention service is explicitly configured to block pornography, says the ONI, going on:
"They explained that this is intended to conserve available bandwidth and ensure availability of the service to Iranians who wish to visit non-pornographic sites. Several notable studies have pointed out the difficulty of implementing keyword-based filtering systems in such a way as to avoid the unintended consequence of 'collaterally blocking' non-pornographic sites.
"The keyword rules that drive the filters built in to the IBB Anonymizer service are not publicly known, making independent assessment of those rules and their implications more difficult. (Staff at Anonymizer, Inc., have declined to publicly disclose keywords or methods, considering them to be proprietary to the company.)
"Further, despite IBB Anonymizer assurances that its Iranian users may surf the Web freely and safely, our testing suggests that the vast majority of its traffic is exposed to monitoring by Iranian authorities and corresponding local ISPs. Iranian users may not be aware that their use of the service may identify them to Iranian government authorities as citizens wishing to view forbidden content, or as supportive of the ideas found within that content.
Filtered web sites include those having to do with women's health issues, the president of the US, a variety of NGO's, and popular hotel, email, and other commercial services.
"In addition, it appears that all domains registered in Malaysia (.my) and Tuvalu (.tv, popular domain suffix for television-related material) are blocked," says the report. http://www.daneshjoo.org/generalnews/article/publish/article_6067.shtml
"despite IBB Anonymizer assurances that Iranian users can surf the Web "freely and safely," tests suggest the vast majority of traffic can be monitored by Iranian authorities and local ISPs, says the OpenNet Initiative.
"Iranian users may not be aware that their use of the service may identify them to Iranian government authorities as citizens wishing to view forbidden content, or as supportive of the ideas found within that content," it says."
This is really unfortunate.