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[liberationtech] Censorship circumvention and ticket inspectors

Walid AL-SAQAF admin at
Wed Jun 19 12:48:48 PDT 2013

Dear friends,

I have been asked to explain how four mechanisms of censorship
circumvention work using some sort of analogy that any layman could
understand. I proposed the analogy of surfing the Internet as traveling and
firewalls as ticket inspectors checking where you are going as described

So I would love to get from those of you who are familiar with censorship
circumvention methods some feedback on how useful/accurate such an analogy
is and ways to fix it. If you have another suggestion, I would love to know
it because I could use it instead if it made more sense. This is all under
development so changes can be accommodated.

Note that I want the analogy to make it easier to  understand each
circumvention method without implying something that is inaccurate when it
comes to the limitations and abilities of each method.


Technology today offers a variety of Internet censorship circumvention
solutions to bypass those ISP-imposed firewalls.

To illustrate some ways of how Internet censorship could be circumvented. I
don’t know about you, but I truly love to travel. So let me present this
simple analogy of travel.

*Using a particular website = Visiting to a particular town*
*Protocol used (http, ftp, ssh, pop3, ....) = mode of transportation (taxi,
bus, minibus, train, plane,..)
*Censorship authority (firewall) = Ticket inspector
And let us imagine that surfing the web, having a video chat or playing
online games, etc. are all forms of travel. The different applications are
like different transportation (e.g., train, car, sea, air).

As a user in a country where there’s Internet censorship, you’re like a
tourist hoping to buy a ticket to a particular destination as you can’t get
out without having your ticket checked by the ticket inspector, who serves
as the gatekeeper. Heavy censorship means very few destinations could be
reached because tickets to forbidden destinations won’t be permitted by the
ticket inspector.

Now there are several methods of getting to a town that is normally off

*Web-proxies: *
If you get access to a web-based proxy, then it’s like having a ticket to
an allowed destination that is not on the blocked list. However, that very
destination is merely a transfer point where you could go to one more
destination without any additional tickets. So while the ticket inspector
thought you were going to a particular town, that town was basically used
as a transfer point to another town that you were originally supposed not
to go to. However, the ultimate destination could only be reached based on
the conditions of the proxy station, which may not be convenient (too slow
transportation, no air conditioning, etc., planting surveillance devices).
But because the ticket inspector doesn't know, he let you go any way.
Remember that this setting allowed you to only get one single ride. To go
to another destination, you need to come back and take another ride.
Surveillance is often possible to limit if the web-based proxy allows the
use of SSL (adding an ‘s’ to http on the address bar).

*HTTP/SOCKS proxies: *
Through the HTTP/SOCKS proxy method, you’d get a pass that would allow you
to go to one allowed destination and then from there, you would have free
transfers on all the trains of the world. However, when you visit insecure
websites (that don't start with https) with this method, you’ll sacrifice
your privacy because you'll need to install a spyware device on your leg to
track your movement for the ticket inspector to know where you are going.
So when you come after a long vacation, authorities would know what you
have been up to and what you bought and where you've been all this time .
You might be in big trouble if you did naughty stuff while you were on the
different trips.

*SSH Tunnels:*
Through a locally opened SSH tunnel, you would get a pass to an allowed
destination that would grant you free access to not only trains, but also
buses all over the world. At the same time, you also won’t be tracked. So
you are really protecting yourself from being spied on while enjoying
visiting almost all the destinations you wanted except the ones that can’t
be reached by land.

*VPNs: *
And through VPNs, you show a pass to an allowed destination, from where you
will be free to use all methods of transportation including land, sea and
air. Furthermore, your movement or baggage would not be inspected. It’s the
ultimate method that would allow you to be totally free in seeing the world
with no restrictions.


Your feedback is welcome.




Walid Al-Saqaf
Founder & Administrator
alkasir for mapping and circumventing cyber censorship

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