VOA *is* sponsoring SSL tunnels under the Great Firewall

Rohit Khare khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Wed Sep 17 13:51:06 PDT 2003


I remember suggesting that the gov't contract with Google for SSL 
access to their caches in a letter to the Economist about press 
freedom. Looks like they did one better by shipping the 'real thing'...


Software rams great firewall of China

By Paul Festa
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Last modified: April 16, 2003, 7:24 AM PDT
                                                                
The news and propaganda wing behind the U.S. government's Voice of 
America broadcasts has commissioned software that lets Chinese Web 
surfers sneak around the boundaries set by their government.
The software enables PC users running Microsoft's Windows XP or 2000 
operating systems to set up a simple version of what's known as a 
circumvention Web server, or a computer that essentially digs a tunnel 
under a firewall set up by a government, corporation, school or other 
organization.
In this case, the United States is eyeing the millions of Chinese Web 
surfers stuck behind their government's firewall--as well as other 
people around the world who are prevented from downloading American 
news and propaganda.

"The news is highly censored," said Ken Berman, program manager for 
Internet anticensorship at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), 
which puts out the Voice of America radio and Internet transmissions, 
along with other international programs. "The Chinese government jams 
all of our radio broadcasts and blocks access by their people to our 
Web site. We want to allow the people there to have the tools to be 
able to have a look at it."

China keeps a particularly strong lock on the Internet. The government 
has blocked popular search engines and prevailed on Western companies 
such as Yahoo to voluntarily restrict their Web content in China. In 
one U.S. study, China was found to be blocking 19,000 Web sites 
including those providing news, health information, political coverage 
and entertainment.

In November, Amnesty International named 33 companies including 
Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems that it said were 
providing the Chinese with technology to achieve its Internet 
censorship aims.

The idea behind the U.S.-backed software is to allow someone trying to 
evade a firewall to tunnel under it via a third-party computer not 
blocked by the firewall. The software, which uses Secure Sockets Layer 
(SSL), lets the person who installs it set up a miniature Web site 
through which a firewall-restricted surfer can access the rest of the 
Web.

In addition to circumventing firewalls, the software also creates 
anonymity by covering the Web surfer's tracks and leaving no record of 
what sites he or she visited beyond the miniature Web site.

The software being tested grew out of a December roundtable in which 
participants raised the possibility of skirting the Chinese information 
blockade. In response, the IBB commissioned anticensorship activist 
Bennett Haselton for an undisclosed sum to craft a user-friendly 
circumvention server.
Haselton on Wednesday posted instructions on how to use the software on 
his Peacefire Web site.

Similar software already exists but without sufficient ease of use that 
it could achieve widespread international distribution.

The IBB hasn't figured out exactly how it will distribute the software, 
or how it will solve the chicken-and-egg conundrum of getting the word 
out to people who are prevented from hearing the IBB's message in the 
first place. One possible solution is to tap dissident expatriate 
communities that maintain ties to their homeland.

According to an unscientific survey conducted last year, the  Chinese 
make up the second largest national group surfing the Web, after 
Americans.

The pairing of the U.S. government and Haselton--who is noted for 
opposing efforts in public libraries and schools to install filtering 
software on government-funded computers--makes something of an odd 
couple.

In fact, the IBB's research and development dollars could ultimately 
wind up undermining U.S.-supported efforts to restrict Web surfing and 
blocking software--not to mention content filters that are in use in 
other contexts.

What, for example, if the repressive regime turns out to be a curious 
teenager's parents?

"We're trying to get people to run circumventor software," the IBB's 
Berman said. "Once it's running, does 13-year-old Joey find it? We like 
to call our program a portal to democracy. Whether the same tools are 
used by teenagers here--it's difficult to try to put controls on that."

For his own part, Haselton cheerfully acknowledged the potential 
domestic application of his circumvention.

"It also apparently works to get around most blocking software proxies 
and client programs used in the U.S., although there are ways that 
blocking software companies could counteract it," according to 
Haselton. "But until they do implement the countermeasures and convince 
everybody to upgrade, it will work to defeat a lot of the home and 
school blocking software programs as well."



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