VOA *is* sponsoring SSL tunnels under the Great Firewall
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
What, for example, if the repressive regime turns out to be a curious
"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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