Risks of Surfing the Web: When a Nation says "NO!"

Communications censorship is not a new thing.  It has been happening as long as people were able to grunt out rudimentary messages to one another.  like everything else as humans evolve so does our technology.  So that begs the question, how does one get around that?  I have talked about proxies in this blog before, I will be mentioning it again in other posts.  However what I want to focus on is how can people circumvent censorship when an entire nation is blocking them?

The internet is this fascinating universe where people can reach out and connect with one another.  We can chat with friends and family around the world.  Better yet, especially for the researcher in me, I can reach out and touch machines on the other side of the planet.  If I wanted I could send an ICMP packet to a printer sitting on someone's desk in Vietnam and have it talk back to me.  That is the power of cyberspace.  

The internet is also like the Wild West where people and nation states are making plays all the time time.  There are so many connections that it is easy to see why nations are vying for power in this realm.  Power and control exist in many forms, one of those forms being the control of information and access to information.  

Introducing censorship!

There are a few big offenders when it comes to mass censorship of the internet.  Take a look at the picture below (the darker the shade the worse the censorship.[10]

How is Censorship enforced?[9] [4] 

There are a few methods that can be in play.

- DNS Filtering - This one is popular

- Packet Filtering

- IP Address Blocking

- URL Filtering

- Removing pages from search engine results

- Resetting network connections

- Disconnecting the network

How to beat Censorship [5]

The question now is how can I come out and experience the freedom from censorship when my government is blocking and redirecting me.  Well it is as simple as this.

1. VPN

ExpressVPN [6] is considered the best well-rounded VPN service for Russians (for example, although I suspect that the websites that state this were paid to say so...).

 But really it doesn't matter what VPN service you use, it's effective to encrypt your traffic.

 2. Onion Routing

Most people who are reading this blog have heard of tor network.  Follow this link

if you find your tor is blocked.

Also access this PDF on how to use tor to circumvent censorship. [8]


For those who have read this far you are probably thinking "Ya, I know that already VPN and Tor!  Thanks for the click-bait."

Hold your horses I say!

Yes the above two options can help beat censorship but they are not full-proof.  I could restrict VPN servers/protocols in my country, or I could monitor known exit nodes on the tor network.  There, I have just debunked these two methods.

Furthermore lets talk about how easy censorship really is.

DNS is critical to online communications.  It is a hub of activity and redirection.  Every communication we submit via the internet, most likely is hitting a DNS server first.  At a high level DNS allows for convenience so that we don't have to memorize IP addresses.  What this also does is create a bottle neck for data flow. [11] .  Most censorship targets DNS resolvers.  It is true that there are thousands and thousands of DNS servers one could connect too, but you still have to get too that that resolver.

It is kind of like if I wanted to buy a loaf of bread from my local grocer "TASTY FOODS".  In a normal scenario I leave my house get in my car, drive to TASTY FOODS, buy my bread and return home.  

Under censorship: I leave my house, there is a person standing outside my front door, I move to go to my car.  the person says "Are you going to TASTY FOODS? I tell them yes.  The person then states, actually sir all bread must be bought from "SUPER BETTER FOR YOU FOODS" please get in this bus with all these other people and we will escort you to where you can get the bread we want you to eat.

This all may sound glib, but if the ISP (Internet Service Provider) and the IXP (Internet Exchange Provider) are under government control....and that government wants to restrict it's residents access to the internet then they can do it and it is not that hard.

Surf Safe friends

Andrew Campbell

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_Russia

[2] https://freedomhouse.org/country/russia/freedom-world/2020

[3] https://www.zdnet.com/article/russia-wants-to-ban-the-use-of-secure-protocols-such-as-tls-1-3-doh-dot-esni/

[4] https://readwrite.com/2019/07/01/which-countries-have-the-strictest-internet-censorship/ 

[5] https://www.comparitech.com/blog/vpn-privacy/best-vpn-russia/ 

[6] https://www.vpnmentor.com/blog/best-vpns-russia-fast-cheap/ 

[7] https://blog.torproject.org/breaking-through-censorship-barriers-even-when-tor-blocked

[8] https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2016/10/00057-129178.pdf

[10] https://www.comparitech.com/blog/vpn-privacy/internet-censorship-map/

[11] https://labs.ripe.net/Members/stephane_bortzmeyer/dns-censorship-dns-lies-seen-by-atlas-probes

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