Network Operations and Internet Security @ UChicago

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Sam Burnett Thesis Defense on Internet Censorship

Congratulations to Sam Burnett, who successfully defended his dissertation entitled “Enabling bystanders to facilitate Internet Censorship Measurement and Circumvention”.

Sam’s work designs systems that allow third parties to contribute resources to both measure the extent of censorship and to circumvent it.  His work has been featured in New Scientist, Slashdot, and The Economist.  An abstract of his dissertation is below.  You can also view an archive of the defense here.  Congratulations, Sam!

Free and open exchange of information on the Internet is at risk: more than 60 countries practice some form of Internet censorship, and both the number of countries practicing censorship and the proportion of Internet users who are subject to it are on the rise. Understanding and mitigating these threats to Internet freedom is a continuous technological arms race between security researchers and advocates, and many of the most influential governments and corporations.

By its very nature, Internet censorship varies drastically from region to region, which has impeded nearly all efforts to observe and fight it on a global scale. Researchers and developers in one country may find it very difficult to study censorship in another; this is particularly true for those in North America and Europe attempting to study notoriously pervasive censorship in Asia and the Middle East.

This dissertation develops techniques and systems that empower users not affected by censorship, or bystanders, to assist in the measurement and circumvention of Internet censorship in other countries. Our work builds from the observation that there are people everywhere would be willing to help us if only they knew how. First, we develop Encore, which allows webmasters to help study Web censorship by collecting measurements from their sites’ visitors. Encore leverages weaknesses in cross-origin security policy to collect measurements from a far more diverse set of vantage points than previously possible. Second, we build Collage, a technique that allows users to leverage the pervasiveness and scalability of user-generated content hosting services to disseminate censored content. Collage’s novel communication model is robust against censorship that is significantly more powerful than governments use today. Together, Encore and Collage make it significantly easier for people everywhere to help study and circumvent Internet censorship around the world.

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Georgia Tech Researchers Meet at Google to Discuss Censorship Measurement

Researchers from Georgia Tech, the Tor Project, Stony Brook, Citizen Lab, and the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation met to design and prototype new tools for measuring Internet censorship.  The meeting was hosted by Google’s Measurement Lab.  Many current tools under development were presented and discussed, including:

  • Encore, a tool that uses third party measurements to determine Web accessibility
  • Centinel, a new platform for running cross-platform network interference measurements
  • MySpeedTest, an Android-based platform for measuring application performance
  • OONI, the open observatory of network interference
  • ICLab, a vision for a combined, cross-platform suite of censorship measurements
Meeting to Discuss Network Interference at Google, May 2014.

Meeting to Discuss Network Interference at Google, May 2014.