Internet Disconnection Due to Syrian Protests

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In December 2010 Imad Sabouni, Syrian Minister of Telecommunications and Technology,  stated that Internet censorship was not a solution. He said that it was more important to raise the awareness of Internet users. But he also pointed out that there are Internet blocking systems in all countries.

Nevertheless, the censorship never abated. About more than two hundred websites were blocked. The contents affected involved political criticism, religious issues, etc. In addition to filtering a wide range of Web content, the Syrian government monitored  the use of Internet. The Syrian government claimed that its aim is to prevent "denominational unrest" and any attempt at infiltration on the part of Israel.

But it seems that it was useless. Opponents of the current Syrian regime organized protests all over the country. Facebook is the place where the protests were organized; the participants were also motivated by reels of the government crackdown placed on such sites as YouTube.

As a result, the authorities disconnected the Internet in some parts of the country in order to prevent the spreading of anti-government information and to boicot the creation of new movements. Google’s most recent Internet traffic report from Syria clearly demonstrates a falloff in data traffic.

Syrian government also blocked Internet access in regions of military operations before the protest in Hama, but after that disconnection has become more widespread. Two-thirds of all the networks in Syria were unavailable just after the protests.

Many users have to use alternate ways to access blocked websites and stay anonymous. VPN connections are the most popular. They provide web anonymity and give the opportunity to bypass government restrictions. Fast VPN services facilitate uploading of videos to the sharing sites, and favor the spread of information. But even VPN cannot help if the internet connection is dropped.


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How to Unblock VoIP

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VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and is used for communication worlwide. With the help of VoIP you can stay in touch with your business partners, as well as with your family and friends. VoIP services are extremely popular among people from different countries, because their users can save money. It is cheaper to make calls using VoIP than through a mobile phone.

Nevertheless, there are countries where VoIP services are banned. Among them are United Arab Emirates, Oman, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Belize. And there is a valid reason for it. In many countries, governments run telecommunication companies, and it is obvious that they don’t want to lose the income that they make from international and domestic calls.

In India, it is legal to use VoIP, but it is illegal to have VoIP gateways inside India. In the UAE and Oman, it is illegal to use any form of VoIP, to the extent that  Skype and Gizmo5 websites are blocked. Providing or using VoIP services is illegal in Oman. In the Republic of Korea, only providers registered with the government are authorized to offer VoIP services.

Many people ask on forums how to unblock VoIP calls in their countries.

A lot of users from the countries listed above consider that using VPN services is be the best way to bypass restrictions. Internet restrictions are usually based on the IP address. A VPN connection gives you an opportunity to surf  the Internet anonymously and hides your real IP, so you can browse blocked websites and use banned services including VoIP. A fast VPN is the most suitable if you want to make VoIP calls, because it provides better communication quality.


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New Internet Censorship in Iran

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The Iranian government is going to impose a so-called national Internet aimed to substitute the global network. This new form of censorship can lead to the detachment of the Iranian cyberspace from the worldwide one. The government  of Iran claims that the new national Internet will help to preserve Islamic moral standards and to cut down the consumers’ expenditure.

At the beginning, the national network will work together with Internet and some large companies will still have access to both of them, but gradually the Internet will be displaced. Ali Aghamohammadi, Head of Economic Affairs, has recently declared that national Internet will become "a genuine halal network, aimed at Muslims on an ethical and moral level". It means that the network will not violate Islamic laws.

Moreover, the reports of the local press say that Windows will be replaced with a new Iranian operating system. Iran is also going to create its own alternatives to popular websites and e-mail services; for example Ymail will substitute Gmail.

The current situation in the country causes alarm for many users, especially those who browse the Internet for business purposes every day. They think that to impose a national Internet can affect their current relationship with international partners. People are afraid that they will not be able to bypass the new form of censorship, even with the help of the best VPN services.


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Worsening of Internet Censorship in China

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The Chinese government is going to blacklist universities and corporations for using VPN connections to access restricted websites. The Guardian reported that the Chinese government cracked down on VPNs and closed a loophole that allowed users to bypass their Internet censorship.

The users are complaining that since May 6th it has become very difficult to access sites such as Google and MSN. Moreover,  Apple's app store has also been blocked. Internet connections from China Telecom and China Unicom have become unstable, which makes using VPN services difficult.

Universities and corporate connections are suffering, due to the new difficulties, more than broadband connections. The Public Security Bureau has already blacklisted the Chinese Academy of Sciences, that is now asking people to avoid using "circumvention tools to access illegal content".

Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, doesn’t approve of the Great Firewall. She also claimed that the US would assign $19m to fight against Internet censorship in China and other authoritarian states. This funding will be part of the sum that  the US Congress has already allocated to combat against the Chinese Firewall.

COICA and its Consequences

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CoicaCOICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, was presented to the US Senate last year. But it wasn’t accepted. This year, both chambers of Congress are examining a new COICA draft. According to this act, the government is allowed to block sites at domain name (DNS) level  if the Justice Department considers them to be "dedicated to infringing content." The aim of this act is to abolish access to foreign piracy and counterfeiting sites.

With the help of COICA the government wants to solve the problem of online security and protecting internet privacy. The supporters of the act believe that it will be effective to gain the control over websites that engage in illegal activity.

But opponents of this act claim that such internet censorship will bring people to use alternative DNS systems or anonymous proxies to access blocked sites. They think that COICA won’t solve the problem and, moreover, that it will aggravate the situation.

Senator Ron Wyden, who opposes COICA, says: "It seems to me that online copyright infringement is a legitimate problem, but it seems to me that COICA as written is the wrong medicine. Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile. The collateral damage of this statute could be American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet."


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Western Technologies Controlling Eastern Countries

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In response to political unrest in the Middle East, many countries have restricted Internet access in order to control protesters. The OpenNet Initiative carried out a research focused on how countries use network filtering to control the flow of online content. The authors have analyzed the use of American- and Canadian- software in the Middle East and North Africa. Nine countries in the region utilize Western-made tools to block over 20 million Internet users from accessing Websites showing prohibited political and social content.

Internet filtering can be used by schools or parents to protect their children, by companies to control their employees Internet access, by governments to shape and track the flow of information at national level. The urgent issue is that filtering technologies are tending to be repurposed by governments to achieve a state-sanctioned censorship. It is good if it is targeted at protecting minors from pornography. But if filtering tools and services are used to censor search engine results by request of national governments, the freedom of expression seems to be doubtful. Especially if the filtering technology is being built and supported by Western countries, advocates of human rights and free flow of information.

People try to find their own solutions to unblock Websites: strong VPN connections, anonymous web proxy. But the global answer to the question lies with the leadership of companies that produce filtering software. Such companies must be aware of the role they play in the global community and put their policies towards protecting the Internet privacy along with technical development.


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VPN Crisis in China

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A censorship crisis has started in China after the authorities restricted the use of VPN services in the country. Some VPN services, including free VPN, faced problems in their work process; some have been banned,  and others have been resumed. The Chinese government implemented these measures in fear of the Jasmine Revolution, trying to stop people from accessing outside websites through VPNs.

As Greatfirewall.biz reports, the major VPN service provider to the Chinese market, Witopia, remains inaccessible, as well as a few other VPN services: Hidemyass, CyberGhost VPN, Ultra Reach, Hotspot Shield, TorProject and others. In addition, the IP addresses of the VPN servers owned by these providers have also been blocked. As a result, the companies have to keep shifting their users from one server to another.

Moreover, Email services such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Aol Mail have slowed down in their performance. For example, Gmail has been 45 times slower than QQ. Google has started discussions with the Chinese authorities regarding Gmail being boycotted, but so far it hasn't had much success.


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Getting Around Internet Censorship

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Internet censorship exists in many countries. Many bloggers are discussing the ways to get around the restrictions put in place by authoritarian governments like China, Egypt, Libya and others. If you try opening a banned site, you might receive a “Not Found” error, an unexplained connection failure or an announcement that the location has been forbidden by the authorities.

Prof. Hacker (Konrad Lawson), in  yesterday’s post, provides two effective methods from his own experience. “I believe it is increasingly important for us to learn some of the ways to circumvent Internet censorship in a world where having access to information is central to everything we do,” he says.

He is sure that free web proxies do not solve the problem. Third-party servers, even though they redirect your traffic to the blocked sources, can themselves be blocked. And you will waste time finding another proxy.

The way he proposes for visiting banned locations is Tor – a network designed for protecting internet privacy and security by making use of encrypted traffic tunneled through a collection of relays.

Another advice is to use VPN services to get around internet censorship. The blogger gives the advice to check with your local University and see if they provide VPN access. If you use this VPN connection, all traffic will be routed though the University's server. The University IP will unlikely be banned. The blogger insists: “Because Universities and large corporations often provide access to VPN servers for their employees and students, if a government decides to block all access to a given VPN they risk incurring the anger of those institutions who may be involved in conducting profitable business or valuable research exchanges with the country.”


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China Hinders Access to VPN

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Witopia, the VPN service provider, has recently reported a huge amount of complaints from its Chinese users about being unable to access some of the resources. According to Bloomberg, they were even forced to ask their subscribers to report problems via e-mail instead of their live support service, because of the “extraordinary volume of China's shenanigans”.

China, notorious for its Great Firewall (The Golden Shield Project) attempts to impose control over the Internet content by banning access to pornography, gambling and opposition sites, as well as to famous western resources such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. Herdict.org, a Harvard based organization which monitors accessibility of web sites across the Internet, reports China to have the leading position in Internet censorship.

China denies interfering into the VPN services. Li Wufeng, chief of the Information Office Internet Affairs Bureau of China’s ruling State Council, stated that there have never been any issues involving the access of legitimate VPN services that are used by companies to enhance security.

A virtual private network (VPN) uses encrypting mechanisms for providing a secure data exchange between remote networks and is mostly used by corporations. However, the average users in China have found VPN extremely useful for surfing through blacklisted sites and protecting their Internet privacy.

 


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Bypassing the Great Firewall Using a Simple VPN

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From today, we are starting publishing our daily news about security and VPN. We will track what is going on in the world of VPN and will see what role VPN plays in the world.

In February, Bloomberg News and BusinessWeek were interested in how some Chinese guys bypassed the “Great Firewall of China” and why the number of Facebook users from China is growing. Facebook has been blocked in the country since 2009. China bans pornography, gambling and content that is critical of the ruling Communist Party. All sites, including Facebook, that do not follow the nation’s self-censorship rules are blocked. But last month the number of Facebook users from China exceeded 700,000. “This number will probably double over the next six months,” say the experts.

Chinese users started using VPN services to access the restricted sites. A Chinese user seeking to access Facebook would first start an encrypted connection with a VPN service, which would then get on the social-networking website. The Internet service providers can see only that the user logs on to the VPN server, not to Facebook’s. Using VPNs can slow down the connection speed and might require additional software and costs. In spite of this, AnchorFree Inc., an American startup, said that they have seen 1.5 million people using their free VPN service in China during January, a 25 percent increase from the previous month. “There is a general growth in demand for getting onto Facebook and other social media sites everywhere,” said David Gorodyansky, Chief Executive Officer of AnchorFree.

In February, Facebook opened an office in Hong Kong, bringing the company closer to China. Does Facebook feel the "warming" from the Chinese government towards the social networking sites? We can hardly say it. Facebook has about 621 million users worldwide and 700 thousand is a significant number. But we must consider that, in China, the total number of internet users amounts to 457 million. "When you consider the number of Internet users in China, the number of Facebook  users is just a blip. It will never be open enough so that most people can use it. It’s too risky." said Paul Wuh, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Samsung Securities Co.


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