US Government Creating “Shadow Internet” to Bypass Web Censorship

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It has been reported that Obama's administration has started the creation of a duplicate Internet that would be able to help people from the countries with repressive regimes to bypass censorship. According to the New York Times, the US is going to develop a so-called "shadow" Internet and mobile phone systems in order to support web anonymity and facilitate putting an end to repressive regimes.

It is also said that the US government plans to create independent cellphone networks in non-democratic countries and launch "Internet in a suitcase" that could be available in every country and would provide Internet access globally. The US authorities are reported to have allocated $ 2 million for the development of this project.

The US is financing the launch of wireless networks in non-free countries in order to give dissidents an opportunity to communicate with each other in case the Internet is blocked. The New York Times said that the government had already spent at least $50 million developing such a network in Afghanistan.

Many people from countries as Iran, Syria, Libya, and Japan use the best VPN services to bypass limitations imposed by the authorities. It is a reliable way to stay connected and protected. But even a VPN connection is not helpful if the Internet. shuts down completely. After Hosni Mubarak turned off the Internet during the political uprisings in Egypt, it has become a common practice in countries with repressive regimes.

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New Report on Cybersecurity

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Last week the US Department of Commerce released a report entitled “Cybersecurity, Innovation and the Internet Economy.” This report appeared after the range of Internet security policy recommendations developed by the Obama administration.

The document emphasizes the importance of the companies providing online services for the development of the economy. Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce, claimed that their "economy depends on the ability of companies to provide trusted, secure services online. As new cybersecurity threats evolve, it's critical that we develop policies that better protect businesses and their customers to ensure the Internet remains an engine for economic growth."

The paper offers ways to strengthen security for companies that do the major part of their businesses on the Internet, like social networks, providers of online services and cloud computing firms. Such companies are included in the “Internet and Information Innovation Sector” (I3S).

To reinforce internet security and reach a high level of web anonymity and online privacy protection, the report gives some recommendations. First of all it is important to implement voluntary codes of conduct to eliminate security vulnerabilities. For example, for better protection companies may start using automated security or Domain Name System Security (DNSSEC) protocols. Moreover, it is of crucial importance to enhance international exchange of cybersecurity best practices and develop incentives for the companies to succeed in this sphere.

Use the following link to read the report:

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Will the Freedom Box Project Help to Protect Online Privacy?

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Web anonymity and privacy are under threat in many countries of the modern world. To keep them safe, the new Freedom Box project was launched. The main goals of its creators are to protect freedom of expression and users’ private data on Internet. The members of the project are supporters of Free Society and world without censorship.

The Freedom Box project was developed by the Freedom Box Foundation under the direction of Eben Moglen, professor at Columbia Law School and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center. He claims that there are four forces that, when trying to achieve their own goals, are depriving users of online privacy . These forces are governments, content owners, data miners and network operators. Moglen is concerned that the government can start using social networking sites to track people.

And there is evidence that his words may become true. Recently, Facebook launched facial recognition in users’ accounts without prior notification. This fact just confirms that Facebook is likely to be an “automated gathering intelligence agency” as Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, called it. There are also many examples of tough internet censorship in non-democratic countries.

That’s why it is high time to take care of protecting internet privacy. One of the most reliable ways to be protected is to use a VPN connection that can help us maintain privacy and anonymity when surfing the net.

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Is Privacy Outdated in the Modern World?

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Sherry Turkle, a professor and psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,  published her new book titled "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other." She shares with the readers her point of view on the questions of privacy in the modern world.

The author claims that nowadays people, especially teenagers, don’t even know that they have a right to privacy. A lot of people just don’t worry about their privacy protection. They voluntary give out information about themselves on social networking sites or to numerous companies in exchange for some bonuses.

There is an opinion that such publicity is viable for democracy, but Sherry Turkle thinks that everybody needs to have “a certain amount of privacy in order to get their thoughts together, and they certainly need privacy in their e-mails.” Protecting internet privacy is of crucial importance, and the government should begin its defense with e-mail security.

Another of the author’s concerns are the social networking sites, where sensitive information is available for every user to see. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, said that privacy is not "a social norm" in modern society. On the one hand, Facebook allows to avoid providing information that can compromise the user, and everyone is always able to protect their account with privacy settings. But on the other hand, if you want to use some applications, for example, location based services, you have to reveal your private data.

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How to Protect Android Devices

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Recently, Motorola’s  and Sprint’s representatives announced that this summer the companies are launching a new dual-core Android 2.3 device called the Photon 4G. Dan Hesse, Sprint CEO, claimed that they have worked over the years “to bring top of the line devices to our customers across both prepaid and postpaid brands.”

The popularity of Android devices is increasing every day, and that’s why they became one of the major targets for hackers’ attacks. The fact that these smartphones don’t work perfectly with traditional Internet Security and Anti Virus/Malware packages only intensifies the interest of cyber criminals.

Moreover, many companies provide the employees with smartphones. According to Symantec’s own research, 62% of workers use these devises to get access to corporate files, especially when they are on vacation. This jeopardizes the security of the organizations.

There are several ways of minimizing the risk of Android devices being hacked. One of them is to allow the employees to use only those applications that are approved by the company's management. But the employees, in turn, could consider such regulations and limitations to be a violation of their rights.

That’s why the most preferable way is the use of VPN services to guarantee the security. All the modern smart devices support VPN and the Photon 4G is not an exception.  Nowadays there are various Android VPN services that provide high level of anonymity for their users, security in data transmission and protection of their customers’ Internet privacy.

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Do Sites like WikiLeaks Guarantee Anonymity?

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Nowadays there are a lot of sites created after the example of WikiLeaks. The most popular of them are Al Jazeera Transparency Unit and SafeHouse, launched by the Wall Street Journal. There are also a lot of regional sites such as Balkanleaks, Indoleaks and Brusselsleaks.

All these web sites support publicity and freedom of speech but very often they don’t guarantee anonymity to the users providing information. For example, the Wall Street Journal promises to protect its sources but at the same time SafeHouse terms of use read the following: "We reserve the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process."

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former WikiLeaks member and IT security expert, does not recommend using such sites because "they are insecure to begin with and people haven't thought about this properly before they started to run such a site." Recently Domscheit-Berg has created his own web site called OpenLeaks, that serves as a mediator between users providing information and media organizations that make it public.

However, to protect your online anonymity and privacy it’s better to use special tools that were developed to these purposes. The most popular of them are VPN and Tor. Tor isa  free software but it is not as secure as the best VPN services that you pay for. It doesn’t secure the whole session of data transmission, that’s why it is possible that your sensitive information will be compromised. VPN services, on the contrary, create a secure tunnel for the entire data transfer and minimize the risk of hackers’ attacks.

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Circumvention of Online Censorship

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As we have already informed, in countries with non-democratic regimes, internet censorship has become the main means for the governments to control society and prevent social unrest. Nevertheless, there are many ways for users to bypass internet restrictions, and everyone chooses the most suitable for him/her. The selected tool will depend on what you’re doing on the internet: uploading, downloading or just surfing. More and more often, overviews of such tools are published on any kind of websites. recently published an article called “11 Ways to Circumvent Internet Blockades.” The author insists that “no censorship circumvention tool is 100 percent safe“, and adds: “Rule number 1: you’re clever, but the authorities are cleverer.”

There is always the risk of being detected. Internet cafes do not offer full anonymity, your activities can be reported to the authorities.

The majority of users all over the world consider VPN to be the best way to circumvent online censorship. The best VPN services provide high level of security and don’t slow down the user’s connection. Besides VPN, there are other circumvention tools that are widely used to evade limitations. Their effectiveness depends a lot on the users’ activity on the internet: uploading, downloading or just browsing.

Every tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of them, like JAP, YourFreedom, Tor or Psiphon provide their users with good technical support, portability and easiness of usage, but they are not always reliable and often make the Internet work  very slow.

Circumvention tools are developed both by non-governmental organizations and by commercial companies that promote availability of Internet, support freedom of expression and consider online censorship to be a violation of users’ rights.

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Internet Censorship Spreads all over the World

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The Internet has already become the most popular tool for mass communication. Every year the number of people using Internet grows, but at the same time more and more governments implement online censorship in their countries. Nowadays there are about 40 countries that have web censorship; compared to 2002, when there were only four.

Protecting internet privacy is of crucial importance for users from different places. That’s why some people consider any form of government intrusion to be a violation of their rights. But others think that every freedom should have its limits and admit that some restrictions are reasonable, for example the prohibition of child pornography.

However, the toughest censorship usually is used in countries with repressive regimes such as China, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Iran. The repressive governments use censorship to achieve their own latent goals, to prevent protests and to find people that disagree with their policies. Usually, web sites that can jeopardize the current regime are banned in these states.

There are a lot of countries where only a limited number of users have Internet access. We have already reported about the situation in Syria, Cuba, North Korea, Yemen and many other countries where people are not allowed to visit the majority of sites. Many users in these countries have to bypass restrictions with the help of the best VPN services available, that provide them with secure browsing and the guarantee of high-end web anonymity.

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Will Canadian Government Ban Web Anonymity and Hyperlinks?

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The Canadian government is going to enact the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act. The Act contains points that violate the rights of Internet users. For example, this bill will put the Canadian users in legal jeopardy for the content of a webpage they link to and will make web anonymity illegal.

A summary of the bill, placed on the Library of Parliament’s website, reads that “Clause 5 of the bill provides that the offences of public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred may be committed by any means of communication and include making hate material available, by creating a hyperlink that directs web surfers to a website where hate material is posted…”

This point of the bill makes people scared of placing hyperlinks, because they will be legally responsible for the content of a destination webpage, even if it was changed after the link was created. According to the bill, Canadians will not be able to create a blog, because it will be open for public comments and anyone can place a link which the blogger will be responsible for. That’s why, to blog safely, a Canadian should disallow any links.

Moreover, according to Clause 11 of the bill, Canadian users will not be allowed to use aliases while “sending false information, indecent remarks or “harassing” messages”. It makes everybody who use an alias on the Internet  a criminal and jeopardizes web anonymity. This clause also makes it possible for the government to identify and criminalize any user for placing information disapproved of by the authorities.

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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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