Foreign Policy Article on Saudi Black Market

I honestly can’t remember giving this interview, but I must have because there’s a quotation that sounds like something I’d say in this short Foreign Policy article on a black market for net access in Saudi Arabia. Two notes of clarification: I’m not the Exec Director of the OpenNet Initiative. There isn’t one. I’m one of the principal investigators, but it’s really a team effort. And the black market is actually referenced by us in a footnote to another report.



People can get almost anything on the black market — drugs, passports, even human organs. Now add Web sites to the list. Inside many authoritarian regimes that closely monitor and censor the Internet, access to blocked Web sites has become a black market commodity like any other. Typically, the process is simple: Savvy black marketers in cybercafes, universities, private homes, and elsewhere exploit technological loopholes to circumvent government filters and charge fees for access. According to the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) (, a research organization devoted to tracking blocked Web sites, black market access to filtered pages in Saudi Arabia runs anywhere from $26 to $67 per Web site.

Such tactics are becoming increasingly common. Shahin Amard, who runs a Web site (, blocked in Iran for its unsanctioned religious content) from an undisclosed location, says that people constantly “e-mail from inside Iran and ask for direction, help, and advice” in gaining access to the Web. But, he says, “the majority of people … give up when they don’t get through, or they get scared and don’t try anymore.”

Sometimes, it is the authoritarians that profit from the illegal trade. In Cuba, where Fidel Castro presides over one of the world’s most technologically repressive regimes, the Communist government limits Internet access both by making the Web prohibitively expensive and by blocking unsuitable material (roughly defined as any site that doesn’t promote Cuban tourism). Only a small minority of state officials are allowed limited Internet access. Yet computers are widely accessible. And, according to Philip Peters, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, many state officials sell passwords and account information on the black market for monthly fees of about $20 to $30. Buyers, Peters says, use the Net access to visit free online e-mail services to connect with friends and family in other countries or to read foreign news sources.

So, will buying access to blocked Web sites remain a part of the black market bazaar? As long as governments try to restrict what sites their citizens can visit, the answer is probably yes. But ONI Executive Director Ronald Deibert warns that government censorship “is spreading worldwide, and…the countries that are doing it are getting better at it.” Which means the price is going up.

Citizen Lab — a hacker "grow op"

Wired News has a story about the history of hacktivism and the cDc, with some mention of the Citizen Lab as a “hacker grow-op.”

Hacktivism and How It Got Here

Michelle Delio 07.14.04

NEW YORK — Hacktivism isn’t found in the graffiti on defaced Web pages, in e-mail viruses bearing political screeds or in smug take-downs of government or organizational networks.

These sorts of activities are nothing more than reverse censorship and “the same old cheap hacks elevated to political protest,” according to Cult of the Dead Cow member Oxblood Ruffin.
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Newsforge article about ONI Advisory

Another one, from Newsforge, about the OpenNet Initiative Advisory on the IBB/Anonymizer we just released.

I must object to Lance Cotrell’s comments about Iranian monitoring and our analysis of the insecurity of the IBB/Anonymizer system.

Does anyone really believe the IBB and/or State Dept has intelligence “on the ground” that determines how and when Iranians and Iranian ISPs are monitoring email traffic??? You mean, like the intelligence on the ground in Iraq about WMD??

Harvard Crimson story about the ONI

The Harvard Crimson wrote a story about the OpenNet Initiative featured here.

HLS Team To Study Internet Censorship

Researchers at Harvard Law School are gathering empirical data on the censorship of internet content and are using it to develop software that can subvert filters.A handful of professors at the Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the University of Cambridge and the University of Toronto have dubbed their project, which hopes to map out the different methods of internet surveillance being used, the Open Net Initiative (ONI).

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