New Canada Centre / Citizen Lab Report: “Casting A Wider Net”

The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, have released a detailed report that tracks and analyzes the difficulties of broadcasting the news into jurisdictions that censor the Internet, including Iran and China. The report, entitled Casting a Wider Net: Lessons Learned in Delivering BBC Content on the Censored Internet reports on a series of real-world tests to deliver access to BBC websites into Iran and China, where they are regularly blocked by authorities. The research combines data from three major sources: two years’ worth of traffic data from the BBC’s web content services, in-field testing of Iranian and Chinese Internet censorship undertaken by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), and service delivery of Psiphon Inc, a Canadian “circumvention” service that delivers uncensored connections to the web for citizens living behind national firewalls.

Casting a Wider Net sheds a bright spotlight on what is typically a shadow game: the race among government censors to block content, and those determined to sidestep those efforts. China and Iran are among the world’s most pervasive filters of Internet content, and present a special challenge to global media broadcasters who are often targeted by governments for blocking. BBC’s Mandarin and Farsi services are normally subject to intense blocking efforts by both countries.

From 2009 to 2011, the BBC worked with Psiphon in a series of trials designed to test how readily content could overcome Chinese and Iranian blocking efforts, using a range of delivery methods, including social networking sites like Twitter, traditional radio broadcasts, and special email lists.

Working over several months with access to the results of the BBC’s and Psiphon’s trial data, the University of Toronto’s research team, led by the Canada Centre’s Visiting Fellow in Global Media, Karl Kathuria, experimented with several controlled propagation methods while simultaneously directing tests undertaken by ONI researchers inside China and Iran to verify blocking. The result is an unprecedented and detailed peek into the “cat and mouse game” of Internet censorship evasion: what works, what doesn’t, and why?

I explain the motivation for the research in the report’s foreword: “As global news moves online, and content becomes subject to increasingly tight restrictions in numerous national jurisdictions, the challenges of delivering content to target audiences are becoming increasingly complex. To succeed internationally, broadcasters will need to develop a comprehensive strategy to navigate this new media terrain carefully.”

“Casting a Wider Net shows that bypassing Internet censorship to deliver news content in restrictive communications environments involves far more than just supplying circumvention tools. Broadcasters need to devise a strategy for distributing content over the Internet with an understanding of the different challenges they will face in each of the target countries they are trying to reach.”

The full report can be downloaded freely at http://uoft.me/casting.

Access Contested: Security, Identity and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace

In December 2011, we will celebrate the launch of Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace, which is the third volume from the OpenNet Initiative.

Edited by Ron Deibert, John G. Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski and Jonathan Zittrain, Access Contested examines the interplay of national security, social and ethnic identity, and resistance in Asian cyberspace, offering in-depth accounts of national struggles against Internet controls as well as updated country reports by ONI researchers.

Access Contested is available for pre-order at MIT Press.

Asian Cyberspace on the Rise: Challenges and Opportunities for Canada

In wrote an article for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada about the rise of Asia’s cyberspace. ” The piece  examines “how countries are responding to the challenges and opportunities of growing innovation in the region…and outlines the limited role Canada can play in shaping developments of cyberspace governance and security in Asia which will have far reaching implications in the future.”

Read the full article here [pdf].

Syrian Electronic Army: Disruptive Attacks and Hyped Targets

The Information Warfare Monitor just released a new blog report, “Syrian Electronic Army: Disruptive Attacks and Hyped Targets.” The report analyzes the ongoing computer network exploitation activities of the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA).

The report is a follow on to a prior report released last month: The Emergence of Open and Organized Pro-Government Cyber Attacks in the Middle East: The Case of the Syrian Electronic Army (http://www.infowar-monitor.net/2011/05/7349/) In that prior report, the Information Warfare Monitor’s Helmi Noman started documenting the activities of the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which appears to be a case of an open and organized pro-government computer attack group that is actively targeting political opposition and Western websites. That report documented how Syria has become the first Arab country to have a public Internet Army hosted on its national networks to openly launch cyber attacks on its enemies.

In our new report, the Information Warfare Monitor continues to examine the Army’s activities, their online targets, and the impact of their attacks.

Some key findings:

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Huffington Post: Cyber Security and Canadian Policy

I was asked to contribute a piece to the launch of Huffington Post Canada. My article addresses questions of cyber security that have been raised by President Sarkozy at the e-G8, and in particular what Canada could contribute in this area. The editors placed my article on the home page for a few hours, with the title “CYBER FAIL” in Pearl Harbor style giant font, above a picture of a forlorn looking Prime Minister Harper. Not sure it’s the best way to get my points across to the Canadian government, but it was amusing to see for a while.

Here is a link to the article as it appears in the Huffington Post, and below I paste it in full.

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Rescuing the Global Cyber Commons: An urgent agenda for the G8 meeting in Deauville, France

As the world’s largest economies, western liberal-democratic countries have a critical strategic interest in sustaining cyberspace as an open and secure commons of information constituted around freedom of speech and access to information. They also stand to lose the most should it spiral into a hotly contested zone of crime, espionage, and warfare. What should be done?

This article originally appeared in The 2011 G8 Deauville Summit: New World, New Ideas published by the G20 Research Group.

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The New Cyber Military Industrial Complex (Globe and Mail)

“There’s an arms race in cyberspace, and a massively exploding new cyber-industrial complex that serves it. Like all arms races before it, the growing tensions in cyberspace and the proliferation of tools and services that feed it create a climate of fear and insecurity. And as Samuel Coleridge once said, ‘What begins in fear usually ends in folly.’ A dangerous, lawless atmosphere is spreading in cyberspace.”

Ron Deibert and Rafal Rohozinski in the Globe and Mail

From The Globe and Mail

Science Magazine review of Access Controlled

Caught in the Net

By Damian Tambini

From Science

Almost 600 years on, it seems clear that Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was a crucial factor in the rise of democracy in Europe and the decline of the old order of church and monarchy. Movable type and mechanized printing led to an explosion of free expression that was key to the emergence of modern pluralist democracy. Many claim that the historical impact of the Internet will be of a similar magnitude, that it will lead to an inevitable undermining of authoritarian regimes and the spread of democracy around the globe. In the words of early enthusiast John Gilmore, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” (1).

But judging by the research and contributions gathered in Access Controlled, we will have to wait many more years before the nature of the impact of the Internet on dictatorship and democracy becomes clear. The authors provide an alarming range of evidence to support the view that authoritarian regimes are becoming ever more adept at controlling and censoring Internet communication. The volume raises a chilling possibility: that the early commentators were correct about the magnitude of the impact of the Internet on democracy—they just got the direction wrong. Could authoritarian regimes, and also democratic governments working with private companies, be perfecting a new form of authoritarianism, working with the grain of Internet communication and exploiting the intimate entwining of online communication with the everyday lives of citizens?
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Cyberspace Confidential (Globe and Mail essay)

“We have immersed ourselves in a technological environment of our own making, called cyberspace, which we take for granted as our communications and media ecosystem. We leave electronic traces of ourselves scattered across the servers of this vast geographically extended domain like granules of sand on an endlessly mutating, ever-expanding beach.

But who controls this domain and what are they doing with our data? What happens to our e-mail once we hear that familiar “woosh” sound as it leaves our screen? Is it shared with anyone without our consent? Under what circumstances?”

From The Globe and Mail
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