We currently have approximately 1,000 bridges, 600 of which support the obfs4 obfuscation protocol. Unfortunately, these numbers have been stagnant for a while. It’s not enough to have many bridges: eventually, all of them could find themselves in block lists. We therefore need a constant trickle of new bridges that aren’t blocked anywhere yet. This is where we need your help. By setting up an obfs4 bridge, you can help censored users connect to the open internet through Tor.
Based on this call we put a bridge relay into the net a week ago, and – if everything works out – we will add a second one. However, that was not enough for us. Mostly during the last few weekends, we’ve implemented a TorBox feature that allows anyone with a public IP address, 24/7 internet connectivity over a long time, and a bandwidth of at least 1 Mbps to configure their bridge relay at the touch of a button and put it on the net. Besides, we have added and improved some other details, so that we can now release the resulting image as TorBox v.0.2.5. Below are the corresponding links (typically, you need only the image file):
Changelog v.0.2.4-rpi4 (08.08.2019) —> v.0.2.5 (23.09.2019) New: This version introduces the support for setting up a bridge relay. Updated : The system is based on Raspbian “Buster” lite with Linux Kernel 4.19.66 and Tor version 0.4.1.5. New: A little message (“TOR is working“) in the right corner of the main menu shows you immediately if you are connected with the Tor network (meaning https://check.torproject.org returns a positive result). Since a missing response does not automatically mean that there is no connection to the Tor network, no error message is displayed. In other words, if this message is missing, there may or may not be a connection problem. New: We use the same method as mentioned above for the final message box after selecting (or changing) a connection (main menu entry 6-11). In case of success, the message starts with “CONGRATULATION !!” otherwise with “HMMM… THAT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD…“. In contrast to the positive message, negative feedback does not necessarily mean that an error has occurred. Since the check does not last more than 5 seconds, Tor may not have been ready yet; the check site may have been down, etc. New: Support for Adafruit’s PiTFT displays (PiTFT 3.5″ resistive touch 320×480, PiTFT 2.8“ capacitive touch 240×320, PiTFT 2.4″, 2.8″ or 3.2″ resistive 240×320, PiTFT 2.2″ no touch 240×320, Braincraft 1.54″ display 240×240). Note: TorBox’s menus and dialog boxes have only been adapted for the PiTFT 3.5 (320×480) or any other display, which displays in textual mode at least 25×80 characters. Improved: Menus and dialog boxes should now work more smoothly on 25×80 textual screens as well as on smartphone and tablet clients. For that reason, we added for some message boxes scroll texts, which are visible with the “scroll down” remark in the title of the message box. Improved: Cleaning up in the shell scripts (used more variables, combine certain parts into functions, etc.). Updated: Pre-configured Bridges (we also added our bridge relay) Fixed: While adding bridges, TorBox activates/deactivates the new bridges depending on the current bridge modus. Fixed: Some more non-critical bugs and typos in the text files.
The pre-v.0.2.6 release is expected at the end of the year.
If you look at the various forums about Tor, there is a lot of skepticism, misunderstandings, and questions, especially among newcomers, about how Tor works and the possibilities (or limitations) it offers. This is due in particular to the fact that many people are unfamiliar with how Tor works, and feel that it is far too complicated to understand. With an excellent video of Computerphile, Dr. Mike Pound shows that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Very simple and easy for beginners to understand, he shows how Tor works and mentions its limitations.
My first Tor Bridge Relay is properly working – see here.
With TorBox v.0.2.5 (coming soon) everyone with direct internet connection will be able to set up a Tor Bridge Relay — only with a view „clicks“.
Bridges are essential for people in authoritarian countries to reach the open internet. TorBox v.0.2.4 offers such client functionality already, but soon, users with a direct internet connection can help others by setting up their relay.
Amid conflict and political turbulence, South Sudan has one of the least developed telecommunications and internet systems in the world. Fifteen Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operate in South Sudan, but the lack of fibre-optic cables and the limited availability of public power hinder connectivity. MTN enjoys the greatest share within the mobile phone market, followed by Vivacell and Zain. Earlier this year however, Vivacell’s license was suspended for not paying USD 60 million in fees.
South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution of 2011 guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom under Article 24, with possible exceptions for public order, safety, or morality. The Article also calls on media to abide by professional ethics. Article 32 of the Transitional Constitution guarantees the right to access official information, with exemptions for public security and personal privacy. The regime though regularly violates media freedom protections in practice, and government officials have engaged in rhetoric that contributes to a hostile environment for the press.
In an attempt to verify reports on the blocking of websites and to examine South Sudan’s internet landscape more broadly, OONI did some network measurement tests in South Sudan.
OONI Probe consists of a number of software tests that scan TCP, DNS, HTTP and TLS connections for signs of network tampering. Some tests request data over an unencrypted connection and compare against a known good value. Others check for HTTP transparent proxies, DNS spoofing, and network speed and performance.
To measure the blocking of websites, OONI started off by carrying out some research to identify South Sudanese URLs to test. They subsequently added these URLs to the Citizen Lab’s test list repository on GitHub, since OONI Probe is designed to measure the blocking of URLs included in these test lists. Over the last few months, OONI primarily ran OONI Probe’s Web Connectivity test (among other OONI Probe tests) in two networks: MTN South Sudan (AS37594) and IPTEC Limited (AS36892).
As part of their testing, they measured the blocking of URLs included in the global (including internationally relevant sites) and South Sudanese (including sites relevant to South Sudan) test lists. Once they collected OONI Probe network measurements from South Sudan,they analyzed them with the aim of identifying network anomalies that could serve as signs of internet censorship.
Last year, media outlets Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj, and independent blogs Nyamilepedia and Paanluel Wel, were reportedly blocked in July 2017. OONI recent testing not only corroborates these reports, but also suggests that these sites remain blocked one year later.
The following table links to network measurements pertaining to the recent testing of each of these sites across two ISPs:
OONI findings suggest that MTN (AS37594) blocks TCP/IP connections to these sites, while IPTEC (AS36892) blocks access by means of DNS tampering. It’s worth noting that both MTN and IPTEC block access to both http://sudantribune.com and http://www.sudantribune.com.
South Sudanese authorities blocked these sites for publishing “subversive content” and stated that the bans would not be lifted until those institutions “behaved well”. Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj are foreign-based media outlets accused of hostile reporting against the government.
Paanluel Wel is a leading blog for the Dinka tribe, known for spearheading tribal political interests for the Dinka people and inciting hatred and violence against the Nuer people and other tribes. Nyamilepedia, on the other hand, is a leading blog for the Nuer tribe, known for promoting Nuer political interests and spearheading hatred against the Dinka and other Nuer who left the rebellion to join the Dinka-led government.
Many other URLs presented network anomalies (such as HTTP failures) as part of our testing, but such anomalies were most likely caused due to poor network performance and transient network failures. This suggests that South Sudanese internet users may encounter challenges in accessing sites in various points in time, even if they’re not intentionally being blocked.
It’s worth highlighting, however, that many of the URLs that OONI tested (including internationally popular and local sites) were found to be accessible in South Sudan during this study. These include sites related to conflict resolution and peacekeeping, such as the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) site.
These measurements clearly show that the Mikrotik HTTP transparent proxy was present last year in the network path to the above sites through South Sudan’s 4G Telecom (AS327786) network. It remains unclear though if this proxy is still in use, since measurements haven’t been collected from this network in recent months.
It’s worth noting that this equipment may potentially be used for implementing internet censorship and/or for caching (the Mikrotik HTTP proxy has this feature) to improve connectivity. Given though that most of these sites were accessible (and the ones that weren’t presented different errors, sometimes triggered as part of anti-DDoS protection), it may be the case that this proxy was primarily deployed for improving connectivity and network performance.
Internet censorship does not appear to be pervasive, but limited to sites that authorities deem to publish “subversive content” and incite violence. This is evident through the blocking of Nyamilepedia and Paanluel Wel, the leading blogs of the Nuer and Dinka tribes who are known to incite violence. OONI data also corroborates the blocking of media outlets Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj, both of which are hosted outside of South Sudan. Local journalists and media organizations though face different (non-digital) forms of censorship.
Nonetheless, the fact that South Sudan has already started implementing internet censorship raises questions as to whether its internet censorship apparatus will expand as internet penetration levels increase and political events unfold. Further research and testing is therefore required to better understand the country’s internet landscape and monitor any new censorship events.
Throughout the testing period, between January 2017 to May 2018, more than 1,000 URLs presented network anomalies. 178 of which consistently presented a high ratio of HTTP failures, strongly suggesting that they were blocked. Rather than serving block pages (which would have provided a notification of the blocking), Egyptian Internet Service Providers (ISP) appear to primarily block sites through the use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology that resets connections.
In some cases, instead of RST injection, ISPs drop packets, suggesting a variance in filtering rules. In other cases, ISPs interfere with the SSL encrypted traffic between Cloudflare’s Point-of-Presence in Cairo and the backend servers of sites (psiphon.ca, purevpn.com and ultrasawt.com) hosted outside of Egypt. Latency measurements over the last year and a half also suggest that Egyptian ISPs may have changed their filtering equipment and/or techniques, since the latency-based detection of middleboxes has become more challenging.
The chart at the right illustrates the types of sites that presented the highest amount of network anomalies and are therefore considered to more likely have been blocked.
To examine the impact of these censorship events, AFTE interviewed staff members working with some of the Egyptian media organizations whose websites got blocked. They reported that the censorship has had a severe impact on their work. In addition to not being able to publish and losing part of their audience, the censorship has also had a financial impact on their operations and deterred sources from reaching out to their journalists. A number of Egyptian media organizations have suspended their work entirely, as a result of persisting internet censorship.
“Defense in depth” tactics for network filtering
Security experts are probably familiar with the “defense in depth” concept in which multiple layers of security controls (defense) are placed throughout an IT system, providing redundancy in the event that a security control fails. In Egypt, ISPs seem to apply “defense in depth” tactics for network filtering by creating multiple layers of censorship that make circumvention harder.
Back in 2016, OONI uncovered that state-owned Telecom Egypt was using DPI (or similar networking equipment) to hijack users’ unencrypted HTTP connections and inject redirects to revenue-generating content, such as affiliate ads. The Citizen Lab expanded upon this research, identifying the use of Sandvine PacketLogic devices (Sandvine is a company based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) and redirects being injected by (at least) 17 Egyptian ISPs.
A handful of Tor contributors reported about the state of the Onion (all activity in the community, which is related to the Tor network and its community) at the latest HOP conference, occurred 20–22 July 2018. They talked about adding new security features, improving Tor Browser on Android, deploying the next generation of onion services, making Tor more usable, lowering the network overhead, making Tor more maintainable, and growing the Tor community with new outreach initiatives. They also shared some of what you can expect from Tor in the coming year, and answered questions from the community.
For more videos from the latest HOPE conference, see here.