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Bypassing Internet Communication Restrictions

By Dan Morrill

Steve Hodson from Win Extra quite rightly asks what we can do in the face of restrictive or repressive internet social media. The good thing is that this is an easy question to answer, because humans have been working their way around authority since we began. Not everyone is a fan of authority, and the internet makes it very easy to bypass internet restrictions.

Unfortunately for all the hope I might have for these roadblocks of change being removed or for more hurdles of authority being removed the scary part is that for every one we remove two are replacing it. For every story we hear about how social media services have done some good thing we hear ten stories of some new way those in power seek to extend their control. Whether it be the English government passing a law to make photographing the police illegal through to the RIAA encouraging ISPs to remove peoples access to the net we are seeing a rise of repressive policies. While our freedoms on the Internet might appear to be growing there is also an obvious move in our offline lives to take away our freedoms. Source: WinExtra

I have spent the better part of 22 years in industry as an information security person, and I know exactly how easy it is to bypass many of the restrictions that are put in place already. If you take a look at Cuba, people have been silently bypassing authority there in the few ways that they can, the same holds true in China, the Middle East and even in England, no matter what hurdles are put up, there are ways around them.

Systems like TOR, Proxy Systems, even hopping the local non-encrypted wireless connection carelessly left open by your next door neighbor all leave open the possibility of bypassing authority. Server jumping, dynamic DNS, free hosting, drive by propaganda dropping, private video systems, long forgotten bittorrent servers, insecure networks, all these open the door to bypassing the regime. I spent the better part of my working career trying to convince people to fix these things, along with just about every other information security professional out there. Fortunately for people who need to dodge government controls, these systems exist by the hundreds of thousands on the global network. Satellite phone systems, disposable cell phones, SIM cards, all make hiding and evasion easier. The more disposable the easier it is to hide your message in the noise.

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People every day bypass firewalls, even the great firewall of China cannot keep up with the internet. People every day bypass corporate controls on their networks, every day we see malware that uses DNS shifting techniques making it harder to hunt down the primary servers that control the botnet. These same techniques are used for people to spread their message or their propaganda worldwide. Even under the Taliban in Afghanistan, people worked out some very clever ways of getting information out of the country when the entire network was controlled by a "repressive regime". What works for people bent on destruction can work in the same way for people whose intent is to get the word out and do good or spread a message.

Social networking is about the message and the ability to fire back and start a conversation, some messages will get out no matter what and start conversations if not on line, in darkened living rooms because people live in fear. We have not hit the bottom of what people will try, and it worries me to think that when we were at Waterloo Station, I took pictures of the local police services responding to an incident when they shut down Waterloo station. If there had been a real issue, those pictures would have been news worthy, if England passes the law, I would be arrested rather than having the scoop of the century. I was the only one there with a camera when they shut down the station. That worries me, but there are ways around that, I don't even need to look like I have a camera on me. Taking a look at the current state of investigative reporting and hidden cameras, things will always get out, things will always be taped, recorded, viewed, shared, commented, and otherwise distributed on the internet.

Do the laws matter, yes, but humans have been very clever in working out ways around laws they do not like or agree with. I would expect no different in the future, based on 4000+ of recorded years of human history.


About the Author:
Dan Morrill has been in the information security field for 18 years, both civilian and military, and is currently working on his Doctor of Management. Dan shares his insights on the important security issues of today through his blog, Managing Intellectual Property & IT Security, and is an active participant in the ITtoolbox blogging community.
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