New Technologies Thwarting Government Internet Censorship

Published September 30, 2011

A new innovation in domain masking technology means Chinese young people may finally get the chance to create a Facebook profile, find out who starred in the late-1980s b-movie Gleaming the Cube on, or type the word “democracy” into a search engine without fear of punishment.

Developed by a team of professors and graduate students from the University of Michigan and University of Waterloo, Telex software offers hope to citizens whose governments exercise Internet censorship. Telex allows the user to visit sites that are tracked and usually blocked by government censors and to remain undetected while doing so.

When a user attempts to access a blocked site, a Telex station disguises the site as something inconspicuous, allaying suspicions of government censors. It may appear a user is simply accessing a government approved site while in reality they are enjoying full access to sites they were previously prohibited from viewing.

Currently the only tool at the disposal of censored Internet users are typical proxies. These previous versions routed traffic from the users’ computer through the IP address of the proxy server, and then on to the final destination. The problem, as stated on Telex’s Web site, is that “the government censor can just as easily block these proxies as it can the blocked websites they are used to access by blocking the IP address that hosts the proxy server.”

Requires ISP Cooperation
Eric Wustrow, a first-year graduate student in Computer Science Engineering at the University of Michigan and a member of the Telex Development Team, says Telex “is a new approach to resisting Internet censorship. By design, it is more difficult to block or even detect usage of Telex compared to traditional proxies currently in use,” he said.

Telex offers a proxy service identified as “end-to-middle” that intercepts user requests onsite at an Internet Service Provider and masks the Internet Protocol to look like a less-problematic site. This new method is far more difficult to detect and nearly impossible to block.

A key component to the system is the deployment of Telex stations at Internet service providers outside the country in question. To make their product successful in freeing Internet users the world over from tyranny, Telex requires the cooperation of major ISPs such as Comcast and AT&T.

Marc Oestreich, a technology policy specialist at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Infotech & Telecom News, has been keeping an eye on how technologies can power radical change similar to the uprisings this past spring and summer in the Middle East.

“Telex is another great example of innovation providing new avenues for freedom in authoritarian nations,” said Oestreich. “The Internet age has certainly made government tyranny increasingly difficult to perpetuate. Let’s hope emerging technologies like Telex can put it to rest for good.”

Brett Milcoff ([email protected]) writes from La Porte, Indiana.

Internet Info

“ Anticensorship in the Network Infrastructure,” Telex Web Site: