Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
With many reports becoming all to familiar with state sponsored censorship of internet traffic users in these nations are engaged in a cat and mouse game with a government that is showing increasing levels of sophistication and legislative muscle. The tactics often used include filtering objectionable material, firewalling targeted IP addresses, tracing data back to individuals and sanctioning those individuals, and creating a system of fear generally in which the public is dissuaded into engaging in free speech.
The common element in these electronic censorship measures is that the government controls access via the physical structure of the network. They are able to do this through land based infrastructure. But what if these physical vulnerabilities to free speech and press were removed and instead replaced with broadcast satellite systems that are immune from filtering and geo-locating individuals?
Recent reports in Turkey show the length politicians in government are willing to go to stifle opposition and dissent. According to an article in Deutsche Welle the Turkish government is set to enact stringent controls on internet websites by requiring the official Turkish internet regulator to block certain sites the government objects to without a warrant and to require Internet Service Providers to retain access and content information generated by users. The law also would target individuals for arrest for violation of these censorship laws. The rules come up at a time when there have been large street protests in major cities and a growing number of dissenters who have used social networking and private internet sites to organize and voice opposition. China is world famous, along with other nations, in restricting access and tracing individuals for punishment.
Without bogging down the reader with the details and mechanics of internet transmission protocols, the basic format to how governments can track and block data is because the nature on how most traffic is conveyed. Computer-1 wishes to send data to Computer-2 through the network. Computer-1 breaks the message by dividing it into individual packets each having the source and destination addresses for the two some overhead and a piece of the message. The network then routes these packets through various “hops” such as routers, switches, gateways etc. Each packet can take a different path due to traffic efficiencies where the hops then direct the packet closer and closer to the Computer-2. The packets are then assembled by Conputer-2 and the message is received.
Due to various aspects of this system, the eavesdropper or censor will know a piece of the information due to the packet containing source and destination of the packet (Computers 1 and 2) The government does not necessarily have to have a monitor on every computer to know who is talking to whom but just needs to monitor a few common gateways that packets can pass through. The government can then hone in to a hop next to the offending user and then watch everything that their computer sends or receives and can then eavesdrop on what is being sent.
There is a possible workaround to this eavesdropping and censorship inherent in Satellite Hosted Internet. Satellites can be configured for broadcast transmission using radio waves rather than copper or fiber wires. While there are systems where a satellite transmits to an intermediary ground station which then relays traffic to users it is not fully necessary, though it is more efficient. Satellite Internet is much more expensive than traditional consumer internet and there is latency problems (time delay) for certain applications. But protocols can be designed and used by transponders to provide an ad-hoc system that is nearly untraceable.
Many systems can be designed but for simple illustrative purposes a system can be architected where the user’s computer generates a large random number, one that is nearly impossible to have been duplicated by another user in that time, that is used as its address for purposes of sending and receiving data. The satellite system would then relay it to a ground station in a friendly and open country that would then proxy the user’s random number into an IP address that the regular internet can use to route the transaction. When the data is then sent back to the user, the user’s satellite equipment listens for that random number and when received passes the message to the computer. The random number would have a short period for which it is used after which it is then discarded and a new one generated to prevent tracing. The user can also take advantage of very strong encryption available to prevent eavesdropping. While agencies such as the NSA have shown ability to break this, ordinary users cannot. The scope of this is not, however, about encryption technology and breakage by governments but censorship and tracing.
The satellite system would be largely immune from censorship in the internet sense because there is no intermediary hop between the user and the satellite itself. There are two ways the government can attempt to thwart this would be to jam the radio signal, which would have other problems associated with it such as geopolitical politics and interference with other satellite communications, or attacks on the end users such as in one case the government of Iran targeting individuals who have constructed satellite receivers.
But it could be a good discussion for various civil libertarians and the internet community as a whole to craft and fund as a grass roots effort to provide the freedom of speech that many in other nations are not given.
By Darren Smith
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