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Web browsing behind closed doors

Psiphon bypasses government censors

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Canadian developers will next month release a tool to bypass government-enforced restrictions on web browsing in countries like China, Syria and Iran.

The University of Toronto has developed the Citizens Lab software in the hope that government internet censorship can be effectively circumnavigated.

Psiphon is an open source software program using the GPL license, and will be free to download from 1 December.

It works when a net user - or psiphonode - in an uncensored country downloading the software onto their computer, which in turn creates an access point through an encrypted connection to a proxy server.

They can then pass on a unique web address with a login and password to someone in an internet-restricted country - or a psiphonite - who links directly to it without the need to run software locally.

Even if the website is blocked, developers claim that it is incredibly simple for a psiphonite to reconnect because the system operates using a social network built up through trusted relationships.

Although the software encrypts traffic between the provider and user, content accessed is not anonymous which means all websites visited can be monitored. As a result, Citizens Lab advises against using it "for anything you do not want the psiphon provider to be able to see."

It also points out that "bypassing censorship may violate law" and that "serious thought should be given to the risks involved" where internet restrictions in specific countries apply.

The director of Citizens Lab, Dr Ronald Deibert told the New York Times: "Governments have militarised their censorship efforts to an incredible extent so we're trying to reverse some of that and restore that promise that the internet once had for unfettered access and communication."

Human rights group Amnesty International, which is currently running the irrepressible.info campaign, welcomed the move. A spokesperson told El Reg: "Despite the attempts from repressive governments, an increasing number of brave activists are evading censorship and using the internet to impart and receive information about human rights.

"Amnesty started the irrepressible.info campaign to champion their cause and combat internet repression. We hope that the new Psiphon software will also help people express their peaceful political views online."

The software runs on Linux and Windows with developers currently working on a Mac conversion. ®

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