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Video: Google briefly blocked in China

25 06 2009 – Internet users in China were briefly unable to open Google’s main sites late Wednesday, and the company said it is investigating.

According to many reports, the Chinese authorities have temporarily blocked access to the Chinese version of Google Search, Google.cn, as well as Gmail, at 9pm local time. The sites seem to be available again now, but this is a clear sign that even Google is not untouchable anymore when it comes to Chinese censorship.

The dispute between CIIRC (China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center) and Google – the only company usually considered to be too big to be blocked – began recently, when Google Search started appearing in CIIRC’s reports as a service that disseminates pornographic and vulgar information.

Although Google has promptly promised to do everything in their power to satisfy CIIRC’s demands, it seems that it wasn’t fast or resolute enough, as two of Google’s most important properties – Google Search and Gmail – have been blocked for several hours. The block has been lifted, but Google is no longer untouchable; next time, it might get blocked for days, weeks or months, just like so many other sites. Furthermore, according to some sources, the Chinese censors have even tried to frame Google, artificially pushing some inappropriate results to the list of the most common searched terms.

In some ways, this is good news. Blocking Google Search, the site that merely indexes and provides links to content hosted elsewhere, just goes on to show that everything on the Internet is connected in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to censor one part without censoring the others. Earlier, sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr were blocked; with Google Search blocked, Chinese censors are showing their true intent: they’d ultimately like to block every part of the Internet that’s not under their strict control.

It’ll be interesting to see Google’s reaction to this latest slap in the face from CIIRC. Surely, they will try to further cripple Google.cn (they already removed the option to search foreign websites), but at one point it might become pointless, as the service will no longer be what it’s supposed to be: a search engine. Will Google.cn turn into a site that links only to sites approved by Chinese censors, or will Google finally muster the courage to say enough is enough? We’ll see.

Source: mashable.com

Iran Has Built a Censorship Monster, With Help From Western Tech

22 06 2009 – When it comes to online censorship and monitoring online activities, the first country that usually comes to mind is China and its Great Firewall.

This, however, may soon change, as it seems that Iran has built one of the most advanced systems for monitoring all online traffic, with the help of technology built by Nokia and Siemens.

The Great Firewall of Iran, as it will undoubtedly be dubbed, involves deep packet inspection, a technique that examines both the header and the data part of internet data packets and can be used for eavesdropping, censorship and data mining.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran’s online monitoring and censorship system digs through data at one big choke point, which is made easy by the fact that the government owns a telecom which holds a monopoly over the country’s online communication. This is different from China’s Great Firewall, which is far more decentralized, but it makes it even more advanced than the Chinese version, since it’s easier to monitor traffic at one point than having to synchronize such efforts at many locations. This is enhanced by the fact that China has 300 million Internet users, compared to Iran’s 23 million Internet users.

The equipment that enables such measures has been provided to Iran, in part, by a joint venture between Nokia and Siemens, and according to the WSJ, the spokesman for the venture, Ben Roome, has confirmed this. However, the company has since sold the business of “and interception of all types of voice and data communication on all networks” – as described in the company brochure – to a Munich-based investment firm Perusa Partners Fund 1 LP.

The morality of creating “intelligence solutions” such as these and selling them to oppressive regimes is subject to debate. However, what the end user needs to be concerned with is stopping and preventing such measures. One approach, is encryption. The idea is for a critical mass of users – perhaps 30% of all Internet users – to start encrypting their Internet traffic, which would make it too expensive and too complex for any organization, even a government of a wealthy country, to monitor it.

Several initiatives that help end users easily encrypt traffic have emerged in recent years; hopefully, some of them will soon enter the mainstream and make any censorship and online monitoring effort futile.

Source: mashable.com