Last night's Chaos Computer Congress (28C3) presentation from Jacob Applebaum and Roger Dingledine on the state of the arms race between the Tor anti-censorship/surveillance technology and the world's repressive governments was by turns depressing and inspiring. Dingledine and Applebaum have unique insights into the workings of the technocrats in Iranian, Chinese, Tunisian, Syrian and other repressive states, and the relationship between censorship and other human rights abuses (for example, when other privacy technologies failed, governments sometimes discovered who was discussing revolution and used that as the basis for torture and murder).
Two thirds of the way through the talk, they broaden the context to talk about the role of American companies in the war waged against privacy and free speech -- SmartFilter (now an Intel subsidiary, and a company that has a long history of censoring Boing Boing) is providing support for Iran's censorship efforts, for example. They talked about how Blue Coat and Cisco produce tools that aren't just used to censor, but to spy (all censorware also acts as surveillance technology) and how the spying directly leads to murder and rape and torture.
Then, they talked about the relationship between corporate networks and human rights abuses. Iran, China, and Syria, they say, lack the resources to run their own censorship and surveillance R&D projects, and on their own, they don't present enough of a market to prompt Cisco to spend millions to develop such a thing. But when a big company like Boeing decides to pay Cisco millions and millions of dollars to develop censorware to help it spy on its employees, the world's repressive governments get their R&D subsidized, and Cisco gets a product it can sell to them.
They concluded by talking about how Western governments' insistence on "lawful interception" back-doors in network equipment means that all the off-the-shelf network gear is readymade for spying, so, again, the Syrian secret police and the Iranian telcoms spies don't need to order custom technology that lets them spy on their people, because an American law, CALEA, made it mandatory that this technology be included in all the gear sold in the USA.
If you care at all about the future of free speech, democracy, and privacy, this is an absolute must-see presentation.
How governments have tried to block Tor
Iran blocked Tor handshakes using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) in January 2011 and September 2011. Bluecoat tested out a Tor handshake filter in Syria in June 2011. China has been harvesting and blocking IP addresses for both public Tor relays and private Tor bridges for years.
Roger Dingledine and Jacob Appelbaum will talk about how exactly these governments are doing the blocking, both in terms of what signatures they filter in Tor (and how we've gotten around the blocking in each case), and what technologies they use to deploy the filters -- including the use of Western technology to operate the surveillance and censorship infrastructure in Tunisia (Smartfilter), Syria (Bluecoat), and other countries. We'll cover what we've learned about the mindset of the censor operators (who in many cases don't want to block Tor because they use it!), and how we can measure and track the wide-scale censorship in these countries. Last, we'll explain Tor's development plans to get ahead of the address harvesting and handshake DPI arms races.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.