Nov 27

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Psiphon For Trusted Surfing

As reported in the NY Times, University of Toronto researchers have come up with a new method for internet surfers in censored countries to surf freely.

Psiphon is downloaded by a person in an uncensored country (, turning that person’s computer into an access point. Someone in a restricted-access country can then log into that computer through an encrypted connection and using it as a proxy, gain access to censored sites. The program’s designers say there is no evidence on the user’s computer of having viewed censored material once they erase their Internet history after each use. The software is part of a broader effort to live up to the initial hopes human rights activists had that the Internet would provide unprecedented freedom of expression for those living in restrictive countries.

“Governments have militarized 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,” Dr. Deibert said.

When it opened in 2000, the Citizen Lab, which is one of four institutions in the OpenNet Initiative (, was actively monitoring a handful of countries, mainly China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, that censored the Internet. But citing increased filtering by governments, the lab now monitors more than 40 countries.

The program’s designers say existing anticensorship programs are too complicated for everyday computer users, leave evidence on the user’s computer and lack security in part because they have to be advertised publicly, making it easy for censors to detect and block access to them.

It's a great idea, but as mentioned in the article most pieces of software like this are made for geeks. This is primarily due to their difficulty to use and install. It seems that the Psiphon will be easy to use but will require connections outside the censored country; connections that mostly geeks and the affluent have.

The current software of choice for this type of activity is Tor. When used, Tor connects to other Tor clients throughout your session and uses them as proxies to conceal your both your origin and destination. Tor has the advantage of not needing a trusted contact, but it does require the ability to install it. Tor is used by a wide variety of groups including the US government, IndyMedia, and the EFF. To learn more about Tor read the overview.

When I was visiting China I was not able to install Tor (I wonder now if i could have run it from a thumbdrive), but I would have been able to use Psiphon on most computers. Psiphon will be released December 1st.

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Comments: 1

  David A [12.01.06 05:38 AM]

Tor is useful in "civilised" countries, but in oppressive regimes they could just arrest you for possessing the software at all - hence approaches like this that don't need any specific software.

It's not clear from the article whether Psiphone would be vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack, though.

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