Week in Review: March 9, 2018

by Dan Bateyko

Citizen Lab finds evidence of Internet tampering in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt

In a report released this week, the Toronto-based research organization Citizen Lab details evidence of middlebox devices operating in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, which redirect Internet traffic for dubious ends. In the case of Turkey and Syria, the middleboxes redirect users attempting to download legitimate programs, such as Avast Antivirus, CCleaner, and Opera, to versions bundled with spyware. In Egypt, Citizen Lab found evidence of similar devices redirecting Internet users to affiliate ads and cryptocurrency mining scripts. Citizen Lab’s researchers hypothesize that the same middleboxes used to redirect users are responsible for Egyptian and Turkish website censorship.

These exploits work through network injection; as Citizen Lab describes “In network injection, a middlebox operates over connections between a target and an Internet site they are visiting. If the connection is unauthenticated (e.g., HTTP and not HTTPS), then the middlebox can be used to tamper with data to inject a spoofed response from the Internet site.”

The redirection is in part made possible because many of the official websites for the affected programs directed users to insecure download pages. As the Citizen Lab report details, even websites supporting HTTPS on their domain might direct users to non-HTTPS downloads.

Internet users can help secure their browsing by telling their browser to prefer HTTPS traffic by using extensions like HTTPS Everywhere. Website operators can freely generate SSL/TLS certificates to support HTTPS through Let’s Encrypt.

Indonesia blocks access to Tumblr over pornography concerns

Indonesia blocked access to the blogging website Tumblr following complaints of pornographic content, reports Reuters.The communications ministry claimed it received reports of obscenity on the platform, leading them to send a letter to Tumblr demanding they remove pornographic content. In 2014, the ministry blocked access to the video streaming website Vimeo, citingr similar concerns.

Internet Monitor's 2017 country profile of Indonesia found that "the government pervasively blocks political sites focused on criticism of the government or of Islam" and that "a broad cross-section of social topics including pornography, gambling, online dating, gaming, and alcohol and drugs are targeted." Freedom House's 2017 Freedom on the Net similarly reports that "online content is frequently blocked for violating laws or social norms, including political information, criticism of the majority religion, Islam, and websites serving the LGBTI community."

To read more about religion-based Internet censorship, see Berkman Klein Center affiliate Helmi Noman’s report “In the Name of God: Faith-based Internet Censorship in Majority Muslim Countries.

EFF shares infographics on the effects of online censorship on vulnerable communities

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released an awareness project this week titled Offline-Online, “exploring how content moderation practices by social media companies impact marginalized communities.” In an accompanying blog post, EFF enumerated accounts of platform censorship affecting vulnerable communities, such as Facebook’s Community Standards rules allowing for activist reports of human rights abuses in Myanmar to be flagged for takedown. The EFF post also draws parallels in how inequities faced by communities “offline” are be replicated online; one infographic compares the U.S.’ Dawes Act of 1887 attempt at assimilating Native people by doling out Christian names to Facebook’s Real Name policy, which affects those with indigenous names perceived by Facebook moderation as “fake.”

The visuals are available on OnlineCensorship.org, a project that encourages social media companies to work with greater transparency and accountability when regulating speech.