37C3 video: Tor censorship attempts in Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan

by arma | January 8, 2024

Thanks to the excellent volunteers at the Chaos Communications Congress, our 37C3 talk ("Tor censorship attempts in Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan") from Hamburg is now available: video, slides.

Congress is a gathering that celebrates technical work, but we especially appreciate it because of its focus on technical work that has real-world impact. In addition, the CCC community plays a central role in our relay operator world: one of the most important yearly relay operator meetups happens at this event.

Special gratitude to all the people who helped us understand the censorship and oppression tactics in each of these countries -- the engineers and activists who live in the countries and need to understand the systems just to be ordinary internet citizens, the whistleblowers and journalists who worked hard to get word out despite the risk, and folks like Anonymous and DDoSecrets who enable the global community to participate in this work.

Here's the talk description:

In December 2021, months before the world watched Russia invade Ukraine, Russia rolled out comprehensive censorship of the Tor network and related Tor protocols. Then in October 2022, the latest wave of protests in Iran saw a huge spike in Tor usage followed by a swift crackdown of the most successful techniques. Meanwhile in 2023, Turkmenistan has blocked popular CDNs like Cloudflare and Akamai, most hosting providers like Hetzner and OVH, and much more.

On the depressing side, the global censorship trend continues to gain momentum, with some European countries alarmingly eager to get in on it. But resignation is boring: here we are, a tiny community of activists and relay/bridge operators around the world continuing to provide safe and private internet reachability for hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to be human beings under authoritarian regimes.

We will walk through how each of these countries deployed their Tor blocks, and what changes we made to let citizens continue to reach the Tor network. Looking at each case study through a Tor lens will let us compare/contrast the censorship attempts from each country, discuss future ideas for how to make sure the bytes can keep flowing, and talk through the political impacts.


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