OONI Explorer: Censorship and other Network Anomalies Around the World
Today the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) team is pleased to announce the public beta release of OONI Explorer: a global map of more than 8.5 million network measurements which have been collected across 91 countries around the world over the last 3 years.
OONI is based on 15 free software tests which are designed to measure the following:
- Blocking of websites
- Detection of systems responsible for censorship, surveillance and manipulation
- Reachability of Tor, proxies, VPNs, and sensitive domains
These tests have been run across 398 different vantage points by volunteers around the world since 2012. The OONI Explorer announced today provides a location to interact and - dare we say - explore all of the collected measurements.
Some of the highlights in the data:
1. Confirmed cases of censorship in 9 countries
Multiple HTTP request tests were run around the world and based on our heuristics, we were able to detect block pages in 9 countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece, China, Russia, India, Indonesia and Sudan.
Blocked websites include media, gambling and over-the-counter money exchanges. In Greece, for example, all of the tested ISPs employed DNS hijacking to block such websites, with the exception of Vodafone that also used Deep Packet Inspection. OONI tests in Turkey illustrate that 62 websites were blocked, including piratebay.com, livescore.com and 4shared.com, possibly under Law No. 5651 on the ‘Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publication’. Notably, 362 blocked websites were detected as blocked in Iran and 50 in Saudi Arabia, including arabtimes.com, mossad.gov.il and anonym.to, a URL shortening service with privacy properties.
Some of our tests for domains were focused on specific websites which were rumored or reported to be blocked. In January 2015, for example, the Government of India ordered the blocking of 32 websites under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, and under the Information Technology (Procedures and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. Following these reports, OONI tests run on those websites were able to confirm that 23 of those websites were in fact blocked in the network that was tested, including websites such as pastebin.com, dailymotion.com and archive.org.
Leading up to the 2016 general elections in Uganda, OONI volunteers ran HTTP request tests in response to reports that Facebook and Twitter were being blocked. We did not detect block pages, but we did detect general network anomalies which indicate that it's likely the case that Ugandan ISPs were blocking some requests, but not others. It is also possible that Facebook and Twitter were only blocked in specific networks, and not countrywide.
2. Network anomalies in 71 countries
Out of the 91 countries with reported data, network anomalies were detected in 71 of them.
“Network anomalies” and “network interferences” are broad terms that we use to describe symptoms of censorship through the manipulation of internet traffic. These anomalies can take many forms, including connectivity failures, timeouts and unusual slowness, or unexpected error messages.
Not all HTTP request tests allow us to conclusively know that interference has occurred, because not all interference looks like a clear block page. Sometimes, censorship is hidden as connection failures instead. To gain confidence in detecting this type of interference, we can look at repeated failures to websites that are known to be operating normally. In Cuba, for example, it is interesting to see that while no block pages were detected, HTTP requests to cubafreepress.org failed multiple times.
Symptoms of traffic manipulation were detected in multiple countries around the world through HTTP invalid request line and HTTP header field manipulation tests, which look for middle boxes: network equipment that intercept and sometimes alter the traffic passing through them. Multiple HTTP invalid request line tests run in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 triggered errors and indicate that middle boxes were regularly observing the traffic in the country. Similarly, many HTTP invalid request line tests in Pakistan and elsewhere indicate the presence of software which is capable of traffic manipulation.
3. Blue Coat, Squid and Privoxy detected in 11 countries
Transparent HTTP proxies can be used inside of small and large networks for various purposes: to intercept the web traffic of users, to implement caching or to speed up requests for commonly visited websites.
Through OONI tests we detected 3 different types of proxy technology: Blue Coat, Squid and Privoxy. Blue Coat Systems is a US security and networking solutions provider which has been called out for selling network appliances capable of filtering, censorship, and surveillance to governments with poor human rights records. Its presence, along with Squid and Privoxy, has been reported in the networks of 11 countries: USA, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Moldova, Iraq, Myanmar and Uganda. It remains unclear though whether such middle boxes were actually used for online censorship, surveillance and traffic manipulation, or if they were merely used for caching purposes.
Furthermore, not all the detected instances of proxy technologies are necessarily deployed country-wide or even on an ISP level, but in some cases they might simply be running inside of the local network of the OONI user. It is interesting to note that the use of Blue Coat was first detected in Myanmar in 2012, but when another measurement was run from the same network in 2014 it was no longer detectable in the same way. This can either mean that it was removed or that it is no longer detectable.
Contribute to OONI Explorer
OONI Explorer was made possible by the growing community of volunteers around the world who have contributed to the project. You can contribute too by:
- Running your own measurements with ooni-probe (Note that in some countries collecting measurements could get you into trouble – If you're unsure, contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Exploring OONI Explorer's measurements (Help us find more highlights!)
- Contributing code to the open source software tool
- Participating in the community and providing feedback:
Happy OONI exploring!