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Software to Help Dissidents

Friday, June 26, 2009 at 10:43 AM EDT

China, Myannmar, Iran: surfing in these countries can be dangerous for political opponents. Psiphon software, developed by a Canadian university, can evade the censors of the Internet in non-democratic countries.

This is a recurrent question of Internet users in China: how to circumvent the Great Firewall , the censorship on the Net erected by the Chinese authorities. They may now acquire Psiphon. This software allowing to evade the Net censors, was developed by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto in association with the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and Harvard University.

Ron Deibert, creator of the system, decrypts how it works:

“The only way to bypass filters is to connect to a computer in a democratic country, then make a request via this computer, which then sends you back the information”.

Clearly speaking, the user in the censored country does not install any program on his PC. The citizens of democracies are the ones who download the software, thus becoming a node connection. Then they quietly pass the necessary information (IP address, username and password) to their correspondents in the countries monitored. They can access an encrypted line, reflecting their messages as vulgar trade, banking or shopping on eBay. Provided always that the volume of on line exchanges are important enough for the user under surveillance to blend easily into the flow of commercial transactions. In other words, as stated Ron Deibert, “if you are a dissident known and there is little exchange on the network, as in Uzbekistan or Myannmar, you’d better not to use it at all.”

Ron Deibert has recently created the company Psiphon Inc., to expand the scope of the project. “Upon release of the software, we had great media coverage, with CNN, al Jazeera, BBC, and we were bombarded with emails from countries censored saying” please, I do not know anyone in West, connect me to a node “…” says the director of Citizen Lab.

Thus, Psiphon Inc. will install nodes for powerful users (associations, human rights organizations) that can provide service to residents of non-democratic regions. But install and operate thousands of nodes is expensive. Therefore Psiphon Inc. will market its service to the media and large companies seeking to assist financially this citizen project.