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Canadian team developing means to bypass Web censorship

Cecylia Bocovich.

Researchers at Canada's University of Waterloo are developing technology that will allow residents of countries where the Internet is censored to access restricted websites.

Called Slitheen — after the aliens on Doctor Who who disguise themselves as humans to evade detection — the technology will provide users with content blocked in their region and also not reveal that they bypassing the censorship.

"Some countries block certain websites based on their Web address or their content,” said Ian Goldberg, a professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo.

"Similar to the aliens on Doctor Who, our Slitheen censorship-resistance system works by disguising your connection to a restricted website — for example, a connection to Wikipedia or The New York Times — as that of an allowed website, maybe a site about cute cats."

The technology is a work in progress but the research team hopes to have a working version ready for use by the public within a year.

Cecylia Bocovich (seen above), a doctoral student in Goldberg’s lab, and leader of the research project, said: “The technology not only provides users with content blocked in their region, but it also protects them by hiding the fact that they are evading their country’s censorship policies.”

Prof Goldberg, who is also a founding member of the Cryptography, Security, and Privacy research group at Waterloo, acknowledged that a system such as that being developed never would be complete, no matter how sophisticated a censorship-resistance system was.

“Unlike other fields of computer science, we have active adversaries. People see our research and how to protect a system and they use that to try to defeat," he said.

"We have to play both sides of the game — thinking like an attacker to try to defeat our own systems, in order to build better defences.

“There’s always an arms race where the defender makes a better system, then the attacker makes a better system. This is what makes the research fun and interesting but also very challenging."

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.