8. How to remain anonymous and bypass censorship on the Internet

Many countries around the world have installed software that prevents Internet users within those countries from accessing certain websites and Internet services. Companies, schools and public libraries often use similar software to protect their employees, students and patrons from material that they consider distracting or harmful. This kind of filtering technology comes in a number of different forms. Some filters block a site based on its IP address, while others blacklist certain domain names or search through all unencrypted Internet communication, looking for specific keywords.

Regardless of what filtering methods are present, it is nearly always possible to evade them by relying on intermediary computers, outside your country, to reach blocked services for you. This process is often called censorship circumvention, or simply circumvention, and the intermediary computers are called proxies. Proxies, too, come in many different forms. This chapter includes a brief discussion of multiple-proxy anonymity networks followed by a more thorough description of basic circumvention proxies and how they work.

Both of these methods are effective ways to evade Internet filters, although the former is most appropriate if you are willing to sacrifice speed in order to keep your Internet activities as anonymous as possible. If you know and trust the individual or organization that operates your proxy, or if performance is more important to you than anonymity, then a basic circumvention proxy might serve you better.

Background scenario

Mansour and Magda are siblings, in an Arabic-speaking country, who maintain a blog on which they anonymously publicise human rights abuses and campaign for political change. The authorities in their country have not been able to shut down their website, because it is hosted in another country, but they have often tried to learn the identity of the blog's administrators from other activists. Mansour and Magda are concerned that the authorities may be able to monitor their updates and learn who they are. In addition, they want to prepare for when the government eventually filters their website, not only so that they can continue updating it, but also in order to provide good circumvention advice to readers within their own country, who would otherwise lose access to the blog.

What you can learn from this chapter

  • How to access a website that is blocked from within your country
  • How to prevent websites that you visit from knowing your location
  • How to ensure that neither your ISP nor a surveillance organization in your country can determine which websites and Internet services you visit