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Chinese Censor-Beating Software Resembles Malware, But Isn't 160

Posted by timothy
from the good-to-know dept.
coondoggie writes "Software designed to beat Chinese censorship may behave in ways that seem suspect, but it is all part of the application's strategy to fool the Great Firewall of China, according to one programmer of the software. 'There are many built-in tricks that do all kinds of things to confuse the firewall,' says David Tian, a scientist for NASA who works spare-time on UltraSurf, the free software designed to promote unrestricted Internet access for citizens of China persecuted for being members of Falun Gang, the religious group the Chinese government is trying to suppress."
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Chinese Censor-Beating Resembles Malware, But Isn't

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  • Falun Gang (Score:5, Informative)

    by argux (568146) <dazu.huike@BOHRgmail.com minus physicist> on Saturday August 29, 2009 @10:54PM (#29248685) Homepage

    I think it's Falun Gong [wikipedia.org]

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:09PM (#29248757)

      I think it's Falun Gong

      Great, now Slashdot will be censored in China. I hope you are happy.

      • Re:Falun Gang (Score:5, Interesting)

        by rchh (658159) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @03:07AM (#29249753) Homepage
        I am currently in China and the Internet censoring is not as bad as I had thought. I can open most websites, including BBC and New York Times. Most online proxies work. I can read any article from wikipedia- including that of Falun Gong ,Tibet and Human Rights.The most notable failures are Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch websites. Maybe I can read most websites because they are in English?
        • Or you're just being tracked. Don't worry, someone will be by to collect you for reeducation and execution shortly.
          • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            -1 boring, and spoken like someone who's never even visited China.

            To get the attention of the Chinese authorities, you would have to be important. That means someone who's a threat in some way.
            Assuming you're a white English speaker, that rules you out. You wouldn't even appear on the radar.

            Now the perverse thing was that I found China to be more free, everything being relative.
            I don't smoke pot.
            I don't steal cars.
            I do share thousands of files, some of which are going to attract the growing intellectual pro

            • Here in the United States, you are also free to do what you want, as long as you do not break the law. We just happen to have a different set of laws, which are less restrictive with regard to what information you are allowed to access, but more restrictive with regard to which information you are allowed to share with others.
            • by ross.w (87751)

              I found this myself when I was there. There are laws, but they appeared to be enforced selectively, based on whether or not they are trying to put pressure on you or someone you work for.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by khayman80 (824400)
          Yes. The great firewall blocks Chinese access more than English access.
        • by selven (1556643)
          Why would China care about keeping information from people who are either going to take the return flight home in a few days or are already educated enough to circumvent the censorship?
          • by DJRumpy (1345787)
            Because if they are citizens, they can in turn educate others. Probably why they don't care about English sites, although I would think that is a obvious vector to bypass restrictions.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Uhm Falun gang is not far from the truth. Although I do not agree with the Chinese government's methods of persecution, falun gong is akin to scientology in own operations.

      anon. cow. for good reason

      • by kdemetter (965669)

        Uhm Falun gang is not far from the truth. Although I do not agree with the Chinese government's methods of persecution, falun gong is akin to scientology in own operations.

        anon. cow. for good reason

        Only if you believe everything the Chinese Ministry of Truth (or lack thereof) tells you.
        From my point of view , it's resembles a form of Budhism , and that's one of the most peaceful religions i know.

        • by PiSkyHi (1049584)

          Its akin to scientology in a way, I think only in that it is a form of Qi gong, as such, many of its principles are about the energy of the body and proclaim things as science, when in fact they are spiritually based, not scientifically based.

          This is true of all qi gong forms in China - most of them well respected like a science, but without rigor for truth.

          Many qi gong principles are common sense and others are almost like faith healing. None are to be tested, but many have a good standing in universities.

          • And my mother practices Reiki, beliving crystal rocks and chakra/chi are used to heal the body, despite (to my knowledge) any actual benefits noted by any reputable scientific source beyond the placebo effect.

            There are a lot of religious groups who claim their religion follows the strict, rigorous testings of science. Hell, creationists have museums to "explain" why it's a scientifically valid theory.

            The problem with your comparison to Scientology is when most people hear "Scientology," they think "money-gr

            • by PiSkyHi (1049584)

              Actually, I tend to think of that of any modern American Christian religion.

              • To be honest, so do I, but I'm speaking from how most people think.

                • by Slur (61510)
                  And you might also think differently about the Hare Krishnas if you read Monkey on a Stick [amazon.com] - although it seems perhaps a more peaceful sect now than during the frenetic 60's.
            • by kdemetter (965669)

              The problem with your comparison to Scientology is when most people hear "Scientology," they think "money-grubbing, murderous, evil bastards."

              You are right , that is exactly what i thought .

            • by Jurily (900488)

              despite (to my knowledge) any actual benefits noted by any reputable scientific source beyond the placebo effect.

              The good old placebo effect has healed more people than any of your fancy science. If she uses crystal rocks and she's healthy, why do you care?

              If you have a headache and a placebo pill that only works 80% of the time, take 10 and be done with it. Fun fact: said placebo pills are actually banned in the US. I don't think I'll ever understand why.

            • by dintech (998802)

              when most people hear "Scientology," they think "money-grubbing, murderous, evil bastards."

              Isn't that true of all mass organsied religion?

  • Confuse it? How? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:06PM (#29248737)

    You shouldn't be trying to "confuse it", you should be making sure that the traffic patterns aren't unique and discernable. In other words, using steganography. All this "confusion" stuff I read in the article gives the user a distinct pattern of behavior that can identify the user as actively using said software. If you're trying to get under the radar of the government, don't start by sending up a big digital flare that says "Hey! I'm trying to bypass your crap." It usually ends badly for the would-be revolutionary, who's first job (I might add) is to survive.

    Even in so-called "free" countries like the US, the government can imprison people indefinately on the off chance that the encrypted data may be subversive. How do you suppose China would handle it? Encryption doesn't enable free speech -- a gun to the head is a pretty effective way of recovering the key.

    Save lives: Use stenography.

    • by tecnico.hitos (1490201) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:14PM (#29248779)

      Save lives: Use stenography.

      abv cmt shd b fxd

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        abv cmt shd b fxd

        ebg13 be fvzvyne vf abg fgrabtencul. Nyfb, gb jungrire zbqrengbe qrpbqrf guvf: Zbq rirelbar jub cbfgf gur bevtvany -1, sbe orvat gbb ynml gb tbbtyr sbe ebg13.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      They might do something like the firefox plug "Track me not"
      http://mrl.nyu.edu/~dhowe/TrackMeNot/
      It sends out search based noise and obfuscation by making randomized search-queries to popular search engines, e.g., AOL, Yahoo!, Google, and MSN..
      • Re:Confuse it? How? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:32PM (#29248885)

        It sends out search based noise and obfuscation by making randomized search-queries to popular search engines, e.g., AOL, Yahoo!, Google, and MSN..

        *face palm* Googling "how do I blow up government buildings" is going to attract the attention of shub internet no matter how many bogus queries you put before or after it. Most filtering schemes are based on content -- they don't care to do statistical analysis. You're just not that important. All they need to hang you is proof you visited a certain website or looked for certain terms. For example, if I typ[$)%(T^NO CARRIER

        • by AHuxley (892839)
          "girlintraining" the point is to have some nice, boring background 'chatter' looking up random 'safe' terms.
          Like the NSA, China would pick up on some terms mostly to do with tanks and people in the late 1980-90's ect.
          Been stuck on some ip with junk packets moving around after day might trip something to..
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by interkin3tic (1469267)

          Googling "how do I blow up government buildings" is going to attract the attention of shub internet no matter how many bogus queries you put before or after it.

          If anyone is wondering the answer to that question but doesn't want to attract the attention of the "shub" internet, I've got the answer right here. There is usually somewhere on the building a small thermal exhaust port approximately 2 meters wide. A direct hit with a proton torpedo should cause a chain reaction that will destroy it. I should caution you that ONLY a direct hit will cause a chain reaction.

        • by PReDiToR (687141)
          Could I suggest Scroogle's SSL [scroogle.org] with the POST [scroogle.org] method?

          Breaks my heart to see everyone here talking about Google, but maybe that's because I'm on UK's Virgin (likely to be Phorm infested at any time makes you paranoid).
        • by mikael (484)

          You need to camouflage the message so that it becomes entirely innocent:

          How do I blow up a thousand party balloons for a party being held in a couple of Government buildings?

    • by arctanx (1187415)

      Possibly you mean "steganography". :) You're absolutely right -- it's the online equivalent of (oblig.) http://xkcd.com/538/ [xkcd.com]

      In fact, it may already be happening. For all we know, Twitter might _actually_ be a sophisticated stream of secrets from China, simply veiled behind trending topic spam and comments about who had what for dinner.

    • by Korbeau (913903)

      Like a cat, of course! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2Je1CEPkUM [youtube.com]

    • you should be making sure that the traffic patterns aren't unique and discernable. In other words, using steganography. All this "confusion" stuff I read in the article gives the user a distinct pattern of behavior that can identify the user as actively using said software.

      From what I gather from the article, it is actually the opposite of what you though it was:

      Chinese authorities monitor UltraSurf carefully and try to identify signatures that can be used to set filters, so the software sends out useless traffic to make noise that makes it difficult to characterize the legitimate traffic, he says. ... UltraSurf programmers play a cat-and-mouse game with Chinese censors trying to block its traffic, so the team working on it has to continually alter its methods to adapt to each innovation in the Great Firewall, he says. "We have a great understanding of the Great Firewall and how to defeat it."

      It could have been clearer if he had used the word "deceive" instead of "confuse", or if you had actually read the article. Oh wait sorry, forgot where I was.

  • do'h (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pbjones (315127) * on Saturday August 29, 2009 @11:44PM (#29248929)

    and no chinese read /. so the secret is safe.

    • by euyis (1521257)
      hello i'm chinese and i think you should know it.
      • by Toonol (1057698)
        But are you really posting, or is this a random obfuscatory computer-generated posting in order to hide your true posting pattern?
  • Or so David Tian would like you to believe, but did any of us think that he may be using his software as a ploy to deploy real Malware and take down the Chinese space program, from the inside!! If you listen you can hear the muah ha ha echo after reading the blip.
  • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @12:32AM (#29249171) Homepage
    Seriously, wtf is this Western obsession with the Falun Gong? On one hand, you have fundamentalist athiests in charge of Western media who take every opportunity to attack and discredit any religion, much less crazy cults like Scientology or Raëlism. On the other hand, you have those same exact people coming to the defense of Falun Gong! Everyone knows they're nuts, right? To call them the Mormons of China would be too mild, they're more like the Branch Davidians. So, to sum up, we have hardcore athiests getting really offended that an officially atheist government (the best kind!) is cracking down on religion. Strange days, eh?

    My own personal explanation for this bizarre behavior is that Westerners actually don't know anything about Falun Gong, and don't care to learn. They are comfortable with the "narrative" that FG=good, China=bad. And as recent events have shown, narratives are more important and cherished than the actual facts on the ground. People get *angry* when their comfortable narratives are revealed to be inaccurate.

    • Atheist media? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MushMouth (5650) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @12:46AM (#29249221) Homepage

      While I agree that Falun Gong is a total wacky cult (and I have old friends where sadly involved with it), but maybe you should think with a little objectivity calling the media atheist. I mean the one thing that a US presidential candidate must do is prove their love to Jesus. Don't you think if the media were atheist this sort of thing would be questioned a bit more. The one thing that a major political candidate simply can not be is Atheist, polls have pretty much proven that we will get an islamic president before we get an atheist. Personally I find the rites of all christianity, and bible stories just as nutty as the Xenu crap. Think for a second if you first heard these stories when you were in your 20s.

      • by BountyX (1227176)

        I mean the one thing that a US presidential candidate must do is prove their love to Jesus

        Not just presidents, congressmen too. I personally think Obama is agnostic and his Christian faith is merely political.

      • While I agree that Falun Gong is a total wacky cult (and I have old friends where sadly involved with it), but maybe you should think with a little objectivity calling the media atheist.
        Calling them collectively atheist is indeed objective. As opposed to what, reporters for the 700 Club? The heartwarming "conversion of the week" series on 60 Minutes?

        I mean the one thing that a US presidential candidate must do is prove their love to Jesus.
        Hey, we were talking about the media - how'd we switch gears t

      • by ZeRu (1486391)
        You know what, Cuba is so close and has an atheist for president. So you're free to go there if you feel oppressed as an atheist in the USA.
    • On one hand, you have fundamentalist athiests in charge of Western media who take every opportunity to attack and discredit any religion, much less crazy cults like Scientology or Raelism.

      "Western media" is hardly homogenous.

    • by BountyX (1227176)
      seriously? atheist media? by media I assume primarily television? give me a break. the only atheist media I know is /. (or maybe the entire internet).
    • by rohan972 (880586)

      On one hand, you have fundamentalist athiests in charge of Western media who take every opportunity to attack and discredit any religion

      The attacks on religion carried out tend to be a little less brutal than harvesting religious people for organs. Nobody cares if Falun Gong is criticized.

      an officially atheist government (the best kind!)

      Officially atheist governments have tended to be every bit as brutal as theocratic dictatorships. Secular government is far more desirable. Religious beliefs should be irrelevant to government since they cannot issue a decree that affects the existence or otherwise of any god. Believing something without evidence is not valid grounds for criminal sanctions

      • Religious beliefs should be irrelevant to government since they cannot issue a decree that affects the existence or otherwise of any god.

        Having just re-read I, Claudius and Claudius the God, I couldn't help but chuckle a bit at this. I'm sure the Roman Senate could have benefited immensely from your sagacity.

    • Seriously, wtf is this Western obsession with the Falun Gong?

      About fifteen or twenty years ago, some US newspaper columnists were comparing them (somewhat favorably) to the "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists". I'm not sure whether this comparison was original, or derived from CCP communiques. In the spirit of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", FG became somewhat celebrated.

    • Because some people, such as myself, are fully in favor of making fun of religions, but object to the 'cracking down' part. As insane as Falun Gong might be, they should be allowed to preach and practice whatever the hell they want as long as they don't resort to actual physical violence, just as the society should be free to do any counter-propaganda - but blanket censorship and putting a lot of practitioners in prison is crossing the line.
    • by dangitman (862676)

      you have fundamentalist athiests in charge of Western media who take every opportunity to attack and discredit any religion

      As an atheist, I would really have liked to get the memo that we are now in charge of the Western media. That could have been quite handy for my career.

    • by Toonol (1057698)
      Falun Gong is just as stupid as Christianity. But I'd gladly fight to protect people's right to practice either. I don't give a royal flying fuck whether Falun Gong are the 'Mormons of China', when I'd stand up for the Mormons of the U.S.

      You don't criminalize beliefs. If you think they're wrong TALK TO THEM. That's what adults and civilized countries learn.
    • Religion in China is allowed as long as it's "approved" by the dictatorship.

      Falun Gong = Branch Davidians? That's a rich one. So the FG are stockpiling small arms, explosives and .50 caliber machineguns, and it's an anti-China conspiracy that the Western media and public ignores... right.

      You can delude yourself all you want, but the fact of the matter is, in Western countries you have a whole lot more freedom than you do in China. Oh, and you don't fucking get tortured and executed for your religious belief

    • I did practice Falung Gong for half a year, and although I no longer believe in it, I still stand up to defend the cultivation practice any time. Their one and only law is that of Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance. And every falun gong practitioner I ever met tried to follow these "rules" as best as he could. Thus meaning that Falun Gong indeed is good. And the goverment is prosecuting them, putting them in labour camps and torturing them to death for no other reason than them trying to be compassionat
    • I am as opposed to the Chinese government's crackdown on Falun Gong as I would be to a US government crackdown on Mormonism. The active members of Falun Gong may be weirdos, their beliefs may be weird, but there is no evidence that they are a threat to anyone (as opposed to, say, the Branch Davidians, who were preparing to go to war with the United States and had a stockpile of guns and ammunition, including several .50 caliber guns).

      This next sentence is intended to be an insult: you sound like a shil
    • by mgblst (80109)

      Becuase disagreeing with religious nuts, and arguing with them is somehow similar to locking them up, beating them and kicking them out of the country?

    • Just to throw a little petrol on the bonfire, they're spammers too - or, at least, some of their followers are. I've been playing wack-a-mole with them at work for at least the last three years. Over that time they've been spamming addresses harvested from our internal staff directory (probably harvested by sympathisers on staff), inlcuding departmental contact addresses and roles like postmaster, and pissing off a reasonable number of my users in the process. They've used at least three different ADSL and
  • Announcing that the software that could be used to bypass their filters is indistinguishable from malware will mean than soon China will be the country with less malware (ok, if you want, non-government sponsored malware) in the world. Not sure how much that will hit botnets, or the level of spam, but probably could be enough to make a difference.

    Also, that could be very bad news for malware/botnet/spambots programmers/controllers... at least, i hope so.
  • I've often thought that, but expecially just now, when I couldn't figure out from the title whether
    Chinese {Censor-Beating} Software...
    or
    {Chinese Censor}-Beating...
    were meant. Though one should take no joy in anyone's being beaten, I found myself somewhat warming to the concept of code that beat censors....

    ('Mental plan!')
    • Um... neither of the two phrases there differ in the way I think you're trying to imply, though they differentiate between the software being Chinese and the censors being Chinese. You're being mislead by alternative meanings for the word "beating" (defeating versus physically injuring), and correspondingly thinking that the "censor" is a person rather than an anonymous collection of hardware/software.

      Personally, I'd have been tempted to write "Chinese-Censor-Beating Software", as that implies that the ce
  • I wonder (Score:1, Troll)

    by Cornwallis (1188489)
    if the developer will be able to tweak the software to save us from the U.S. Government Overlords who want to want to cut access to the Internet in the event of an "emergency" as defined by President Nobama?
  • by Carra (1220410)
    I thought Ultrasurf was created to allow people to browse porn at work.
  • by Shoten (260439) on Sunday August 30, 2009 @10:38AM (#29251419)

    Steve Topletz and Jonathan Logan gave a fascinating talk at the BlackHat Briefings this past July, where among other things they discussed how one Chinese tactic in dealing with privacy groups is to set up their own organizations...a darker kind of astroturfing, if you will...that compete against legitimate privacy-focused groups. They also detailed their analysis of UltraSurf, which revealed some fairly horrifying things. For one, it's not just the code itself that historically has been trojan-esque in nature, but the behavior as well. Once they fired it up, it started probing a multitude of networks, all belonging to either Western governments, the financial sector, or the military. Also, it demonstrated that it was listening in within SSL sessions, as demonstrated by its behavior when browsing within SSL would return an error page (even a custom one, that wouldn't be of the normal size expected for a 404 response, for example). So, I'm not too likely to believe a guy just because he works for NASA; NASA is not an organization that was founded to provide bona fides for security researchers, so it really doesn't add any mantle of credibility for this topic.

  • The biggest problem is plausible deniability - if they search your computer and find the software, how do you explain its presence?

    There is really only one way to solve this problem: the software must credibly pass as malware. It must have at least some of the traits of malware, and it must be actively used as malware, otherwise it's not credible, and in sufficiently oppressive countries you will likely end in prison for just having it on your machine.

  • Did you see that little gem hidden in the description? The program is behaving like malware to fool the Great Firewall. Since the goal is bypassing the Great Firewall, does that mean that the Great Firewall is more lenient if it thinks the traffic that is hitting it is generated by malware?

    Just thinking...

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