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US Military Blocks Websites To Free Up Bandwidth 164

Posted by timothy
from the but-why-is-virgin-mobile-doing-it-to-me? dept.
DJRumpy writes "The US military has blocked access to a range of popular commercial websites in order to free up bandwidth for use in Japan recovery efforts, according to an e-mail obtained by CNN and confirmed by a spokesman for US Strategic Command. The sites — including YouTube, ESPN, Amazon, eBay and MTV — were chosen not because of the content but because their popularity among users of military computers account for significant bandwidth, according to Strategic Command spokesman Rodney Ellison. The block, instituted Monday, is intended 'to make sure bandwidth was available in Japan for military operations' as the United States helps in the aftermath of last week's deadly earthquake and tsunami, Ellison explained."
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US Military Blocks Websites To Free Up Bandwidth

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  • This is unclear (I even read TFA). Who exactly is being blocked? The Japanese? The US Military? Everyone?
    • Re:Unclear (Score:4, Informative)

      by religious freak (1005821) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:24AM (#35501604)
      Oh. Damn. Nevermind. Reading Fail.

      U.S. Pacific Command made the request to free up the bandwidth. The sites, 13 in all, are blocked across the Department of Defense's .mil computer system.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bberens (965711)
        Clearly the military does not believe in capitalism and letting the free market decide where to allocate resources. Socialism is WRONG!!!
        • by tacarat (696339)
          Free healthcare, the same pay amongst peers (regardless of the profession), food and shelter paid for by the government. The military is socialist, you insensitive capitalist pig!

          Gawdz, I miss it some days. Mostly while doing my insurance forms >.>
  • So, wont people just use alternate sites for veiwing the same content? Also, wouldnt this lead to an increase in traffic as people search for alternate sites?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, wont people just use alternate sites for veiwing the same content? Also, wouldnt this lead to an increase in traffic as people search for alternate sites?

      I think the US Army would be decent enough to respect the reasoning behind it and would refrain from viewing alternatives.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        I think the US Army would be decent enough to respect the reasoning behind it and would refrain from viewing alternatives.

        On the other hand, shouldn't the US Army be decent enough to ask its soldiers to not use them instead of outright blocking them?

        Well, to be fair, it's not like they can expect their soldiers to follow or-

        ...nevermind.

    • by Teun (17872) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:32AM (#35501654) Homepage
      You mean to say the military personnel affected would not understand or appreciate the reasons for the blockage and would rather watch YouTube than help the Japanese.

      Or were you just reflecting your own (lack of) moral on them?

    • by Seumas (6865)

      I don't understand why they don't just throttle lower priority traffic. The same problem I have with ISPs. Look, I understand that if I'm a very high capacity user, I might be impacting others during my usage (MAYBE). But the rest of the time, what does it matter how much bandwidth I use, if the rest of the traffic is low? So rather than blocking or limiting sites or total transfer, just fucking set up some throttling rules so that during times when traffic is truly an issue (not based merely on time of day

      • It's much easier to just add the sites to their blocked list than implement a throttling system.
        • by alta (1263)

          Especially since typically when you say throttle the low priority traffic, it's often done by protocol, or even port. So, your ISP would be blocking your bittorrent protocol, and maybe news for your porn. All of the services mentioned are http:80 [80] or similar, so they'd be blocking a lot of what they DO need access to. Yes, just adding the most popular destinations is a much simpler solution. KISS

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        My ISP (Rogers Canada) actually has a feature whereby if there is available bandwidth, they actually do give it out in order to boost your current speed, automatically. The result is that my 3Mbit connection runs almost entirely at 10Mbit, because, at least as I've seen, they always seem to have extra bandwidth floating around. The not so great part is that I still have a 25 GB cap. I could pay for a higher cap, up to 175 GB, and a higher speed, up to 50 Mbit, but I don't have much of a use for that.
    • by N1AK (864906)
      Probably not, especially if users are aware of why the ban is in place. Generally military staff have the intelligence to not intentionally disobey instructions/request. The use of these sites could be decreased dramatically, just be telling them not to use them for a while, the block is simply a way of putting a low barrier in place to discourage the final 25% or so of use.

      It's like trying to diet. Many people know they should snack less, but struggle to resist temptation. Not having snacks in the house
      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Probably not, especially if users are aware of why the ban is in place. Generally military staff have the intelligence to not intentionally disobey instructions/request. The use of these sites could be decreased dramatically, just be telling them not to use them for a while, the block is simply a way of putting a low barrier in place to discourage the final 25% or so of use. It's like trying to diet. Many people know they should snack less, but struggle to resist temptation. Not having snacks in the house doesn't stop you going out and buying them, however it provides a slight disincentive which helps some people stop snacking.

        Plus lots of sites embed youtube videos. Someone could easily end up watching one without explicitly going to youtube without a block.

        • by danaranda (463972)

          Nope, it justs comes up with a military version of the 404... something along the lines of "this is not approved on this network..."

          • by shentino (1139071)

            you'd think that would be a 403

            • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

              Many deployments of the IWF censorship list [iwf.org.uk] in the UK use a 404 Not Found [o2.co.uk] rather than 403. I've never found any official explanation for this, though I've read suggestions that it's to make people just assume that censored content isn't available rather than tip them off that it's being hidden from them.

              I don't know what US military policy is, but it gives you an idea of how censors in the Western world think.

        • An embedded video would still be blocked, the request still goes out to youtube's server. If this were the case, then ad-blocking software/extensions would be totally useless.
          • That's his point. If you go to a site with an embedded video, *you* may not realize that you're watching youtube, but the network does and helpfully blocks it prevent you from inadvertently breaking the rules. If there were just rule in place that says "Don't watch youtube videos," Private Joe might spend all day breaking the rules without even realizing it. Hence blocking is more effective than merely asking, even if everyone involved legitimately wants to comply.

      • by metacell (523607)

        I agree. At my workplace, a lot of sites are blocked. But when you try to access a blocked site, it says roughly: "This site has been blocked to safeguard bandwidth for core business processes. If you are sure you have a business reason to visit this site, please click here." And if you click the link, you're redirected to the actual site. And that's enough to discourage people - if they click the link, they can't say they went to the site by mistake, or didn't know it wasn't allowed.

        • by deniable (76198)
          We do something similar but the list is smaller and easier to bypass. The reason being that at one point about a quarter of our traffic was Facebook and that has little or no value for our work. Personally, I would have smacked the users but that's too hard for management.
      • by shentino (1139071)

        Indeed. Getting court martialed for refusing to stay away from a forbidden web site will certainly reduce internet contention.

        • I doubt anyone would get court martialed. At worst, they'd get an Article 15. Unless maybe they'd already gotten 2 other article 15s for watching porn. Then maybe they'd get court martialed.
          • by shentino (1139071)

            Disobeying a direct order from a comissioned officer carries a maximum sentence of dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 5 years.

            I.e., it's a felony.

      • by poity (465672)

        Also, without a block, you'd get the "oh one person couldn't hurt" syndrome where individuals in a large population defy good stewardship out of convenience because they think their individual impact is insignificant. Multiply that mentality to thousands and that's why we get polluted rivers, streets with litter, etc. So a block is indeed more effective than any notice, even though people are able and willing to make the sacrifice.

  • by rumith (983060) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:29AM (#35501636)
    That's a good, though unsurprising decision. Bandwidth should be used for the purposes that the infrastructure has been built for. Recreational uses are completely optional, IMO, and no one sane should expect them to be available during a conflict or a crisis. There's job to be done that you signed up to do, so go ahead and do it. And may God stand between you and harm.
    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      So in other words this is a none story.
      In other news Sony has taken down the servers for Final Fantasy to help save power...
      Yeah and duh.

      • by Kalriath (849904)

        Square-Enix, not Sony.

        I sure hope they're offering partial refunds in order to help save customer rage as well (perhaps even offer to redirect the refund to the tsunami relief fund or something).

  • Rather surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:29AM (#35501640) Journal

    * Youtube.com
    * Googlevideo.com ...
    * Doubleclick.com
    * Eyewonder.com

    Ad networks are that bad huh?

    • by Spad (470073)

      When every site you visit is serving multiple Flash banner adverts then yes.

    • by Feinu (1956378)
      They should just leave the ad networks blocked once normal service resumes - it'll help all the poor souls who browse without an ad blocker.
    • by deniable (76198)
      Yes, we've blocked some of our bigger problem sites and the highest hit counts are from ad networks.
  • PHProxy on home comp -> DynDNS mapped to your home computer IP address. Fixed.
    • by deniable (76198)
      Back-door in military network -> Another Bradley Manning -> Fixed.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Porntube.com is still unblocked.
  • So how is this "Stuff That Matters"?

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      So how is this "Stuff That Matters"?

      Probably that, for once, the army is doing something useful by doing nothing (i.e. abstaining from an action)? (can I hope to see more such occasions?)
      Or sort of a notification that Japan is in "extreme demand for networks" (... and maybe you should limit you pr0n daily quota too, especially hentai, at least for a while)?

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        The US taking about a form of bandwidth in the open in some way was government-owned satellite networks early ~1990's?
        The dream of endless Pentagon’s commercial satellite accounts are dreamy to many in the commercial market.
        News like this gives the world idea that something is different, strange, unique, new, spinning up fast, in play?
        What sucks military operations bandwidth? Would UAV like use be at the top of the list? Why would the ability to many unmanned tools be of such interest over Japa
        • by Americano (920576)

          What sucks military operations bandwidth? Would UAV like use be at the top of the list? Why would the ability to many unmanned tools be of such interest over Japan at this time?

          I think you'll find that the bandwidth usage is primarily tied to the fact that they're essentially having to provide command and control networks to every unit in the area (there's likely little-to-no civilian capacity in the areas they're operating in, so they could well be providing the Japanese government & civilian relief w

  • See? SEE?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by GrumblyStuff (870046) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @06:57AM (#35501738)

    All that bitching about useless ads, menus in flash, images in the wrong format, all that crap... we were right!

    The internet is running out of bits!

  • Can't they just make them low-priority? That's a bit worrying: if a disaster in Japan can make the army block some websites just for bandwidth reasons, what would happen if they had to deal with an emergency in the US ? And what if in the middle of this emergency, someone wanted to see a video on Youtube containing info that he needs?
    • by cpghost (719344)
      Except for Amazon blocking (are they really such a bandwidth hog like video streaming sites?), it's actually a pretty good idea. Why does vital info have to be in video format? How about a simple, good ole fashioned no frills web site with a page of text? That would be at least as informative, but conserve enormous bandwidth during an emergency.
      • by JTsyo (1338447)
        Amazon also offers streamed video content. Now with Prime members getting access to some free content, I expect quite a few are streaming fro Amazon.
    • I suspect that they went with blocking because it is way, way easier(especially if you are just aiming for an aggregate use reduction, not an ironclad 100% ban). Blocking probably just involves setting your DNS servers to return localhost or some LAN-side warning page for the domains. Priority setting would mean dicking around with QoS on god knows how many switches, that may or may not have the CPU time and resources to support it.
    • ... what would happen if they had to deal with an emergency in the US ? And what if in the middle of this emergency, someone wanted to see a video on Youtube containing info that he needs?

      If the US military has to rely on access to Youtube, they have bigger problems.

      OTOH, if an information source is using Youtube, I'm sure the military can manage to repost it to their own network.

  • We know that PACCOM made the initial request, but one thing I always find lacking in these sensationalized news stories is the lack of investigative work that would help us understand the decision making process.

    The reason that I ask, is because I remember when I was deployed with an Infantry Battalion, we more or less managed our own usage internally, but everything above the Battalion level (brigade or god-forbid base wide) seemed to have been handled by outside consultants who when I look back now, we
  • Nothing new here. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Onuma (947856) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @07:54AM (#35502034)
    The Defense Information System Agency (DISA) periodically blocks, unblocks, and restricts access to various sites as they deem necessary. Generally, the most popular and trafficked sites are affected. Back in 2005 myspace was blocked off, but other networking sites were open. From Iraq, I could get on AIM's web portal (and google chat when it was unveiled), but not Yahoo for instant messaging. Some time later, it was allowed again.

    The reason the NIPR exists on .gov and .mil computer systems is so Uncle Sam can do his job and complete the missions. Everything else is absolutely auxiliary and unnecessary. DISA recognizes the importance of keeping people in contact with their friends and families, and that they can often not access the internet anywhere except while at work, so they appropriately authorize things like social networking, news, personal email, etc., so long as it does not negatively affect the organization's mission(s). It may be nice to burn some downtime on Break.com or Hulu, etc., but if that bandwidth is slowing down other high-priority functions, then the line is clearly drawn.

    This doesn't happen too often, in large part due to the fact that multiple non-internet networks exist for higher classifications of information systems. You don't want to display Top Secret data on an Unclassified machine, after all. That may land you in Quantico or Ft. Leavenworth :P

    Luckily, they've never decided to block /. in all these years.
  • My first thought about what it would be like to be a user in this situation is that, upon seeing the "site blocked" message, I would simply go hunting around for a similar site - maybe MSNBC instead of CNN for example. It's the content I'm looking for after all - news in this case - that matters. I might have to Google around a bit to find that content of course and try a few alternative sites. So wouldn't this approach actually increase the bandwidth usage? As noble as the cause is, this approach doesn't
    • by alta (1263) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:47AM (#35502514) Homepage Journal

      I think less bandwidth is used for 100 searches and an ultimately unsuccessful result, than in one single video.

      Add to that, a large percentage of videos are direct link to the content, and the viewer doesn't really care that much about seeing it. How many times have you loaded up a page and it had a youtube video embedded that just starts spooling up, but you never watched it? They're not trying to censor videos here, they're just going after the low hanging fruit, and this is a VERY effective way to do it.

      • I thought I'd check into your initial statement, since I COMPLETELY misread it initially, thought you said that 100 searches would cost more, and I wanted to prove you wrong. Reading comprehension ftl.

        Anyway, I just did a test search for the word "video" on Google. The resulting page had about 349KB of data that needed to be downloaded for the first 10 results, including thumbnails for videos and whatnot. Of that, I estimate that only about 96KB would not be cached content, since the other 253KB is stuff li

        • by alta (1263)

          Wow, thanks for the math.

          And add to that the issue of many videos embedded from youtube are spooled without being viewed.
          And the people who are emailed "Hey check this funny video on youtube LINK" and when the link doesn't work, they don't give it a second thought.

    • Remember that this isn't done all sneaky like. We aren't finding out about this because some clever individual took it upon themselves to find out what was blocked and complied a list. We are finding out about this because the military told everyone. They sent out a notice to their soldiers saying "These sites are blocked so that there's more bandwidth available for things relating to the Japanese emergency." So the soldiers know why it is being done and know that they aren't just supposed to get around it.

      • by Ltap (1572175)
        Regardless of your attack on "petulant geeks", you're right. Most institutions will deliberately keep secret what they block and, in many cases, why. Lack of information and confusion allows them to instill fear in students or employees. They hope that the fear will do more to keep them "in line" than a technical solution, and most managers/teachers/administrators are adept at orchestrating it.
  • by Stenchwarrior (1335051) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @08:51AM (#35502564)

    Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

    Caveats: NONE

    PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE

    This email serves as official notification on behalf of the Army Reserve Enterprise Network Operations Security Center to inform you that USCYBERCOM has directed the temporary restriction to the internet sites listed below until further notice.

    The intent of the restriction is to alleviate bandwidth congestion to assist with HIGH Availability/Disaster Relief efforts in the PACIFIC Area Of Responsibility (AOR).

    As of 0310Z 13 March all 13 Internet sites below have been temporarily restricted:

    Youtube.com

    Googlevideo.com

    Amazon.com

    ESPN.go.com

    Ebay.com

    Doubleclick.com

    Eyewonder.com

    Pandora.com

    streamtheworld.com

    Mtv.com

    Ifilm.com

    Myspace.com

    Metacafe.com

  • This can't be 2010, because in 2010 you would have the technology to throttle a set of sites that were less important to give important network traffic a guaranteed level of throughput--without having to block the sites completely.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not, it's 2011

    • This can't be 2010, because in 2010 you would have the technology to throttle a set of sites that were less important to give important network traffic a guaranteed level of throughput--without having to block the sites completely.

      And that would be an entirely appropriate and worthwhile solution if one were an ISP dealing with too many torrents, instead of the military trying to save lives.

      Implementing and testing a dynamic throttling system is - or should be - a very low priority when one is in the middle of major disaster recovery. (The loss of eBay or ESPN doesn't count as a 'major disaster'.) Just cutting off these domains is the simplest, most effective, least failure-prone way to free up bandwidth.

  • We already block one of those domains here where I work. Can you guess which one?
  • Maybe I'm missing something, but how would access to the public Internet affect "military operations" (per the article)? Should I be scared that our military relies in anyway on the Internet to function? I understand maybe they backhaul Internet traffic across a private network, but if that's the case, why not just prioritize the important traffic? Then people can use the leftover bandwidth to do whatever they please.
    • Uhhh.... ever hear of a VPN? Not all military networks are classified. Those that are are air-gapped from the Internet. If the military wasn't using public and commercial networks for unclassified operations, I as a taxpayer would be extremely pissed, as they'd be wasting a shit-ton of money. They already do that well enough (although one can argue they are still the only branch of government that actually accomplishes what it is funded for, regardless of the expense). No need for a gazillion OC-48s running

  • So, is ... (Score:4, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @12:02PM (#35504818)

    ... Wikileaks still up?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Military networks already block wikileaks and seems to have a filter built in to block pages it suspects to contain content from it. Every time ars has an article related to it, that page alone is blocked. Politics aside, it's understandable that it's blocked since you *are* on a government system to begin with and they can control what goes on their network.

  • by bluemonq (812827) on Wednesday March 16, 2011 @04:38PM (#35508266)

    I wonder if the mobile versions of websites, which are less bandwidth-intensive, still work?

  • Why not block all ad servers, and simply use QoS on the other major bandwidth chewers? That way, if there's a lull in the Japan-related traffic, people can still access the other sites.

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