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Censorship Your Rights Online

From Slaying Dragons To Dictators 233

tcd004 writes "In a weekend, programmer Austin Heap transformed from an apathetic MMO player to a world class regime-slayer. When word for Iran's rigged election broke over Twitter, Heap decided to dedicate himself to building a better proxy system for people behind Iran's firewall. Heap's creation, Haystack, conceals someone's real online destinations inside a stream of innocuous traffic. You may be browsing an opposition Web site, but to the censors it will appear you are visiting, say, Heap tends to hide users in content that is popular in Tehran, sometimes the regime's own government mouthpieces."
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From Slaying Dragons To Dictators

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  • by rshxd ( 1875730 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:26PM (#33281314)
    Why is this article being put out now? The Iranian elections were awhile ago
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:26PM (#33281330)
    But "looking at porn" wasn't one of the viable alternatives?
  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:26PM (#33281336)
    Security through obscurity is no security at all.

    I strongly doubt that the existence of this system is a mystery to the government of Iran, at least not if it is beyond a certain level of popularity.
  • Proxy Ban? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Soporific ( 595477 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:32PM (#33281414)

    Wouldn't they just ban anyone connecting to known proxies or any proxy in general that wasn't set up by the authorities?


  • thinkofthechildren (Score:3, Insightful)

    by esocid ( 946821 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:39PM (#33281502) Journal
    I look forward to a 'thinkofthechildren' argument from some congressman in the future about why it should be illegal here.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:39PM (#33281504)

    Well, if the elections are rigged, it's hardly democracy now isn't it....

  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:43PM (#33281560) Homepage Journal
    Iran's government sure loves blaming the US doesn't it.
  • by copponex ( 13876 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:46PM (#33281614) Homepage

    Iran has elections, but doesn't pick the right person, so it's a dictatorship. Same is true for Venezuela and Gaza, and any country over the past sixty years that made the mistake of voting for left-leaning leaders in the Western Hemisphere.

    And what about China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc? Well, they make us a shitload of money, or they at least follow our orders, so, you know. It's different.

  • by scribblej ( 195445 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:53PM (#33281716)


    Less than a month and many all-nighters later, Heap and a friend had created Haystack. The anti-censorship software is built on a sophisticated mathematical formula that conceals someone's real online destinations inside a stream of innocuous traffic. You may be browsing an opposition Web site, but to the censors it will appear you are visiting, say,

    This doesn't make sense. It still has to connect to and load the BAD website, too...

    Other anti-censorship programs--such as Tor, Psiphon, or Freegate--can successfully hide someone's identity, but censors are able to detect that these programs are being run and then work to disable the communication. With Haystack, the censors aren't even aware the software is in use. "Haystack captures all outgoing connections, encrypts them, and then masquerades the data as something else," explains Heap. "If you want to block Haystack, you are gonna block yourself."

    OK, this makes so little sense I can't even figure out how to respond to it.

    Heap intends to gradually develop Haystack's presence in the country. He has started to share it with select activists and trusted individuals on an invitation-only basis. They will then be asked to share it with their friends. It is the same model that was originally followed by Google's Gmail. The targeted approach is smarter from a security standpoint. Also, he doesn't want the software to collapse from low-value demand.


    Yeah, there's one word for this whole article. BULLSHIT. It stinks.

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:54PM (#33281726)

    Given that the regime in question is still very much in control, and that the only slaying that was done was by the regime, I find the term "regime slayer" to be laughable at best and really offensive at worst for those that hoped for better for the Iranian people.

    That was an extreme case showing that sometimes, mere communication is not enough to evoke change.

  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:58PM (#33281796) Homepage
    The mullahs are the highest authority in the country, and they are not answerable to elections. They also have their own private army which is not responsible to the voice of the people even in the most abstracted fashion. Hard to claim that's not a dictatorship.
  • by SomeJoel ( 1061138 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:03PM (#33281846)

    I don't know if I'd consider setting up a good Proxy server as "Slaying a Dictator".

    I think that's actually part of a big chain quest so that you can get keyed along with a large group of people to then slay the dictator.

    You must first reach exalted with several factions, including "UN" and at least a few of the "U.S. Military" subfactions. Otherwise you can't even zone in.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:08PM (#33281894)

    Well, you have just convinced me to A) never host a TOR node and B) never use a TOR node.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:14PM (#33281958) Journal

    The word you are looking for is oligarchy - unelected men that sit on the top and make the rules.

    Kinda like our unelected Supreme Court Oligarchs. (I'm still trying to find the part of the US Constitution that the Court claims allows them to ban obscene material. I swear it's not there, even though they claim it is. Hmmm.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:24PM (#33282094)

    "Word of mouth was by far the most influential medium used to shape the postelection opposition activity."

    Hilarious! Yep, it was 'word of mouth' and not US funding and agents working inside of Iran.

    God bless 'teh Iranian People'! We're gonna bring them Wallmart and Baby Jesus!

    Go away Grond, your stupid isn't funny or extreme. You're just an unremarkable dumb guy.

  • by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:42PM (#33282262) Journal

    Iran has elections, but they matter not a jot as the public don't get to elect the Revolutionary Guard, the only ones with real power.

    Correct in principle, if not in detail (It's the supreme leader, not the guardians of the revolution, who has the power.)

    So why does the US get all twisted about what the "president", Ahmadinejad, who has no control over foreign policy says and does?

  • by 32771 ( 906153 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:35PM (#33282740) Journal

    > If I want to be an asshole that looks at porn, doesn't go to church, and keeps to himself, I have that right.

    It would sound much better if you would replace that 'and' with an 'or'.

    Also you have to understand those overly religious societies. They are under considerable stress while surviving in a harsh environment by any means possible (if there is no stress you can create some, i.e. with lacking medical insurance). This creates a situation where even the most basic needs of a human being may remain unfulfilled. Also they have devout followers who procreate madly thereby further reducing the value of a human life. So going back to your moral values and those dictatorships, it has to be obvious to you that while all the fulfillment of basic human needs will continue to be lacking, capable politicians will always be able to find something else to justify their existence with, like chasing after social misfits or other odd people who don't really do any harm.

    Sane societies have long discovered that they could invest all those resources more wisely, see the following for an example []


  • Re:Get a clue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:40PM (#33282788)

    That kind of sounds like every press release from every security vendor who claims a secret sauce implementation. I don't see how their situation is "a special case."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:41PM (#33282802)

    You're mixing concepts, my friend.

    Iran is a dictatorship not because their elections "don't pick the right person", it is a dictatorship because the election process is rigged so that only certain people can be elected, and these need approval from a non-elected body anyways.

    Leftness or rightness of leaders has no leaning on the degree of dictatorship.

    You can have very left dictatorships, and you can have very right dictatorships (like the US-supported Iran before their revolution, like Pinochet's Chile, like the multiple banana republics supported by US in Latin and South America).

  • Re:Get a clue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:48PM (#33282866) Homepage

    If the authorities can block the software they can determine it's being used. The act of using software to circumvent the filtering is in and of itself a serious crime.

    Just because they cant tell what exactly you were doing isn't going to stop them from throwing people in jail or worse.

  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @09:51PM (#33283810) Homepage

    Everyone else.

    Seriously, Americans, your country is unique in the amount of evil it produces. Deal with it.

  • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:02PM (#33283904)

    "Regime change isn't very effective when you have the Keystone Kops trying to carry it out for you." Regime change isn't going to happen due to a few protesting students, and the mullocracy can choose to kill them off if they threaten Islamic control of government. The people who want to change Iran will have to display a greater will to power than the Islamocracy. That's a very tough act to follow. It would require a Maoist level of ruthlessness, not the trifling discontent of a few young people.

    Spoken like someone who doesn't have a clue about Iran, Iranian demographics (more specifically age and racial demographics) or the current Iranian government.

    Frankly I dont think you used enough made up scare words based around Islam, I'm surprised you didn't slip islamofacsist in there. To be frank, this kind of propaganda is weak, easy to see through and insult the intelligence of anyone who reads it.

    But I'll hit you with the cluebat. Iran's population is primarily comprised of Persians, the government is primarily Arab. Due to the Iraq-Iran war in the 80's the 30-50 yr age bracket is severely depleted so the current theocracy has never had to deal with 20 somethings that don't remember the brutality of the Shah.

    There are two armed forces in Iran, first the Iranian army which makes up the bulk of the forces and is almost exclusively ethnic Persian. Next is the Republican Guard, which is far smaller and almost exclusively Arab (Palestinian and Lebanese). The Republican Guard is used mainly as a police force. Arabs and Persians only have about 6000 years of recorded racial conflict so if a shooting war actually starts (which it wont) it will be over in a matter of days as the Persian army outnumbers the Republican Guard 10 to 1, has superior equipment and the support of the Persian people. Due to the fact that a large portion of the army will rebel if anyone gives the order to kill civilians en masse the Iranian government will not do this (they are theocratic, not stupid).

    Finally we have multiple examples of how non-violent revolutions can be effective and lead to more stable states. India, Philippines (EDSA rebellion), Much of Eastern Europe in 1989 (czech, poland, east germany). New forms of communications have been able to organise non-violent revolutions more effectively then violent ones, SMS's were used during the EDSA II rebellion. Violent revolution often has the effect of not working (Ireland tried for how many hundreds of years) or placing a dictator in power (Palestine, Cambodia, Cuba). Since the end of WWII, more stable democracies have been formed by non-violent means then violent ones. So you're desire to incite violence in the Iranian people is misguided at best but I'd describe it as retarded.

    Iran's (the government of Iran) problem is that it's never had to deal with a large population of 20 yr olds, now it does and the 20 yr olds are disaffected. They dont know how bad the Shah was and only know that the current government is oppressive. Violent revolutions often have the opposite effect of what the instigator intends, so if the Iranian youth start fire-bombing government buildings then it has just as much chance of backfiring and forcing people to rally around the government. Take the recent unrest in Thailand. Initially the red shirts were garnering support from much of Thailand and around the world as they were painting themselves as the oppressed, well until they started bombing BTS stations. In the end, people said the Thai government was right to take military actions and that the Thai military was very restrained as only 40 people killed, on the other hand the red shirts torched one of Bangkok's largest shopping centres further eroding support and strengthening the Thai government.

  • by Tenek ( 738297 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @10:27PM (#33284088)
    Much better than I feel about the production of child pornography, and much worse than I feel about the viewing of what the Moral Guardians' consider "child pornography".
  • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @11:25PM (#33284558)
    I'm obviously responding to a troll here, but I'm not a person who hates this country. There are some things I don't like about this country, but I can't say that there's any other country where I'd prefer to live. Well, maybe Switzerland.

    If some entity has a long history of doing X, it's pretty damn stupid not to expect them to do X. It has nothing to do with whether or not it's right or wrong, the US has a history of involving itself in foreign politics. There's no need to pass moral judgement on it, but it's a fact that the US has attempted to influence foreign politics with great frequency in the past.
  • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @04:07AM (#33285380) Journal

    Why is this article being put out now? The Iranian elections were awhile ago

    Maybe they think those of us pointing out that the elections weren't rigged will have got bored and gone away by now or that endless repetition will have made the "rigging of Iranian elections" accepted history at last.

    There's no good evidence that Iran's elections were rigged. Whether Western powers like it or not, Ahmadinejad seems to have won legitimately. He's actually very popular in rural areas and not unpopular in Tehran, either. There's a just a fairly affluent and pro-US faction in the cities that want a pro-Western candidate. If you look at independent polls before the election, they were predicting Ahmadinejad would win (this includes pollsters from the US) and if you read the stories about electoral fraud, you'll find a lot of "no smoke without fire" arguments and some warping of the truth (e.g. the endless repetition of the factoid that more people voted in some places than actually lived there, which is actually obvious when you know that in Iran, to facillitate easy voting, people commonly vote in the area in which they work rather than their registered home village). But you wont find actual evidence of fraud. The papers were full of "some people say there might be fraud" but bugger all "this shows there was fraud". What you can find is that the US congress voted through around US$10 million dollars to fund activities to overthrow the government of Iran and that Bush approved the CIA to start active operations within Iran. But they'd never stoop to trying to de-legitimize the Iranian democratic process or rile up protest groups trying to over throw the government, would they? I mean, not again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @04:19AM (#33285444)

    Obvious tactic to discourage tor node hosting. Spam them with material that's a no-no pretty much everywhere. All too easy to scare western individuals into apathy and inaction.

    Really, did it come as a surprise to you that running subversive operation is also morally hard?

    Well then, safest way to help is to donate to wikileaks, pirateparties, amnesty international, eff, etc. They have more courage to do what it takes.

  • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @04:24AM (#33285468) Journal

    Ever heard someone refer to Internet Explorer as "The Internet"? Does it make your teeth grind? Same principle, I'm afraid. Those of us who understand the meanings of words have a responsibility to use them correctly and lead by example.
  • by hedpe2003 ( 1735078 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @10:08AM (#33287740)
    And the amount of evil it has combated. (ie, Nazis, Soviets, etc)
    And in the Aid in which is gives
    And the amount of technological achievements (Modern Assembly Line, Computers, Synthetic Life?)

    I mean really.... Give it a rest.
  • by hedpe2003 ( 1735078 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @10:10AM (#33287766)

    It would be simply fucking glorious!

    You're an idiot

  • by Raenex ( 947668 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @12:35PM (#33290164)

    Everyone else.

    Everyone else doesn't have an extensive history of meddling? So Russia, England, Germany, France, and on and on, don't have such histories? Name a big country, there's a good chance they have a history of meddling.

  • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @12:49PM (#33290384)

    While we have undoubtedly exported some nasty results with our foreign policy, the US is also unique in the amount of good it has produced - you know, little things that better the world like computers, the internet, and a large amount of modern medical technology. Whether that has, overall, outweighed the evil we have produced, I'm just not sure and I doubt anybody can easily answer that question.

    And I'm not really sure that the stuff done in the name of fighting communism was truly evil though some of the results were very nasty. Communism and the threat of nuclear war were scary and were perceived as existential threats by many at the time. It sounds completely ludicrous now that we know that the Soviet economy was overextended and straining to keep up during the Cold War era, but it's unfair to judge the past with full knowledge of the outcomes.

  • Re:Get a clue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @02:06PM (#33291412)

    And by the same argument, a lead weight is indistinguishable from a light ray, because it's all just energy.

    The fact that a key is bits and an (implementation of an) algorithm is bits does not mean that the two are indistinguishable from a security perspective when treated as a secret. I could start by quibbling about the size of the secret, but the more fundamental issue is how widely applicable is the secret (or, somewhat equivalently, how widely distributed is evidence of the secret).

    In short, you're conflating the ideas of "secret" and "obscure". Perhaps everything obscure is kept secret, but not everything kept secret can be described as "obscure". Something is obscure if it is widely applicable but not widely known.

    In PGP encryption, the algorithms apply universally to every message to and from every user of the system. The fingerprints of the algorithm are on every computer capable of sending and receiving such messages. Trying to keep such a widely-applicable thing secret would be reliance on security through obscurity.

    My private key, though, is totally unavailable to almost everyone. The most direct point is, if I start using a new key tomorrow, I can safely say that Evil Hackers, Inc. hasn't spent decades of effort making progress towards knowing what that key is - and even if they crack it, that only compromises the messages I sent using that key, not the entire system, because that particular key is applicable to nothing else.

    The lock on my door at home requires a key, and you don't know the corret shape; but if you do a little research, you do have a good guess at the basic mechanics of the lock. To the extent that such knowledge leads to insights about how to defeat my (or anyone's) lock, the design is weak. The fact that having my key in hand would give you access to my house is unrelated to that fact.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson