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Announcing OTF’s Latest Class of Information Controls Fellows

Seventh cohort of ICFP fellows to research various censorship techniques employed by China and avenues for circumvention. This includes exploring DNS poisoning via forged IP addresses, interference with popular circumvention protocols and user-created censorship circumvention techniques on Chinese social media platforms.

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) has selected three individuals as the newest Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) fellows. The group will focus on advancing research, analysis, and tool development on topics related to Internet censorship.

This latest ICFP cohort is made up of individuals from multiple disciplines. The common thread uniting this group is their focus on the constantly evolving techniques used in China to carry out censorship in order to advance existing mechanisms to overcome it.

We are thrilled to welcome the 2020 ICFP fellows and can confirm they’re projects are underway, already making exciting progress as they begin work with their host organizations. Be sure to check back for a summary of each fellow’s project outputs (The outputs for the latest class of fellows can be found here).

The incoming fellows, along with their areas of focus, are:

Hoàng Nguyên Phong

Host organization: Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Duration: Twelve months

During his previous OTF fellowship in 2018, Phong discovered the prevalence of this abusive DNS poisoning design in which IP addresses owned by many U.S. companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and SoftLayer are heavily used in forged DNS responses. A preliminary report for this line of work was recently presented at USENIX FOCI '20. Throughout this project, Phong will work with Citizen Lab to build a dashboard that is expected to provide useful data for other researchers and insights about censored domains as well as the forged IP addresses being abused. Ultimately, these findings will hopefully be able to assist in the development of potential solutions to bypass and reduce the impact of China’s Great Firewall (GFW) DNS-based blocking.

Information Controls Fellow

Host organization: Not Public

Duration: Twelve months

From embedding text in images to rearranging word order of online posts, netizens in China continue to come up with creative ways to post content deemed sensitive by the government while evading censorship. The project seeks to systematically analyze the cost in the adoption and consumption of user-generated censorship circumvention techniques. In doing so, it aims to identify techniques that users can easily replicate while still being effective at communicating the intended message.

Information Controls Fellow

Host organization: Not Public

Duration: Twelve months

The fellow will investigate the underlying mechanisms used by China's GFW to identify and block various popular censorship circumvention protocols. There have been many reports from the users that their censorship circumvention servers were blocked. At the same time, preliminary experiments suggest that these censorship circumvention servers have been actively probed by the GFW. The fellow will investigate the underlying mechanisms used by the GFW to identify and block these popular censorship circumvention protocols. The fellow will then provide practical suggestions in building more censorship-resistant protocols.

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The Open Technology Fund (OTF)’s Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) supports examination into how governments in countries, regions, or areas of OTF’s core focus are restricting the free flow of information, impeding access to the open Internet, and implementing censorship mechanisms, thereby threatening the ability of global citizens to exercise basic human rights and democracy. The program supports fellows to work within host organizations that are established centers of expertise by offering competitively paid fellowships for three, six, nine, or twelve months in duration.

To learn more about the ICFP, click here.