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Announcing OTF’S Newest Class of Information Controls Fellows

Eighth cohort of ICFP fellows to research potential or existing circumvention techniques; the use of circumvention tools during censorship events; mitigating potential security vulnerabilities in access and privacy tools; identifying the specific tools used in individual countries for information controls; and more.

The Open Technology Fund (OTF) has selected six 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 includes individuals from a variety of disciplines, crossing lines between computer science, reverse engineering, technology development, social sciences, human rights, and information security. The common thread uniting this diverse group is their focus on the various aspects of information controls, specifically repressive censorship and surveillance. You can check out the outputs of previous fellows for 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017,2018, and 2019. The ongoing 2020 class can be foundhere.

The incoming fellows and a brief description of their areas of focus are as follows:

Ramakrishnan Sundara Raman

Host organization: Citizen Lab

Duration: Seven months

While censorship technologies have advanced, techniques to identify and monitor them are still limited, and are developed on a case-by-case basis. Ram’s fellowship will focus on developing a toolkit that identifies devices scalably through passive and active measurement techniques. The project will generate a public fingerprint database that can be used to identify censorship devices, and Ram will use the fingerprints to study the deployment of these devices in different countries.

Michael Collyer

Host organization: Oxford Internet Institute

Duration: Twelve months

The language surrounding internet shutdowns and how they fit into the broader field of information control warrants further research. Therefore, in order to better understand how to identify, classify and frame different types of shutdowns, Michael is writing a research paper exploring these specific elements. He will also create an innovative interactive database to centralize shutdown data and other relevant data such as protests. In addition, given the recent developments in computational methodologies, he will analyze shutdowns using an advanced data science method. These deliverables will cumulate in useful resources for those interested in understanding and/or researching shutdowns.

Gurshabad Grover

Host organization: Open Observatory of Network Interference

Duration: Twelve months

Gurshabad’s research will examine jurisdictions with decentralized information controls. Specifically, the project aims to uncover the role of private internet service providers in exacerbating or minimizing the effects of state-ordered censorship.

Benjamin Mixon-Baca

Host organization: Censored Planet, University of Michigan

Duration: Twelve months

Ben’s project, “Automatically Identifying Applications with Poor Transport Security” will focus on identifying applications that use poor or no encryption in the transport layer. While Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3 is now enabled by default in popular browsers and 81% of network traffic is encrypted according to Mozilla telemetry, this project focuses on the remaining 19% of unencrypted traffic and aims to identify applications with poor or no transport layer security via monitoring at an Internet gateway. The project hypothesizes that transport layer security weaknesses are both common among, and dangerous to, at-risk users in particular. The project also aims to identify the distribution of applications with poor transport security to characterize geographic regions that are most affected by poor transport security. The project aims to develop a tool that can be easily deployed to an ISP or other network vantage point to generate statistics about poor transport security, as well as information broken down across regions.

Kathrin Elmenhorst

Host organization: Open Observatory of Network Interference

Duration: Three months

Kathrin will conduct a study measuring the level and type of QUIC censorship in various countries. From there, she will derive and draft building blocks for (automated) QUIC censorship evasion. QUIC has promising potential for censorship circumvention since it is implemented on the application layer. Therefore, QUIC evasion tools would be easily deployable, adaptable and platform independent. Kathrin will also further develop and document measurement procedures for QUIC.

Ain Ghazal

Host organization: Open Observatory of Network Interference

Duration: Twelve months

Ain’s OTF Fellowship at OONI aims to quantify interference on VPN connections. This project will study concrete censor behavior in selected countries, in order to classify and enumerate possible circumvention strategies for a given context and increase the reliability of Censorship Resistance Systems in global VPN infrastructure.

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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.

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