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August 2018 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In August, the Open Technology Fund continued to both receive a large number of support requests and to support a diverse portfolio of Internet freedom projects and fellows addressing Internet censorship and surveillance threats in closed societies around the world. With the September 1 application round closed, the OTF team is now in the process of reviewing and responding to the 220 concept notes received, which brought the total number of requests received during the 2018 calendar year to over 1,000 for the first time in program history. Also this month, OTF issued an RFP seeking Learning Lab service providers.

Notable accomplishments

  • In August, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)’s censorship detection app, OONI Probe, was run 241,772 times from 4,483 different vantage points in 210 countries around the world. Also this month, OONI released two reports: one analyzing internet censorship in Venezuela (produced in tandem with local partners IPYS Venezuela and Venezuela Inteligente) and the other on measuring censorship in South Sudan, made in collaboration with local civil society partner The Advocates for Human Rights and Democracy (TAHURID). The Venezuela report found media censorship to be “quite pervasive,” with major news outlets El Pitazo and El Nacional blocked. The South Sudan report confirmed the blocking of several media outlets and independent blogs. The OONI team also worked on making improvements to its Android app and working on usability improvements based off the findings of a user-focused survey.
  • Privacy and anonymity-enhancing operating system Tails released version 3.9, which includes the integration of open-source disk encryption software VeraCrypt. You can read more about Tails 3.9 and download it here, or additional documentation on using Veracrypt volumes in Tails here.
  • In August, OpenAppStack continued the development of their new open source groupware management tool designed to improve the overall digital security of civil society organizations, conducting research this month into selecting the most suitable software package on which to base the application deployment. You can read more about OAS’ August activities and the project itself on their new website.
  • Decentralized peer-to-peer content delivery protocol NewNode completed work on the new Peer Transport Protocol specification, which allows downloads of parts of the same static file from multiple peers and the exchange of parts of the same file between a pair of peers in a normal peer-to-peer fashion.
  • Through the Rapid Response Fund, Nothing2Hide provided emergency support to an independent MENA region media organization, improving their digital security practices to better protect against future digital attacks.
  • The Securing Independent Media in the Middle East project conducted a needs assessment seeking feedback on the hosting, networking, and editorial data collection practices of beneficiary media organizations. The assessed feedback will inform the recommendations and next steps for these organizations in better safeguarding against censorship and surveillance.
  • The Securing Domain Validation project presented their paper, “Bamboozling Certificate Authorities with BGP,” at the 2018 USENIX Security Conference in Baltimore, MD. In the paper, the Princeton University research team “rigorously analyze[s] attacks that an adversary can use to obtain a bogus certificate” while also “perform[ing] the first real-world demonstration of BGP [Border Gateway Protocol] attacks to obtain bogus certificates from top [Certificate Authorities] in an ethical manner.” Both the full paper and slides are available online.
  • Privacy and security enhancing open-source browser extension NoScript integrated into their building process translations provided through the Localization Lab, including translations into Russian, French, Turkish, and Spanish. Also this month, NoScript “Quantum” (version 10.1.9.1) was bundled into the Tor Browser in its first official release and was included in Tor Browser 8.0.
  • Usability Lab service provider Okthanks provided user research for Magic Wormhole, a simple and secure file transfer tool offered by Least Authority. Okthanks developed use cases based on specific high-censorship country contexts. The next phase of the project will consist of field interviews and design mockups.
  • Two new Digital Integrity Fellowship Program (DIFP) Fellows are now under contract with OTF: Atnafu Brhane, co-founder of “Zone9,” a collective of Ethiopian human rights defenders and bloggers, will work with the Human Rights Council (HRCo) of Ethiopia to improve their digital security practices, while David Choi will work to provide digital security assistance, consultations, and trainings to high-risk members of the Korean journalism community.
  • Magma, a research project focused on creating a framework for individuals analyzing information controls through network measurement tools, is now under contract with OTF. The framework aims to improve the adoption and use of such platforms while also improving the ability of researchers to analyze data produced by such measurement tools.

Select news collected by OTF from the month of August 2018 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund or sign up to receive our daily newsletter.

Russia tries more precise technology to block Telegram messenger | Reuters
World’s Leading Human Rights Groups Tell Google to Cancel Its China Censorship Plan | The Intercept
Anger as Zambia announces tax on internet calls | AFP
Egypt's President Sisi ratifies new internet control law | CNN
The many-headed hydra of Chinese censorship | Financial Times
Familiar Feeling: A Malware Campaign Targeting the Tibetan Diaspora Resurfaces | Citizen Lab
Amnesty International staff targeted with malicious spyware | Amnesty International
Mali elections marred by internet disruptions | NetBlocks

Projects Mentioned