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July 2016 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In July, the Open Technology Fund continued to both receive a large number of support requests and support a diverse portfolio of internet freedom projects and fellows. This month, OTF also welcomed the addition of a Director for the BBG’s Internet Freedom Program Office. As the importance of the BBG’s Internet Freedom programs continues to rise, we are excited to have a dedicated advocate aboard to help address this critically important environment.

Notable accomplishments

  • OTF’s Information Controls Fellows gathered at the Citizen Lab’s Summer Institute (CLSI) on Monitoring Internet Openness and Rights, hosted from July 6 to 8 at the University of Toronto. The event allows various researchers and academics to discuss their research, its implications, and potential future areas of cross-pollination and collaboration. Topics discussed included “network interference, application privacy and security, targeted digital attacks, government and private sector transparency practices, and country-level information controls.” Citizen Lab serves as a regular host for OTF fellows. You can read more about the 2016 CLSI at https://citizenlab.org/summerinstitute/2016.html.

  • Information Controls Fellow Serene Han completed development of the alpha client of Snowflake, a new circumvention tool developed as a way for users in repressive environments to access circumvention systems like Tor. Any volunteer using Snowflake can act as a temporary Tor bridge by simply leaving a web browser tab open. As a pluggable transport, Snowflake can allow for Tor connections in places where it is otherwise blocked. Snowflake “involves a large network of highly ephemeral volunteer proxies, with the goal of outpacing the censor’s ability to block proxy IP addresses and providing a very easy to use, reliable, and hard-to-filter method of circumventing censorship.” Read more in an initial writeup at https://keroserene.net/snowflake/technical/.

  • A new OTF project, Journalists in Distress, will conduct a full assessment and analysis of the digital security practices used by the Journalists in Distress (JID) network, a group of free expression organizations that operate emergency response programs for journalists under threat of attack around the world. The project will also include a detailed study of the digital security practices of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the organization that acts as administrator over the JID network.

  • Censorship detection research platform OONI partnered with internet connectivity research outlet RIPE Atlas to conduct an analysis of internet censorship occurring in Turkey during the country’s attempted military coup, finding apparent anomalies in connectivity for certain sites such as Twitter and Facebook, an increase in Tor and Tor bridges connections emanating from Turkey, and that, more broadly, internet censorship in Turkey seems to depend on compliance from ISPs to be carried out. The analysis can be read at https://ooni.torproject.org/post/turkey-internet-access-disruption/

  • OpenNet Africa, a project of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), conducted a regional regional digital security “training of trainers” for trainers from countries throughout east Africa including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others.

  • The Net Alert project, which is investigating targeted digital attacks against at-risk populations, released its first set of project outputs, focusing on newly updated research into security issues with popular Chinese internet browser “UC Browser” and a research paper analyzing privacy and security issues with three popular Chinese browsers: UC Browser, QQ Browser, and Baidu Browser. The new UC Browser research, conducted in part by former ICFP Fellow Jeffrey Knockel, revealed that UC Browser has severe security vulnerabilities, including transmission of sensitive user data with weak encryption. Part of Net Alert’s focus is exploring ways to communicate such security research findings to a broad audience through informative but easily understood infographic content; check that out here. The newly updated UC Browser research can also be read in full at https://citizenlab.org/2016/08/a-tough-nut-to-crack-look-privacy-and-security-issues-with-uc-browser/. The UC/QQ/Baidu research paper, “Privacy and Security Issues in BAT Web Browsers,” was presented at the 2016 USENIX Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI) workshop and can be viewed at https://www.usenix.org/system/files/conference/foci16/foci16-paper-knockel.pdf

  • Information Controls Fellow Arthur Gwagwa published research analyzing the connection between online censorship and elections in Zambia, where social media has in recent years become a crucial component of the government’s political platform and public diplomacy engagement strategy. Read “Manifestation of realpolitik in cyberspace: Analysis of the relationship between internet-based information controls and Elections in Zambia” at http://cipesa.org/?wpfb_dl=219.

  • Qubes, a security-focused free and open source operating system, released the second release candidate of Qubes 3.2. This updated version of Qubes features bug fixes from the first release candidate and features carried over from versions 3.1. You can read more about Qubes OS 3.2 rc2 and download at https://www.qubes-os.org/news/2016/07/28/qubes-OS-3-2-rc2-has-been-released/.

  • NoScript released version 2.9.0.12 of its privacy and security enhancing Firefox browser extension, implementing a number of important security updates.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of July 2016 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    Iranian hackers have hacked Telegram | Business Insider
    Second Tibetan Jailed Over Dalai Lama WeChat Group | Radio Free Asia
    Turkey Cracks Down on Journalists, Its Next Target After Crushing Coup | New York Times
    Russia Asks For The Impossible With Its New Surveillance Laws | EFF
    Egyptian Women Use Social Media to Test Roles | Wall Street Journal
    VPN provider cuts off service to Russia after servers seized | IT World
    China restricts online news sites from sourcing stories on social media | Ars Technica
    Online freedom is a ‘human right’ that must be protected, says UN | Wired

Projects Mentioned