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March 2018 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In March, 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 where the free flow of information is curtailed. During the past month, the application deadline for the next round of Information Controls Fellows closed, with reviews now under way. The review and determination process also continued for the 130+ concept notes (requesting nearly $30 million) received during the March 1 round of the Internet Freedom and Core Infrastructure Funds. Additionally, OTF posted two RFPs, one for support of OTF’s proposal system and website (here) and one for expansion of services provided by OTF’s Engineering Lab (here).

Notable accomplishments

  • The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) published a technical report detailing OONI’s approach in developing a new methodology for investigating internet shutdown events through automated detection from “the edge of the network” - through vantage points inside affected regions, powered by the strong global testing community making use of the OONI Probe app (run hundreds of thousands times from thousands of distinct vantage points in 200+ countries daily). The rationale behind OONI’s approach and a preliminary implementation plan can be read in this blog post or in the report itself, accessible here (pdf).

  • In advance of Sierra Leone’s presidential run-off election, OONI updated its test list for the country to include more sites to detect for signs of censorship. Network disruptions and website outages did follow the election period, OONI research found. Test lists for Azerbaijan, Russia, and Ukraine were also updated through community contributions.

  • Adversary Lab finished development of a new version of their analysis engine, designed to determine the resiliency of existing and new mechanisms to circumvent censorship. Through this release, the engine will now provide a more comprehensive review of sophisticated digital attacks which have been seen in the wild, allowing for a better understanding of the capabilities of real adversaries. The analysis engine can be accessed via GitHub here.

  • Decentralized peer-to-peer content delivery protocol NewNode is now under contract for OTF-supported work. NewNode enables data distribution free from censorship, spying, and attack through its decentralized content delivery network. The protocol is designed to be quickly and easily deployed by publishers, is transparent to users, and greatly improves overall network performance. For this project, NewNode will develop a new peer-to-peer protocol and a transport encryption layer to protect the protocol against detection, snooping, and tampering.

  • Secure submission platform GlobaLeaks released a demo platform testing out the tool’s newly developed multitenancy - allowing for multiple whistleblowing platforms to be created through a single setup, making increased adoption of the tool more feasible and scalable. The new demo platform can be found here: https://try.globaleaks.org

  • ICFP Fellow Zach Weinberg released an open beta version of a database on censored websites, hosted by the Information Controls Lab at UMass-Amherst. Ultimately, the database is designed to allow users to aggregate manual and automated censorship test reports, draw more definitive conclusions about what content gets censored in particular countries, and facilitate more efficient use of automated test resources. The beta can be accessed here: https://iclab-tagteam.cs.umass.edu/

  • ICFP Fellow Sergei Hovyadinov worked in tandem with Russian digital rights NGOs Roscomsvoboda and Internet Protection Society to produce and publish a report detailing how four major Russian telecom companies (MTS, Megafon, Beeline and Tele2) handle user privacy and information access issues, including how websites are blocked or filtered by each ISP. Read “The Transparency of Mobile Operators” (Russian language) here.

  • Several ICFP Fellows working on different information controls issues across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region created a blog to share their research findings and news from across the region, mostly translated from non-English sources. Check out the CIS Cyber News blog here.

  • Localization Lab provided translations of Arabic, French, Spanish, Turkish, German, Norwegian Bokmål, Italian, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, and Traditional Chinese for the latest release (v. 0.6) of open source secure submission platform SecureDrop. Also in March, open source disk encryption software, VeraCrypt, joined the Localization Lab hub, with the latest VeraCrypt release (v. 1.22) containing 100% translations into English, Polish, Romanian, German, and French. The Lab also had a significant presence at the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival, organizing 11 community-led sessions around a variety of localization issues while also hosting a translation sprint for six projects.

  • Usability Lab service provider Ura is providing its first UX improvement services through the Lab to Reproducible Builds (widely used source code verification practices), utilized by many free and open source software projects. Part of that work includes creating a new logo, with options available here for crowdsourced voting.

  • Rapid response provider VirtualRoad.org produced a forensic report detailing how online censorship in Azerbaijan is carried out, along with how the organization has been able to enable access in spite of the state’s superior monetary resources. The report reveals that the Azeri government is using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology to censor independent news sites (azadliq.info, 24saat.org and abzas.net) while highlighting how VirtualRoad.org was able to circumvent the blocks and provide access to these sites to users in the country. Read “Corruption, Censorship and a Deep Packet Inspection Vendor” here.

  • The Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) was held from March 5 to 9 in Valencia, Spain. The IFF advances Internet freedom and human rights in the digital space by fostering global, cross-sector collaboration among developers, trainers, designers, journalists, communications professionals, and front line activists. The festival reached capacity – 1,000 registrants – within four weeks of opening registration and received over 800 waitlist registrations. In a post-conference survey, 93% of respondents evaluated their opportunity to share their project at the IFF as valuable or very valuable, and 73% answered that their experience at IFF was more valuable or much more valuable than that at similar conferences or events. The outstanding diversity of the gathering yet again beat the previous years: Registrants represented 130 countries, including 56% from the Global South and 54% who identify as women or gender nonconforming.

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

    Russian lawmakers want to make it easier to block ‘defamatory’ websites | Meduza
    Why Sierra Leone temporarily shut down the internet after runoff vote | Africa News
    China’s New Cyber Rules Add to Cost of Doing Business There | Wall Street Journal
    Turkey’s last big independent media firm is snapped up by a regime ally | The Economist
    Turkey Gives Its Aggressive TV Censor Control Over the Web | Bloomberg
    Telegram Loses Bid to Block Russia From Encryption Keys | Bloomberg
    Censorship, surveillance, and harassment: China cracks down on critics | CPJ
    The Evolution and Spread of Internet Shutdowns | The Daily Dot
    Internet censorship in Kazakhstan: more pervasive than you may think | Open Democracy

Projects Mentioned