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May 2017 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In May, 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 that curtail the free flow of information. This month, OTF has been reviewing and responding to the nearly 70 concept notes received for the May 1 round. As the July 1 round deadline approaches, OTF has already received 400 total support requests in the 2017 calendar year.

Notable accomplishments

  • Censorship detection research platform OONI released a report detailing internet censorship in Indonesia. The OONI network measurement data found 161 websites, including sites like Vimeo, Reddit, and that of a popular animal rights organization, blocked during the testing period. The testing indicates that Indonesian ISPs are carrying out the blockages through DNS hijacking. Read “The State of Internet Censorship in Indonesia” in full here.

  • Continuing their work examining patterns of censorship in African countries during elections, Sub-Saharan Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections monitored the internet for forced disruptions during Lesotho’s elections on June 3. An OONI probe was deployed in-country to monitor for possible censorship events.

  • Several new projects and fellows are now under contract with OTF, including STARTTLS Everywhere (a Core Infrastructure project improving inter-server email security and authentication); Opennet Africa (building the digital security and safety capacities of at-risk groups in five African countries); and the Tor BSD Diversity Project (diversifying the Tor network, predominantly Linux-based at present, through use of open-source BSD unix operating systems).

  • Freedom from Government Intimidation in Belarus finalized information security audits of two Belarusian NGOs and proceeded to provide assistance to the audited organizations in creating information security policies, addressing discovered issues and vulnerabilities. The project also provided eight security consultations, including device securement, to Belarusian human rights and civic activists while also preparing a training for ‘champions’ within at-risk NGOs.

  • Decentralized, encrypted messaging tool Briar successfully separated the Bramble protocol stack from the Briar application, meaning the Bramble library can now be used by other Android and Java applications - increasing the ‘multiplier effect’ of Briar’s work as it can now be adopted by other projects. Briar also worked to improve their platform’s UX, with the first public beta expected to be released soon.

  • Emerging Technology fellow Lorenzo Primiterra continued to make improvements to the OONI censorship detection mobile app ooniprobe, working to enhance the app’s usability and capabilities through forthcoming features (currently in beta) that would allow for more consistent, increased measurement testing and ways to encourage the ease of running a measurement on a given website.

  • In response to Azerbaijan blocking the websites of several critical news organizations, OTF provided Rapid Response support to make the censored websites available by mirroring the sites in real time, hosted on Google Cloud Storage - the “collateral freedom” circumvention method. The four sites (Azadliq.info, Abzas.net, 24saat.org, and azerbaycansaati.tv ) can be accessed here.

  • Based off feedback from developers in Tibet, China, and Iran, The Guardian Project created two new libraries that make it easier for apps to find trusted update channels, a utility of particular use in such places as it is common to download and use app distribution platforms rather than using those found pre-installed on a device. This ensures users can get secure, timely updates regardless of where they first downloaded the app. More details on the new “F-Droid Update Channels” libraries can be found here.

  • The Guardian Project published research on the challenges faced by developers in closed societies around the world - gathering firsthand accounts from individuals working on the frontlines of the battle for internet freedom, developing technologies in repressive environments. Drawing on (1) interviews with 14 developers, technologists, and activists from 11 different countries and five international NGOs who focus on such areas and (2) a survey offered in six languages and responded to by 118 developers in 28 countries, the report serves as a resource for international groups looking to work with developers in closed environments. The full report, “Technological Collaboration in a Closing World,” can be accessed here.

  • The Red Team Lab completed an audit on (Py)CIRCLean. (Py)CIRCLean is the software used by Kitten Groomer, an independent hardware solution to sanitize documents from untrusted USB flash drives - a serious issue in countries where people are forced to share uncensored news, information and technology on smuggled storage devices. The project is currently remediating bugs found in the audit. There are also two projects currently being scoped, the protocol stack for (n+1)sec, a secure multi-party chat application, and an organizational audit for ASL19, a technology and research group working to improve online access to information and freedom of expression in the MENA region with a particular focus on Iran.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of May 2017 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    Egypt blocks access to 21 news websites | Committee to Protect Journalists
    China cyber-security law will keep citizens’ data within the Great Firewall | The Register
    How Vladimir Putin mastered the art of ‘online Judo’ – and why the west should be worried | Wired
    Facebook is blocking Thai users from seeing video of their king in a crop top | Vice News
    Malaysia threatens jail for WhatsApp group admins over spread of misinformation | Motherboard
    Hardliners urge Kremlin crackdown on social media | Financial Times
    Beijing Reins In Online News Services | Wall Street Journal
    Azerbaijan moves to block independent news websites, including RFE/RL | AP

Projects Mentioned