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November 2016 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In November, 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. Among the highlights this month: a tool for tracking Chinese censorship in real time went live, Turkish internet users turned to OTF-supported technology in the wake of a government-imposed shutdown, and a new class of Information Controls fellows began work on censorship research and analysis.

Notable accomplishments

  • The FreeWeChat platform is now live, compiling and posting censored WeChat public posts in real time. Censorship on WeChat, one of China’s most popular chat applications, was further documented this month by former ICFP fellows Jason Q. Ng and Jeffrey Knockel in a new Citizen Lab report, further demonstrating the utility of such a platform.

  • Research conducted by a secure web hosting service Virtualroad shows that Azerbaijan is blocking access and throttling connectivity to several independent news sites, including Azadiq Radiosu (RFERL), Voice of America, Azadliq, and Meydan TV. Technical forensic analysis showed that artificial network congestion targeting these sites was used to disallow access. For more, read “How Azerbaijan is Trying to Block Main Opposition Media News.”

  • OTF welcomed a new cohort of Information Controls Fellowship Program (ICFP) fellows as they begin their work advancing research, analysis, and tool development on topics related to internet censorship. The six fellows will work with their respective host organizations to address topics like DoS attacks on at-risk groups, development of new circumvention tools, and malware-enabled espionage operations targeting civil society groups. Read the announcement here.

  • Digital Integrity fellow Nighat Dad implemented the launch of Pakistan’s first-ever cyber harassment hotline, offered to help curb hateful rhetoric targeting Pakistani women online. The hotline went live on Dec. 1. Nighat was also awarded the 2016 Human Rights Tulip award by the Dutch government for her “innovative approach” to human rights work in Pakistan.

  • A new version of Mailvelope, a browser extension that facilitates email encryption for users of browser based email providers, was released. Mailvelope version 1.6.0 is now compatible with Outlook (along with previously supported Gmail and Yahoo) and supports the signing of encrypted messages. Mailvelope is available for download on Chrome and Firefox.

  • Tor released Tor Browser 6.0.7 in November, which incorporates an update of OTF-supported NoScript and important security patches to Firefox. You can read more about the release here and download the latest version of Tor Browser (now 6.0.8) here.

  • The makers of secure desktop operating system Subgraph OS began efforts to add OpenVPN support to the platform’s sandbox framework, allowing users to configure applications to communicate securely with external networks via VPNs. You watch a video demo of OpenVPN use in Subgraph here.

  • In the face of increased internet censorship amid a government crackdown on the media and civil society, Turkish internet users turned to Tor to circumvent blockages and access the internet, including various blocked social media platforms. See the uptick in Tor connections from Turkey in the graph here.

  • A Washington Post editorial on Chinese internet censorship pointed to a recent OTF-supported NetAlert report and how it “offer[s] a glimpse of how censorship actually works in China.”

  • Several of OTF’s Digital Integrity Fellowship Program (DIFP) fellows (Zimbabwe-based Natasha Msonza, Pakistan-based Nighat Dad, and a fellow based in Venezuela) were featured in a Voice of America profile on the fellows and their work, which aims to bolster the digital security of at-risk human rights organizations and other communities most affected by internet freedom violations. Read the article here.


  • The Signal messaging protocol audit, produced by OTF-supported Open Whisper Systems, received a strong review from security researchers who conducted a formal security analysis of the encryption protocol, finding “no major flaws in the design.” A concise writeup of the audit can be read here.


  • Two OTF-supported security audits were released publicly in November: one of secure password manager Padlock and another of Olm, a cryptographic library which provides a framework (protocol) for secure end-to-end encryption via an open source, decentralized platform.


    Select news collected by OTF from the month of November 2016 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    Russia Turns to China for Help Building Its Own “Great Firewall” of Censorship | MIT Technology Review
    In the crosshairs of Azerbaijan’s patriotic trolls | OpenDemocracy
    Freedom Online: The Global Rise in Intentional Internet Disruptions | State Department
    New Thai Cybercrime Regs Would Open Back Door to Censorship | Khaosod
    LinkedIn is now officially blocked in Russia | TechCrunch
    Xi Jinping pushes China’s vision for the worldwide web | FT
    Two-thirds of the world’s internet users live under government censorship: report | The Verge
    Activists fight back against Turkish government’s block on Tor and VPNs | Daily Dot