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October 2017 Monthly Report

| By: Dan McDevitt

In October, 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. Over the past month, OTF began reviewing the 98 concept notes (requesting nearly $18 million in support) received for the November 1 round - the second highest round total in OTF’s history. OTF this month also solicited proposals to improve its Usability Lab, with those applications now under review. OTF also launched a newly designed version of our website, emphasizing improvements to the site’s UX and navigation.

Notable accomplishments

  • OONI also released two new reports on internet censorship. The first detailed internet censorship in Pakistan over the three-year period between 2014-2017. OONI’s research confirmed the blockage of 210 URLs in Pakistan, many of which are considered ‘blasphemous’ under Pakistani law and pertain to religious content or circumvention tool access. Technical analysis found that the sites were blocked by ISPs via DNS tampering. The second report analyzed censorship during Catalonia’s independence referendum, finding confirmation that at least 25 sites were blocked via DNS tampering and HTTP blocking.

  • Bazaar completed their Bazaar project. These improvements have improved the F-Droid app distribution platform by including features that overcome censorship and operate under conditions of low bandwidth and offline environments by allowing app transfer directly between mobile devices. The overhauled platform also has built in circumvention, significantly enhanced tools and operating system support for entities that want to create a custom app store, malware detection and improved localization, among others. The server side tools are of significant benefit to digital security trainers, human rights organizations and independent media to run their own F-Droid repo which would not be subject to censorship.

  • Privacy and anonymity-enhancing operating system Tails conducted a survey to gather user feedback on file storage encryption. The feedback will help to better inform user needs and preferences as Tails goes about providing support of file encryption tool VeraCrypt in GNOME, the Tails desktop environment.

  • The DNS Privacy Project released a Windows installer for “Stubby,” an application that acts as a local DNS Privacy stub resolver to encrypt DNS queries sent from a client’s device, effectively providing the user with increased privacy and security. The installer can be accessed here.

  • Tor Metrics started its OTF-supported work focused on improving the quality, volume, and transparency of the metrics system used to measure the effectiveness of anonymity and censorship circumvention on the Tor Network. Read more about the Tor Metrics project here or check out the platform itself here.

  • Certbot Improvements started its OTF-supported work focused on improving the Certbot ACME client to ensure more secure HTTPS deployment. Certbot is an easy-to-use tool that helps website operators deploy use of the HTTPS on their domain, a vital security improvement that helps deter against surveillance and high-precision censorship, based on specific web pages or their content. Read more about the Certbot project here.

  • This month, OTF announced its latest class of Information Controls (ICFP) fellows. The diverse group of nine fellows will tackle a wide range of topics including researching DoS attacks on at-risk groups, developing new circumvention tools, investigating privacy in the commercial VPN ecosystem, and analyzing malware-enabled espionage operations. Read more about the new fellows here.

  • Censorship detection research platform OONI released OONI Run, a handy tool for testing whether a site’s URL is blocked, allowing for easy, instantaneous, and shareable data on website censorship. Learn more about OONI Run here. OONI also released its new measurement API, allowing for increased access to OONI data for external research and increased transparency.

  • Localization Lab held a two day localization sprint at COCONET, a Southeast Asian Digital Rights Camp. The sprint resulted in substantial translation of internet freedom tools such as Signal and Tor browser into Bahasa Indonesia, Burmese and Khmer. The Lab also worked with local partners on collecting technical and user experience feedback on those tools, as well as feature requests which were shared back with the tool developers.

    Select news collected by OTF from the month of October 2017 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund
    The New York Times is Now Available as a Tor Onion Service | New York Times
    The Woman Taking On Russia’s Trolling Machine | Wired
    Russia’s censor has created a new department to battle Internet anonymizers | Meduza
    Cost of Africa’s internet shutdowns? $1m a day – quarter of a billion total | The Register
    China’s Weibo Hires 1000 ‘Supervisors’ to Censor Content | The Diplomat
    Inside the CCleaner Backdoor Attack | Threatpost
    China’s Severe Curbs on the Internet Leave Little to Censor | Bloomberg
    VPN law latest step in Kremlin online crackdown | AFP

Projects Mentioned