New Technology Promises Access to Blocked Sites

Aug 14, 2011 12:00 PM PST

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Developers of a new technology called Telex say it can hide data from banned websites inside traffic of sites deemed safe.

The software, developed by scientists at the University of Michigan and University of Waterloo, draws on well-known encryption techniques to conceal data making hard to decipher and gives ISPs a way to help Internet users avoid censorship roadblocks.

Proxy servers are the most common way around traditional online censorship. The proxy server acts as an intermediary to connect network traffic when the more direct path is blocked. But these proxy servers can also be blocked, requiring new servers to be established.

Telex avoids this issue by creating what the researchers describe as a proxy without an IP address. After installing the software, the user who wants to access a blocked website can connect to a non-blocked site outside the censor’s network. To the censor, this would appear to be a permitted connection, but Telex would redirect the user at the ISP level to the blocked site.

The researchers say Telex will turn the Internet into an anti-censorship device.

"First, there's software that you install on your computer,” said Alex Halderman, one of the software developers. “And then there are devices that we call Telex stations, that Internet service providers outside the country doing the censorship put on the pipes of the Internet. That is, on the wires that are carrying traffic."

Halderman added that the Telex system will require cooperation from Internet service providers on a large scale if it is to work.

"We like to envision this technology as a possible government-level response to government-level censorship," he said, with governments providing incentives for ISPs to install Telex.

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