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Censorship Outages: An Observatory for Realtime Monitoring and Analysis of Internet Blackouts Caused by Censorship
Sponsored by:
Open Technology Fund
We are creating an observatory for Internet shutdowns caused by censorship and seek to make this platform as useful as possible to the general public.

Funding source: Radio Free Asia contract 1002-2019-009. Period of performance: November 1, 2019 - October 31, 2020.

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Project Summary

Episodes of politically-motivated interference with Internet access are widespread and frequent. In particular, large-scale connectivity disruptions are often used by repressive regimes to restrict the free flow of information. These events are often undocumented, unverified, surrounded by uncertainty about their timing, extent, cause, and specific mechanisms of execution. Objective measurement data are indispensable for establishing facts and responsibilities in order to inform citizens, policymakers, the media, and activists.

Based on diverse types of Internet measurements and peer-reviewed scientific methods, at the Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), University of California San Diego, we have developed and deployed a platform called IODA (Internet Outage Detection and Analysis) that monitors the Internet 24/7 in order to detect and visualize information about Internet connectivity disruptions. IODA provides a public dashboard, providing timely information about network outages in near-realtime, while it enables registered users to further inspect and explore our data as an aid to investigate disruptive events. The overarching goal of this project is to further enhance the role and impact of IODA as an observatory for Internet shutdowns caused by censorship.

Over the last year, we have dramatically increased and diversified IODA's user base through active engagement with groups interested in and affected by Internet shutdowns (including technical collaborators and regional activists). We advertised and explained how IODA can be used to analyze shutdowns at community events such as the Citizen Lab Summer Institute and RightsCon. We provided active support to users through video calls, and produced screencast tutorials. Additionally, we often reported and shed light on detected events through Twitter and blog posts, sometimes in collaboration with other groups (e.g., OONI).

Our experience with IODA and our interaction with the community has helped us identify and prioritize new key methodological and usability improvements in the detection of Internet shutdowns and in IODA specifically. We will address these gaps and further improve IODA as an observatory for Internet shutdowns caused by censorship. Specifically, we plan to (i) address open challenges in detecting and analyzing Internet connectivity shutdowns, (ii) improve usability of our outage detection platform (IODA), (iii) further increase its utilization by civil society and other non-research organizations, and (iv) explore the use of IODA to identify in a timely manner which means of connectivity (e.g., telecom operators, IPv6) continue to be available during a shutdown.

Projected Timeline

TaskDescriptionProjected DateStatus
Task 1: Improve IODA's technical capabilities
1.1Monitoring IPv6 connectivity:

(1) Extend our current BGP-based outage detection approach to work with IPv6
(2) Investigate theoretical and practical challenges in developing active probing techniques for the purpose of detecting outages in the IPv6 Internet
1.2Investigate adding data sources to IODA that can help provide visibility into outages in cellular ASes
1.3Add a new dashboard to enable users to investigate a country of interest
1.4Improve the stability of the liveness signal extracted from the IBR data sourceongoing
Task 2: Make IODA more useful by improving its user interface
2.1Produce screencasts and tutorials to help users analyze outages with IODA
2.2Upgrade the visual interface codebase and introduce usability improvements
2.3Extend user selection of aggregations to support regions of a country and autonomous systemsdone
2.4Render IODA user interface "alert bands" to draw attention to an outage consistently
2.5Improve redirection of links when user not logged into IODA
Task 3: Release timely reports about shutdown events
3.1Use the IODA Twitter account for timely dissemination of detected outages, and publish detailed analysis providing insight into interesting events either using the CAIDA blog or in collaboration with other groupsongoing
3.2Use the enhancements to AS-level user interfaces to perform indepth analyses of AS-level outages during major shutdowns and report upon our findingsdone
Task 4: Engage in outreach and collaboration
4.1Work with third parties that use IODA visualizations as supporting evidence for their workongoing
4.2Attend additional Internet freedom forumsongoing
4.3Continue to collaborate with other groups operating in this space and foster new collaborationsongoing
4.4Keep assisting our users to make the best use of IODAongoing

Acknowledgement of awarding agency's support

This project is the result of funding provided by Open Technology Fund, building on previous work supported by Radio Free Asia under contract number 1002-2018-027. The published material represents the position of the author(s) and not necessarily that of OTF nor RFA.

  Last Modified: Tue Jan-28-2020 10:39:25 PST
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