Censorship Outages: An Observatory for Realtime Monitoring and Analysis of Internet Blackouts Caused by Censorship

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.

Sponsored by:
Radio Free Asia (RFA)

Principal Investigator: Alberto Dainotti

Funding source:  1002-2018-027 Period of performance: December 4, 2018 - October 31, 2019.

Project Summary

Episodes of politically-motivated interference with Internet access are widespread and frequent. In particular, large-scale connectivity disruptions, even at country-level, are often used by repressive regimes to attack 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 and timely measurement data are needed in order to characterize the interference and inform citizens, policymakers, the media, and activists.

With previous funding from NSF and DHS, we have developed an Internet measurement and data analysis platform, IODA, capable of detecting, in near-realtime, macroscopic Internet outages. This project aims to improve this infrastructure in order to monitor the whole Internet 24/7 and observe connectivity disruption events at country/regional/operator level. We will make IODA more useful to the community by improving its user interface, releasing timely reports about shutdown events, and engaging in outreach and collaboration with interested stakeholders.

The ultimate project goal is to benefit populations oppressed by authoritarian regimes limiting their ability to communicate, protest, report events, and stemming the free flow of information. In practice, the results of our project will directly assist various types of actors advocating and fighting for human rights by significantly improving their capability to access accurate data on Internet shutdowns. Through comparison and cross-validation with other complementary data sources, our findings will support the development of different techniques to identify Internet censorship. The prompt detection and investigation of these adversarial events will create opportunities for cooperative targeted analysis that may yield valuable insights as well as the identification of means to effectively circumvent censorship, thus extending the impact of our work to more than awareness-raising and documentation.

Project Objectives and Activities

Activity Type Status
Objective 1: Improve IODA's underlying technical design
1.1 Improve the reliability of IODA's data sources

(a) Filter out erratic and spoofed Network Telescope traffic
(b) Streamline periodic fetching of a destination list from ISI for Trinarkular probing
(c) Resolve handling of misleading spikes of new BGP prefixes

exploration / implementation

(a) ongoing
(b) done
(c) ongoing
1.2 Improve IODA's detection methods

(a) Design and evaluate a time series modeling algorithm (in collaboration with IIJ)
(b) Deploy the time series modeling algorithm for the Network Telescope data
(c) Incorporate the notion of overlapping alerts for calculating alert score
(d) Improve handling of long-lasting level shifts in IODA signals

debugging / implementation
exploration / implementation

(a) done
(b) done

(d) ongoing
Objective 2: Make IODA more useful by improving its user interface
2.1 Create videos teaching how to use IODA's UI execution done
2.2 Add country selection field to dashboard implementation done
2.3 Add tooltlps across user interface elements implementation done
2.4 Fix broken visualization of alert bands in IODA UI exploration done
2.5 Fix redirection errors occurring when clicking on an IODA link while not logged in implementation done
2.6 Work with the OTF's Usability Lab to improve IODA UI collaboration postponed
Objective 3: Release timely reports about shutdown events
3.1 Create and curate an IODA Twitter account execution done
3.2 Blog about Internet shutdowns execution done
Objective 4: Engage in outreach and collaboration
4.1 Engage in discussions on the KeepItOn malling list execution done
4.2 Attend Internet freedom events execution done
4.3 Collaborate with other teams exploration done
4.4 Assist IODA users execution done

Acknowledgment of awarding agency's support

This project is the result of funding provided 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 RFA.

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