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Internet Throttling is being used for Censorship

Private Internet Access blogged about a recent report by Access Now (February 24th 2020) titled “2019 #KeepItOn – Targeted, Cut Off, and Left in the Dark” (PDF) where they look at Internet shutdowns by criminal governments globally for the year 2019. I highly recommend reading the whole report to get an idea of how bad the situation is in various countries and the world in general. It’s also important to get a general idea of what techniques are being used for censorship on the Internet so that you can learn to recognize them and work around them when you get affected in the future. Because it  appears that the situation is getting worse and that criminal governments are devising new ways to censor information without the public catching on.

One of the ways in which they now censor information is by using bandwidth throttling and the reasons for why this method of censorship is being used more often is explained by Berhan Taye, senior policy analyst at Access Now, in an interview with Netzpolitik. As she explains:

The majority of the world did not know that Jordan had throttled Facebook live streaming services until this report came out. However, if Jordan had blocked Facebook, it would have been very easy to identify this blocking. Governments typically throttle services because it is hard to prove incidents like throttling when compared to blockings or shutdown. Moreover, people that are not able to upload or live stream events are most likely going to assume there’s something wrong with their internet as every other part of the internet functions well, rather than questions their service providers. So, yes, the reasons why the government throttle the internet or specific parts of the internet is because they can easily hide throttling rather than complete shutdowns or blocking of sites.

She then goes on to list a couple of ways in which bandwidth throttling is done:

  1. Bandwidth management / Traffic shaping and policing: Bandwidth management, which can be done by source or destination IP addresses, IP subnets, VLANs, or MAC addresses.
  2. QoS: Networking technologies such as QoS (Quality of Service) are sometimes used to prioritize particular types of communication (protocols) over others, which can have a throttling effect on the deprioritized communication protocols traffic.
  3. Inline DPI: Inline DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) devices at layer 5 and above can be used to introduce latency.
  4. NIC / Port partitioning: NIC (Network Interface Card) / port partitioning at layer 2, which will affect all traffic.
  5. Routing path: The routing path can be altered to be longer, or go through lower capacity chokepoints in the network to create a throttling effect.

The effect that throttling has is that it can make it difficult for people to upload and share information, but it can also discourage or prevent others from accessing information when it becomes difficult to do so due to a slow and unreliable connection specifically to that information.

This is why I recently said that “the biggest threat in ‘society’, anywhere in the world, remains the criminal government — including when it comes to cybersecurity” and that “after the criminal governments, Internet Surveillance Providers (ISPs) pose the biggest threat in the area of cybersecurity.”

Usually the above mentioned bandwidth throttling techniques can be worked around by using browsers such as Tor or installing a VPN application on the device to encrypt connections to make it impossible for the local Internet Surveillance Provider (ISP) and criminal government to know which websites you visit or which services you’re using.

With these developments we see that you simply cannot be paranoid enough when you notice “technical problems” on your connection and especially not when those problems appear to limit themselves to specific websites, apps or services that you use. I will have more on this over the weekend involving a personal case, so if you like my blog and want to continue to have access to it, then stay tuned for a very important update coming soon.

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