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Networking The Internet Censorship Government Hardware Hacking Wireless Networking Build Politics

Getting Past Censorship With Unorthodox Links To the Internet 82

An anonymous reader points out a short article at The Economist, which says "Savvy techies are finding ways to circumvent politically motivated shutdowns of the internet. Various groups around the world are using creative means like multi-directional mobile phone antennae and even microwave ovens to transmit internet traffic accross international borders."
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Getting Past Censorship With Unorthodox Links To the Internet

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  • by arcade ( 16638 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:49AM (#35541642) Homepage

    This really depends on the country in question, but there are many way s to gain access to the Internet. If the country is connected to more free country by land, it should be possible to set up RONJA-devices for cross-border communication. (For more information about RONJA: [] ). The devices might seem very conspicious but can be made to be less obvious. If using light outside the visible range, this might be a rather good alternative. Not easily blocked with radio-jamming neither.

    One can further develop this with more links once inside the country - from location to location, without links that are easy to shut down without knowledge of their location available for the government.

    Directional antennas for wireless devices is another alternative - but those are easier to jam with interference.

    Now, it's a completely different ballpark if you don't have any friendly regimes close by. If you're an island nation (say cuba, australia, or others) - you might have to piggyback on existing communication links, and if the links themselves are completely severed - like they were in Egypt - it automatically gets more difficult. You'll need to piggyback on radio or satelite. I don't know the current state of packet radio, nor do I know how easy it is to trace or jam - but my suspicion is that it would be relatively easy to both track down and to jam.

    Satelite, as pointed out in the article, is expensive. I do seem to remember some satelites having support for relaying messages for free for people using amateur radio - however - I suspect this is for voice communication and not for packet radio. It should, however, be possible to get tweets out if you can find someone to type them in outside of the country. Not easy to upload stuff to youtube using this, though.

    Other ideas?

    • >>>Other ideas?

      I'd just use dialup (like the freebie connection provided by France). It's a perfectly acceptable means of transmitting photographs (a few seconds each). Even videos can be uploaded to youtube in 10 minutes or less.

    • Directional antennas for wireless devices is another alternative - but those are easier to jam with interference.

      The problem with optical is range, which is piss-poor. As you say, the devices are somewhat obtrusive. A microwave antenna is often even moreso, but you can cover it with something opaque and hide it. An extremely directional microwave link is not necessarily trivial to jam and with fairly small antennae you can easily achieve ranges well more than double what you can practically do with a LASER. In addition these low-power microwave links represent less risk to the user :)

      You'll need to piggyback on radio or satelite.

      Or IOW, you depend on angels dropp

      • by Cyberax ( 705495 )

        I've personally built a laser link using two laser pointers, it was capable of reliable communication at 115200bps at the distance of 2 kilometers. With better lasers and/or lenses, this distance can be easily extended to 10-15km.

        I used the system described here: [] (sorry, no English version)

        • I posted somewhere else... but there are a lot of shiny things... like mirrors on the moon... though they may be more prisms and bounce stuff right back at you.

          a tricky bit of trigonometry but possibly possible... well in some cyber-punk fantasy book maybe.

    • I do seem to remember some satelites having support for relaying messages for free for people using amateur radio - however - I suspect this is for voice communication and not for packet radio.

      If you can send voice, you can send data. It may be slow, but it's certainly possible. You just need someone on the outside to set up the same system.

      I don't know the current state of packet radio, nor do I know how easy it is to trace or jam - but my suspicion is that it would be relatively easy to both track down and to jam.

      Somewhat, yes. I doubt that most governments would bother though. If they jam it, you can always jump to another frequency - there are quite a few amateur radio bands, and more than one that would allow digital transmission. If they block all the amateur bands, they've probably already blocked every other wireless link you could possible use (including satelli

    • there are lots of mirrors on the moon... could you bounce some lasers off them to and from other places to communicate... (yeh hitting in the first place is probably hard enough was it is without having to setup receivers etc... and hit them too)

  • by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:55AM (#35541684)

    Any ideas where I can pick up a multi-directional antenna for my phone? The unidirectional antenna it came with is a huge pain.

  • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @09:57AM (#35541690)
    This is a start, but the tools are still firmly in geeks-only territory. Can't all us in the idealistic open-source community come up with new technologies? How about some program that lets mobile phones exchange data with people as they pass in the street, maintaining a shared high-latency store akin to Freenet? Or maybe some company would like to improve on the sat-internet antenna to make it even more strongly directional, thus making it harder to trace?
    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      It will remain geeks-only until people need it and it will be too late then. We need to have a resilient network while staying on the geeks-only realm.
      • There's a Systems problem here too.

        For all the cool tricks we can develop, all the authorities have to do is Ban X, which is the modified object, then just continue the fear campaign. We can't develop 50 new tricks per day.

        Also, the range is a problem. I can think of any number of short-range Godel Encoding themes, but it does me no good if the audience is my neighbor. To get news out of Country Z, you need some kind of data that leaves Country Z that can't just be the subject of more regulations.

        • Re:Needs more work. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @11:48AM (#35542262)
          The solution is to find an X that is difficult to ban. Something that can be assembled from scrap with minimal training, like a cantenna. Or that is so useful and popular that to ban it would further feed the rebel's cause. Or even just something that is small and cheap enough to be easily smuggled or hidden, so that enforcing a ban would become very difficult. You might not be able to stop the secret police, but you can make their job very difficult.
          • Sorry, I'd rather not be condemned to repeat 1950's Russia.

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          One strategy is to have so many X to choose from that the government can't think of all of them and get bans implemented. Another is to make X easily built from common items and hard to detect and track. That's why things like the modulated microwave oven make sense. If authorities claim you have an illegal transmitter, nuke them a cup of tea with it and they may decide they were mistaken. Laser pointer links are limited range compared to radio, but very hard to detect for example. The equipment for that is

          • Good effort, but you're not evil enough.

            Allow me to change about seven words from the draft bill floating around congress:

            "Any unathorized viewing of any copyrighted item is a felony."

            And since everything that exists has an instant copyright from the moment it was created, the first 1000 "country destroying IP-terrorists" made an example of will go way past chill - it will be cultural nuclear winter.

            "Wheel Of Fortune 2.0! Is that screen of data in front of you the single authorized copy? No? You lose! Thank

  • Great !!
    As soon as the DIY crowd gets wind of the microwave oven hack, it wont be safe to walk down the street without getting cooked.

    • by swalve ( 1980968 )

      Same thing with the lasers. One of my biggest waking nightmares is that some fucking kid builds a massive kit laser out of a DVD burner to burn ants at 1000 yards, and accidentally blinds me while I'm driving down the street.

      "What's that humming noise? Why do I suddenly feel so hot?" [hmmmmm-click-DING!-"You've got mail!"] "Fuck, my balls just exploded!"

    • IIRC microwave ovens were "discovered" when soldiers learned that they could put things like hot dogs on sticks and dangle them in front of radar dishes in WW II and cook them in a few seconds. A radar technician who noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket melted when he was working on an active radar had the bright idea of confining the microwaves and using them to cook food. Hence the early Ratheon "radar range".

      So it's not so crazy that someone would learn to reverse engineer (in a sense differen
      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The biggest catch is to develop a power supply for the magnetron which is not modulated by the supply frequency (50 or 60Hz). And can be modulated at the data frequencies. For a DC supply of a couple of kilovolts, this is a non-trivial task.

        Not that I'm putting this approach down altogether. The easy availability of rated at hundreds of watts (I imagine some derating from cooking levels would be appropriate) makes this an interesting starting point.

      • by clanrat ( 707500 )
        You do know that microwave ovens operate in the same frequency band as 2.4 GHz wifi, right? They're usually centered around ch.9 in the wifi spectrum.
  • Point to point laser will also work in the right situation, and be almost impossible to detect.

  • RFC1149 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Saturday March 19, 2011 @11:24AM (#35542130) Homepage Journal

    Who'd look twice at some pigeons?

    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      Pigeons carrying 8GB thumb drives. Perfect!

    • by PPH ( 736903 )
      Hungry people?
    • by tloh ( 451585 )

      eagles, hawks, and other raptors? I wonder what the current situation for the art of falconry is around the world.

    • Who'd look twice at some pigeons?

      As silly as this RFC1149 reference might be; it is actually a pertinent view.

      In this modern age, we like to think any access to information is always high tech and all.
      But there are less technical but nevertheless worthy ways to exchange information, talking about transmitting packets through amateur radio actually bypasses the very important thinking of using the amateur radio itself as the information exchange.

      A lot of revolutions in the past were started with radio (both by taking official broadcasting s

  • by Anonymous Coward

    802.11S is a game changer. Its sometimes called 'darknet' or a backhaul network, but it does get the job done, so long as you have people willing to maintain it. Two routers on either side of a border, can connect to one another. If you have one that is solar powered, near a border, then its self maintaining. All you need then is another router within a kilometer or so of that router. If someone then has an 802.11S router connected to their computer, plus the 'official' wired internet, and the outside

  • Can you extend a wifi network originating from a mobile device such as a mifi or iPhone (w/ iOS 4.3)?

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin