Saturday, May 17, 2008

Internet Free Asia

Network World has a nice write-up on the 'Great Firewall' of China. The content filtering performed by the government (with Cisco equipment) appears to be inconsistent by design in order to make Chinese citizens unsure about whether or not they are being watched.

One point of interest is that the vast majority of the Chinese are in favor of such monitoring. James Fallows, who was interviewed for the piece, says that this is probably related to the fact that even the comparative trickle of information that the Chinese are able to gleam off the net is a torrent compared to what's normally accessible. Although that might be part of it, I'm sure regular citizens also figure that if the government pre-filters the information it will dramatically lower the chances of an unmarked sedan pulling up in the middle of the night to take you away because you accidentally clicked on the wrong link.

The commies do leave an 'out' though: VPN type traffic is permissible. They really don't have much of a choice on this one as Western firms would find it practically impossible to do business in the country without that functionality. Even the small concern for which I work has an employee in China that hooks up to our network in such a fashion. I've been tempted to e-mail him something divisive every now and then but A) I don't want to get him in trouble and B) His family has been running that business for while, and he himself is a graduate of a local university, so I doubt that he harbors any ill will toward the current leadership; if you get my drift...

But that does bring me around to an idea whose time has come. We have Radio Free Asia which broadcasts a wide variety of programming, but whose broadcasts are routinely jammed by the countries being targeted by the productions. There's also anonymous web usage technologies like Tor and Freenet, but these are slow, complicated, unstable, bandwidth intensive and susceptible to even half hearted denial-of-service attacks. However with the technology available today it should be possible form a priv-pub venture along the lines of Radio Free Asia, an "Internet Free Asia" if you would. I would envision that such a setup would use technology like VMware's Virtual Desktop Infrastructure which would allow users to use existing remote desktop VPN technologies that come with just about any system (including Linux) to hook into a 'fake computer' that is on the other side of the 'Great Firewall'.

Would this system be prone to a type of denial-of-service attack where the Chinese/Vietnamese/Burmese government just hooks into all the 'fake computers' in order to clog all the ports? Maybe, but I think that it would be something that could be tuned out of the system, particularly by being choosey about which IP blocks to allow. At least it would have the novelty of making despots the world over anxiously trying to grow extra fingers in order to plug yet another hole in their information dike.

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