Canadian security researchers working at the University of Waterloo have developed a new anti-censorship system called Slitheen, which
involves wrapping cats in newspapers aims to help people who live in countries where the internet is being heavily censored by their Government.
As most people know it’s already possible to circumvent most censorship systems by using Proxy Servers or Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which can both give you a different Internet Protocol (IP) address in order to protect your privacy and / or offer an additional connection layer over the Internet that ISPs find very difficult to restrict without harming legitimate traffic.
However in the endless game of whack-a-mole such systems are by no means perfect and even complex webs like TOR can be hindered, although it takes a lot of effort to continuously and successfully disrupt them. Never the less, the Internet was never designed to be censored and as such there’s always a loophole somewhere to get around blocks.
At this point some of you will no doubt have spotted that Slitheen is also the name of an alien race in Dr Who (BBC TV series) and one that disguised themselves as humans in order to evade detection, which is of course no coincidence.
Ian Goldberg, Professor of Computer Science at the UW, said:
“Some countries block certain websites based on their web address or their content. Similar to the aliens on Doctor Who, our Slitheen censorship-resistance system works by disguising your connection to a restricted website – for example, a connection to Wikipedia or the New York Times – as that of an allowed website, maybe a site about cute cats.
Unlike other fields of computer science, we have active adversaries. People see our research and how to protect a system and they use that to try to defeat. We have to play both sides of the game – thinking like an attacker to try to defeat our own systems, in order to build better defences.
There’s always an arms race where the defender makes a better system, then the attacker makes a better system. This is what makes the research fun and interesting but also very challenging.”
Cecylia Bocovich, PhD Student in Goldberg’s Lab, said:
“The technology not only provides users with content blocked in their region, but it also protects them by hiding the fact that they are evading their country’s censorship policies.”
Goldberg is also a founding member of the Cryptography, Security, and Privacy (CrySP) research group at Waterloo, which has provided a rather entertainingly simplistic video to help showcase how Slitheen works. Just try to avoid looking too deeply into the cold dead eyes of newspaper cat.. for he is evil.
Meanwhile the technology is still in development, but the researchers hope to have a version available for public use within a year.