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UPDATE Political Censorship Fear as UK ISPs Blocked from Ukraine News Site

Tuesday, Mar 18th, 2014 (8:10 am) - Score 1,169

The growing crisis on Europe’s border between Ukraine and Russia, which centres on a dispute over ownership of the Crimea territory, took an unusual twist yesterday after it was spotted that Sky Broadband and other UK ISPs appeared to be restricting access to Ukrainian news site Tsn.ua. Oddly Sky claims it was blocked for being on a “white list” of websites (note to Sky: normally you unblock those).

According to Boing Boing, which first spotted the alleged block, customers of Sky Broadband in the United Kingdom are currently unable to access the http://tsn.ua (TCH) website and we have since been able to confirm this.

Similarly we’ve seen sporadic reports of access problems from other ISPs, such as Zen Internet, and even some VPN and proxy servers appear to be experiencing related problems (note: Kproxy.com works). But the situation became even more confusing after one of Sky’s customers, Mr Ciuriak, received a rather mangled response from the Sky Help Centre team.

Sky’s Help Centre Reply

Thank you for your enquiry, unfortunately there has been a white list of international media websites which are currently blocked and this site is affected by this. This means we are unable to assist in getting you access to this website.”

Now just for the avoidance of doubt, a “white list” in the land of normal network terminology refers to a collection of websites or IP address that you DO NOT BLOCK (trusted sources). In this instance Sky appears to be suggesting that they block white listed sites, which is hopefully just a mistake by a support agent. The correct term for blocked sites is a “black list” (or sometimes just “block list“). We contacted Sky for clarification yesterday and have been promised a response.

Digging Deeper

But is this block really all down to the ISPs or is there more to it and has Sky’s statement merely confused matters? ISPreview.co.uk decided to do a little digging. The news website TSN.ua appears to be a fairly normal media outlet for news in Ukraine and it’s owned by the 1+1 Media Group, which is one of the largest media holdings in Ukraine with 7 TV channels and various other news services.

However a quick traceroute test, which reveals all of the servers on the path between you and the web server, noted that traffic bound for TSN.ua’s page appeared to hit a roadblock when it hit a server for retn.net (a Russia-based “international telecommunications network provides capacity, data transmission and IP based services“).

It’s believed that Russia has been launching various cyber-attacks against Ukraine and generally attempting to limit communication services in the country, so it’s perhaps not surprising that a Russian host might also be limiting outside access to related news outlets.

So perhaps what Sky meant to say is that TSN.ua is protected from blocking, otherwise we can’t see any good reason for them to censor it; although that hasn’t stopped various blocking errors in the recent past (e.g. the Imgur.com block). But at the same time it’s oddly still possible to access TSN by using http://ru.tsn.ua (this uses a different IP from tsn.ua).

UPDATE 1:59pm

Sky has confirmed what we reported above, which is that none of their blocking applications or policies are restricting access to tsn.ua and so the remarks by one of their support team members can now be disregarded. The access / peering problem is, as we said above, impacting a lot of ISPs in the UK and elsewhere.

The provider does intend to continue their investigation but it’s likely that this particular issue will be largely outside of their control. At least we still have proxy servers to help protect access to free speech and legitimate reporting.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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