Last week, I came across an interesting article in Friday’s New York Times, about how people in Iran and other countries known for their aggressive Internet censorship, have connected with various “open net” sites that enable them to surf unrestricted (and with the subjects of their searches unrecorded by their governments – a key fact that the article does not mention). And on Monday I saw a Reuters story about what at least one media tracking organization sees as increasing censorship over the past year:
Syrian authorities have tightened their “mighty grip” on the media and Internet since ties improved with the West last year, the author of a new report on censorship in the Arab country said on Sunday.
“With Syria breaking free from its isolation, the need is greater than ever to ease the mighty censorship and grip over the media, which have only contributed to spreading ignorance and corruption,” Mazen Darwich, head of the Syrian Media Centre, told Reuters …
The report, entitled “Syrian pens fall silent”, said 225 Internet sites were blocked last year, up from 159 in 2007. The sites include several Arab newspapers and portals, Amazon, Facebook and YouTube.
Twenty one percent of the sites banned were Kurdish — Syria has around one million Kurds, including tens of thousands without citizenship — and 15 percent are run by Syrian opposition groups.
Bans on a few sites, such as the Arabic language Wikipedia, were lifted, but the Internet remains under the monitoring of the security apparatus, Darwich said.
“We are a long way away from a free cyberspace, but at least supervision should be in the hands of the government, not security, and subject to a law,” he said …
[Please click on the link above for the remainder of the article.]
In Syria, the government uses a company called Platinum, Inc. to manage the proxy system through which users access the Internet through government servers. Platinum, whose motto is (somewhat oddly, for a company that focuses on Internet access and network computing programs) “Beyond the Network”, offers a proxy service called “ThunderCache“. I can’t quite believe that this is a product designed in Syria, but nothing on either site indicates what company did develop it, or where. (I remember reading a press release some time ago that to me suggested that the company in question is actually a U.S. firm, but I can’t find any current confirmation of this. And I guess I wouldn’t be too quick to advertise if my software were being used to further the censorship goals of the Asad regime, either.) On the other hand,Platinum’s representative to last July’s ICT Security Forum in Damascus was a man named Erik Tetzlaff, which – if you’ll forgive my shameless stereotyping – doesn’t sound all that Syrian to me.
In any case, here’s what Platinum has to say about ThunderCache, or “Tundercache”, as it is spelled on the bottom of ThunderCache’s website:
Speed, Stability, Security and low cost became the main factors in Web World:
That is our promise. Make it real, by using ThunderCache web proxy.
How can you control internal users from inappropriate Web surfing, opening back doors for viruses through Web based email or instant messaging, prevent spyware, or consuming network bandwidth and storage with P2P file sharing and video streaming?
[Hmm. I see a whole host of concerns bundled together in this paragraph: users surfing “inappropriately”; users allowing viruses or spyware to enter the network; and users taxing bandwidth by streaming videos and other high-load content. Wonder which one(s) worry/ies Platinum’s government client more than the others?]
The solution is to use a proxy device-such as the ThunderCache series of high performance proxy appliances Systems-designed specifically to provide visibility and control of all Web communications. Acting on behalf of the user and the application, the ThunderCache does not replace existing perimeter security devices; rather, it complements them by giving organizations the ability to control communications in a number of ways that firewalls and other devices can’t.
[“Acting on behalf of the user” – how nice. And yes, let’s not bother with firewalls – so unhelpful in their strict focus on the dangers of viruses and spyware, rather than on the more insidious dangers of ideas.]
ThunderCache helps organizations make the Web safe and productive for business. ThunderCache proxy appliances provide visibility and control of Web communications to protect against risks from spyware, Web viruses, inappropriate Web surfing, instant messaging (IM), video streaming and peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing while actually improving Web performance.
[I’d like to know more about Platinum’s definition of “Web performance”.]
I’m not a fan of censorship, Internet-filtering or otherwise. And if Syria must police its population, I personally would be much more supportive if its efforts focused on the truly dangerous, soul-destroying, society-weakening sites: those that offer pornography.