Internet blockades are more the rule than the exception in non-democratic countries. But there are ways to get round them, even though no censorship circumvention tool is 100 percent safe. Rule number 1: you’re clever, but the authorities are cleverer.
There are plenty of circumvention tools, but using them carries a risk. That’s the main message of a recent study by human rights group Freedom House. It also depends exactly what you’re doing on the internet: uploading, downloading or just surfing. Internet cafés never offer full anonymity. Owners can keep an eye on your internet use remotely and report ‘abuse’ to the authorities.
The more successful a circumvention tool becomes, the more likely it becomes authorities will block the site providing it. Tools you can store on a USB stick and software available via other websites (mirrors) are therefore becoming increasingly important.
Circumvention tools are made both by non-governmental organizations and commercial companies. This is not only to support press freedom or activism, but also based on the simple philosophy that all information on the internet should always be available to everyone. Below is a summary of the 11 best-known tools.
Developed by the Tor Project. Worldwide, the best-known circumvention and security tool.
Pros: Easily available and easy to use. Good technical support.
Cons: Makes connections slow.
Developed by the University of Toronto’s CitizenLab. Connections run via different servers in different countries, making origins hard to trace. Works on the basis of invitation by Psiphon to counter abuse.
Pros: No need to download software. Handy for use in internet cafés.
Cons: Invitation is a built-in security shell, but also an obstacle for users who don’t know anyone to arrange an invitation for them. Psiphon has no official security certificate. Makes connections slow.
Developed by Ultrareach, partner of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. Works as a program in Windows.
Pros: Easy to use. Leaves no trace when uninstalled.
Cons: Has a bad name because it was said to have distributed viruses in the past.
Developed by Reichert Network Solutions. Software is free, but possibilities are limited. Possible to pay for an upgrade.
Pros: Good technical support.
Cons: Possibilities of free version limited, especially for sending data.
Developed by JonDonym, a commercial branch of the University of Dresden.
Pros: Portable, so suitable for use in internet cafés. Reliable service, open source code. Design faults can be corrected.
Cons: Still in the test phase. Makes connections slower.
Developed by World’s Gate, Inc., partner of Global Internet Freedom Consortium. Not only provides secure connections, but also enables encryption.
Pros: Multiple secure routes, easy to install.
Cons: Has to be installed on your computer from the Consortium website. Repressive governments block the site, making the software hard to get hold of.
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Developed by Google. Handy for picking up information, not suitable for distribution from a security point of view.
Pros: Accessible from any location, as long as Google and Gmail are available.
Cons: Connection isn’t secure.
Developed by Garden Networks for Information Freedom, has a long history in circumvention software for users in China.
Pros: Suitable for Microsoft Windows. User can send information using GTunnel via Tor or Skype. This double security makes internet traffic securer and more anonymous, but also slower. This can be a disadvantage in countries where internet runs via dial-up connections.
Cons: Limited number of servers available, especially in Taiwan.
Developed by Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT). Works using a limited number of proxy servers in Taiwan and the US.
Pros: Easy to use and can be stored on a USB stick, so also suitable for internet cafés.
Cons: More than one version of the same software available. Status unclear. Limited number of servers. Questionable security.
Developed by Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT). Originally for China, but now also used in Iran. Works on the basis of proxy servers.
Pros: Easy to use.
Cons: Proxy servers aren’t secure. Analysts can easily find out who’s using Dynaweb. No scientific data on Dynaweb’s effectiveness. Unclear what the developers do with users’ personal details.
Originally developed by AnchorFree. For users of unsecured WiFi connections, not specifically for people in countries with repressive governments. Hotspot Shield also carries unsolicited advertising.
Pros: Connection via VPN.