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The Syrian Government's Internet Strategy

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the sunshine-and-unicorns dept.

Censorship 45

decora writes "In a recent article on Al-Jazeera, Jillian York of the EFF speculates about the true nature of the Syrian 'hackers' who defaced AnonPlus. She references a University of Toronto analysis from May, which pointed out that the supposed independent hacktivist group the Syrian Electronic Army has a website that is hosted and registered by the Syrian Computer Society — a group that dictator Bashar Al-Asad used to run and that was founded by his brother. York has previously written about the mystery of the pro-Asad twitter floods of April, and the convenient unblocking of social media sites like YouTube and Facebook earlier in the year, which allegedly allowed the Mukhabarat to spy on and entrap opposition activists through forged SSL certificates. She also points out the numerous cases of Syrian bloggers being censored, arrested, and persecuted for their writings online. Is the Syrian example evidence against the vision of internet-as-liberator?"

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Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37179722)

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a cosmonaut.

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say, thank you for being a friend.

This should serve as evidence (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37179740)

The model of the Internet as a liberator is flawed.

As long as government can control things like DNS resolution and certificate signing then the people are at the mercy of the Internet. Regimes both here and abroad will use the Internet to turn citizens into compliant consumer cattle.

For the Internet to be our liberator it must be decentralized and secure. No one agency must be able to control infrastructure like name resolution or authoritative certificate signing.

What's more, we can't let their identity (that is, the identity the government assigns each of us) become compulsory in cyberspace.

If they can't control the flow of communication and they can't control who communicates (by identifying them) then they cannot use the Internet to control the people.

Up to now the Internet has interpreted censorship as damage and routed around it.

The new Web buzzword.0 model of monolithic branded services, untrustworthy CA roots, and government identity is not designed to route around attempts at meddling.

This is why revisions to empower the people must be decentralized and federated.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37180200)

WTF are you talking about? The things you are branding "Web buzzword.0" are as old if not older than the web itself. And the phrase "the Internet has interpreted censorship as damage and routed around it" is dumber than any buzzword and generally just nonsense spouted by wannabe radicals who spend their time "changing the world" by sitting in their mothers basement bitching on forums.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37180530)

Read that again. The interactive web revolves around monolithic megaservices like Facebook and Twitter and Internet users maintaining identity at said services.

The fact that we have a global packet switched network with every address theoretically routable to every other address (making things like Tor on 443 virtually impossible to block) is useless when the users themselves aren't thinking outside the domain facebook.com.

The infrastructure can't route against censorship of Facebook or censorship by Facebook if the users have tunnel vision about Facebook being the primary conduit for conversation.

Right now people say things on Facebook. Decentralizing it means that people can say things and those things propagate.

Think of person to person communication propagated through DHT and wrapped in SSL. Try blocking that. Short of severing all links with the outside world, you can't.

Re:This should serve as evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37180518)

I think you meant to say "As long as government can control things like DNS resolution and certificate signing then the people are at the mercy of the government ."

But this can be generalized: "As long as x controls things like DNS resolution and certificate signing then the people are at the mercy of x (where x is anybody and anything)."

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#37181628)

...and the government does not control DNS resolution and certificate signing; they just control the default avenue for doing these things. A tunnel to an out-of-state IP address should be enough to allow for more trusted IP and identity validation.

Re:This should serve as evidence (2)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 3 years ago | (#37181244)

For the Internet to be our liberator it must be decentralized and secure. No one agency must be able to control infrastructure like name resolution or authoritative certificate signing.

Yes. But this is by no means enough. You fear the threat of governments, but you aren't nearly afraid enough of the undemocratic tendencies in non-government entities.

Fact is, the internet is a place of great inequality. There are inequalities of technical skill, which favor certain classes. There are inequalities of money. There are inequalities of time. There are inequalities of dedication and conviction (fanaticism). There are even inequalities related to such mundane things as time zones, bandwith and latency.

The consequence of all this inequality, is that some people are a lot - and I mean a lot better at making themselves heard, at setting the agenda, at drawing up the ideological boundaries. As surely as in the offline world (only to some degree, other groups are advantaged there). From this inequality we will see new elites form, willing to defend their established influence at the expense of everyone else.

What we need to do, to save democracy, is to start working seriously not just for freedom of speech online (which we pretty much have already), but equality of speech - what the ancient Athenians called isegoria. So that we get representative discourse, not discourse dominated by net-elites who through their advantages manage to drown out moderate and opposing voices.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37181410)

What we need to do, to save democracy, is to start working seriously not just for freedom of speech online (which we pretty much have already), but equality of speech - what the ancient Athenians called isegoria. So that we get representative discourse, not discourse dominated by net-elites who through their advantages manage to drown out moderate and opposing voices.

I hope you're not proposing some variation of the "fair doctrine", where I'm required to give equal time to the establishment (excuse me, "opposing") viewpoint as well as my own. If you are, I'd rather have the net-elites.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

Snotman (767894) | more than 3 years ago | (#37182248)

Interestingly, the "fair doctrine" is not fair. I do not think the fair doctrine intends to present speech from Devil Worshippers. However, on the net, Devil Worshippers do have a seat without the "fair doctrine" so not sure why it is needed.

Re:This should serve as evidence (2)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 3 years ago | (#37183450)

Fairness (not the fairness doctrine) is needed because on the net, groups like "Devil Worshippers" tend to be grossly overrepresented due to their fanaticism.

Imagine that they decided to abolish elections, and just make decisions in parliament by voting among whoever decided to show up. Every citizen equally entitled to walk in and take a seat. And no pushing! That would make every citizen equal, right?

Of course not. People understand why that would be a bad idea - some people would get there early, have the resources to bus in their people continuously, etc. The advantaged would simply out-shout their opponents. Yet they don't seem to understand the problem of handling important public debate in a similar free-for-all, presistence-makes-right scenario.

Re:This should serve as evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37182280)

The Fairness Doctrine actually worked pretty well. Without it, news outlets Faux News never get called on their obvious slanting of the news (Mr and Mrs Obama's fist-handshake reported as "a terrorist fist-bump", I kid you not). No broadcast outlet could get away with outrageous distortions or one-sided reporting; independent and sometimes (obviously) amateur folks used to be on the TV talking back against editorial positions taken by the news station. Some of those presenters were obviously looney, others were reasonable. Both sides got air time, and if one side has no validity, exposure is the best way to prove it.

Lunacy will eventually reveal itself for what it is. The truth works the same way, only sometimes slower because truth usually isn't as alluring as the lies/lunacy. Case in point, the lunacy of the Tea Party pushing the US to default rather than address tax inequity versus President Obama's "We must eat our peas" comments.

Note it was the radical right that wanted the Fairness Doctrine obsoleted: Reagan FCC Commissioner Mark S. Fowler started the process. And without it, we now have a world where Faux News in all it's obvious partisan glory, spews unfounded lies that they know are lies (see the BGH/Monsanto suit) and twists reality through their right-wing lens with no fear of being called to account.

Full disclosure: I like peas.

Re:This should serve as evidence (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37183360)

Well, here's the thing. I like that. I don't watch Fox News because it's not news. But they are out there doing their thing which is what free speech is about. It's not just the pretty stuff like open, thoughtful speech, but also the stunted propaganda like Fox News.

It's not government's job to decide that Fox needs to cut their pulp with some sort of viewpoint attached to another side. Nor do I want government to have that sort of power. I'd rather have an abusive Fox News than an abusive government agency with possibly very bogus and unjust rulings on what the "fairness doctrine" means.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37187332)

It is the government's job to ensure that the broadcast spectrum is allocated fairly, in a manner that benefits the public. This may just be the whitewash over the government stealing that spectrum away from the public in the first place, but that was still the reason for the "fairness doctrine". If you don't give every viewpoint a soapbox, those groups may build their own pirate stations, which would erode the government power.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37235064)

It is the government's job to ensure that the broadcast spectrum is allocated fairly

There are three problems to note with the above statement. First, it is not government's job to allot scarce resources "fairly". Second, Fox News is already broadcasting in a "fair" manner, even if you don't think it is. They provide content that people want. I see no fairness in forcing them to provide alternate viewpoints. If their viewers want alternate viewpoints, then the viewers have powerful tools at their disposal, such as changing the channel, for getting what they want.

Third, government is notorious for ignoring fairness and other general welfare considerations when interests of the government are at stake. Viewpoints that run counter to government wishes are going to be more in need of a counterpoint than viewpoints that support.

If you don't give every viewpoint a soapbox, those groups may build their own pirate stations, which would erode the government power.

I think we're on different parts of the spectrum here. In no way do I consider erosion of government power a legitimate reason for giving a government power (but I do consider it a legitimate reason for taking power away from a government). Further, I find it considerably puzzling how you can talk about the fairness doctrine and in the next breadth bemoan the erosion of government power. You shouldn't be linking the two.

If I may be so bold, I think the real social ill here isn't erosion of government power, but creating a society of lawbreakers. Widespread breaking of law, even unjust law such as the fairness doctrine, leads to disrespect for all law (so the argument goes). We can attempt to fix this in two ways, either by creating a strong government that enforces all laws, just or otherwise. Or we can get rid of the laws that are routinely violated and/or unjust. I think the second approach has a remarkable parsimony to it.

Re:This should serve as evidence (2)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 3 years ago | (#37183240)

Of course you'd rather have the net elites. You are part of the net elites (as am I).

But no, I'm not suggesting something like the fairness doctrine. That was fundamentally broken legislation (and not just because it was ruled unconstitutional). I'm suggesting that individual sites/forum systems, like disqus, reddit or slashdot for that matter, start experimenting with democratic moderation systems again, to counter one by one the advantages certain groups have in dominating the debate. It can be as simple as a max number on the amount of posts you get to make per day, or as complex as a demographic weighting system based on verified identities.

I think that users will gravitate to quality discussion forums, once we start to see systems that are genuinely superior.

Re:This should serve as evidence (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#37183430)

While net elites was a rather ambiguous term, I was think more the people who had the most popular blogs or similar platforms on the internet. I might be a "net elite" but someone like Glenn Reynolds with hundreds of thousands of hits a day is more what I was thinking of as a net elite. No way that my slashdot posters are going to get the hits that an Instapundit post gets.

The American example is much better evidence (1, Insightful)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#37179824)

After twenty years of *world wide web* republicans and democrats still dominate the political scene with just as much surveillance and spamming.. Censorship is hardly necessary

Re:The American example is much better evidence (1, Interesting)

rilian4 (591569) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180190)

Actually GOP and DEMs have instituted unheard of levels of surveillance increases in the last 20 years...not "just as much" as you claim.

Re:The American example is much better evidence (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#37181886)

Ahhh, sweet pedantry, if not for which, there would be no distraction. Would "at least as much" be more to your liking? I mean, seeing that most Americans are still in denial over these types of things, I do try to give them the benefit of a doubt

Re:The American example is much better evidence (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#37181246)

The American propaganda system is the best in the world.

Re:The American example is much better evidence (1)

ifiwereasculptor (1870574) | more than 3 years ago | (#37181766)

Hell no! Have you ever heard of Kim Jong-Il? Dude can fly, shoot laser beams from his eyes and bowl 500.

Re:The American example is much better evidence (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#37186102)

The American propaganda system is the best in the world.

The American propaganda system is the best in the world that money can buy. FTFY

Another example (3, Funny)

jaymzter (452402) | more than 3 years ago | (#37179828)

Remember the disinformation campaign the Mukhabarat ran to make it seem that the innocent lesbian blogger they were persecuting was really just some American dude? Like we're fools or something!

Free Gay Girl Now!!

Re:Another example (2, Informative)

EvilStein (414640) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180034)

you know that turned out to be a complete hoax, right?

Re:Another example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37180704)

Sarcasm understanding fail.

Re:Another example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37181858)

Whoosh!

FTFY

Say it again (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37179876)

Identity is one of the most dangerous concepts of the 21st century.

As long as the royal "they" (governments, big corporations) can tell us who we are then they shall remain in control.

They can arrest Citizen #123-45-6789. They cannot arrest Anonymous Coward. They cannot arrest LibertyDude123. They cannot arrest anything from cyberspace without first identifying it in meatspace.

If we're all Guy Fawkes then they are powerless.

By resisting the creep of identity into cyberspace we can keep cyberspace free and available for social change.

Anonymous Coward is immortal. He cannot be arrested and his ideas cannot be destroyed. What he says stands on its own merits, provoking thought in everyone who can access his message.

Gov't and Corp already powerless ... (5, Funny)

drnb (2434720) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180160)

As long as the royal "they" (governments, big corporations) can tell us who we are then they shall remain in control ... If we're all Guy Fawkes then they are powerless

Democratic (as in democracy, not the US political party) governments and corporations are already powerless. Governments are guided by our voting patters, or our apathy. Corporations are guided by our buying patterns, or our apathy. Neither can do more than we allow.

Running down the street in a Guy Fawkes mask and breaking windows and setting cars on fire is powerless. That plays into the establishment's game, its what the system is designed to handle. What the politicians can not counter is you voting for someone else. What the CEOs can not counter is you buying someone else's product. Politicians and CEOs are both greed oriented, one craves votes the other money, we are the source of both so we are in control. Vote and spend wisely if you want change.

Examples of consumer power ... (1)

drnb (2434720) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180880)

(1) Green products. Corporate CEOs did not introduce greener products because they decided to become good citizens. Rather they recognized a market opportunity. Someone experimented and offered a green product, and consumers displayed a preference for such products to some measurable degree. Consumers rewarded companies offering greener products, the profit incentive was aligned with greener products.

(2) Offshoring manufacturing. Someone experimented and offered a product produced offshore, and consumers displayed a preference for lower priced products. Consumers rewarded offshore production, the profit incentive was aligned with offshoring. Had the consumer punished that first offshored product by purchasing a domestically manufactured product then the profit incentive would have been aligned against offshoring. Consumers are in charge.

Note that neither case is permanent, it is an ongoing process. If consumers show a preference for cost over green the profit incentive will realign. If consumers show a preference for domestic manufacture over lower price then the profit incentive will realign.

Re:Examples of consumer power ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37182722)

You assume an informed consumer, which is sadly not the case.

What happens when:

1) In the absence of regulation, "green" becomes a buzzword and the environmental impact of products is more obfuscated than it was before the whole "green products" nonsense?

2) The origin of manufacture is concealed via foreign fabrication and domestic assembly?

These are just two ways off the top of my head that a consumer who has limited time to choose between two products can be caused to make a less-than-optimum choice. Most major corporations have marketing and branding departments who make piles of money to ensure that consumers don't make the optimum choice. I'm sure those departments can think of more than two.

Voting with your dollar is not democracy- it's plutocracy.

The internet is a tool.. (5, Insightful)

3.5 stripes (578410) | more than 3 years ago | (#37179892)

It's not a liberator, it's not an educator, it's not an oppressor, it's just a tool.

You can use it for those things, and many more, but it isn't any of them.

Re:The internet is a tool.. (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180320)

/\ This

The standard /. anti-establishment rhetoric applies in the case of Syria, but it's not *always* a case of institution=bad; Individual=good.
Mal intent can exist and manifest anywhere, be it Government, Corporations, or Individuals. A tool can be used for good and evil, it's up to the wielder. A Corporation or Government is easy to identify, but difficult to prosecute. An individual is easy to prosecute, but can be difficult to identify (if they're any good at covering their tracks).

Re:The internet is a tool.. (1)

MichaelKristopeit420 (2018880) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180478)

most of the individuals who would use the internet as a tool for liberation are not well versed enough in it's architecture to effectively use it; and those that are see no need to further liberate those that are not after they have liberated themselves.

the internet does nothing but connect networks... there is still a prerequisite of networks to connect.

Re:The internet is a tool.. (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180638)

There is really no major difference between the internet and every other form of media that's existed, at least as far as this discussion is concerned. Radical books, newspapers, pamphlets and pirate radio stations have all contributed to revolutions in their time; and all have been used for propaganda and other authoritarian purposes. The internet is yet another tool for the radical, the propogandist, and everybody else too- it's scope for mass participation makes it very different from all those that came before, but it isn't a game changer.

Re:The internet is a tool.. (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180700)

It's not a liberator, it's not an educator, it's not an oppressor, it's just a tool.

Okay so the Internet isn't magic or anything, that's no reason to call it names.

Re:The internet is a tool.. (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#37186126)

It's not a liberator, it's not an educator, it's not an oppressor, it's just a tool.

You can use it for those things, and many more, but it isn't any of them.

And the beatings will continue until morale improves.
You have to understand that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, his old man was a murdering dictator, why should he be any different?

Taking a cue from FBI, et al? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37179902)

Check out the news and editorial website: antiwar.com
They have a piece by their editor exploring how they have been surveilled by the FBI...
For nothing but publishing publically available information and editorials opposing the US` wars.
Heck, `closer in the region` why didn`t Slashdot ever cover the very similar policies of the Mubarak regime,
or of the still existing UAE, Qatari, and Bahraini regimes, not to mention the House of Saud?

Re:Taking a cue from FBI, et al? (1)

Snotman (767894) | more than 3 years ago | (#37183716)

Um, what is wrong with the FBI collecting data? How else are you going to have intelligence unless you collect it? It does not mean that anything untoward is going to happen, but society is better informed. I would think it is in the interest of any society to track groups in its society.

Re:Taking a cue from FBI, et al? (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 3 years ago | (#37186270)

Um, what is wrong with the FBI collecting data? How else are you going to have intelligence unless you collect it? It does not mean that anything untoward is going to happen, but society is better informed. I would think it is in the interest of any society to track groups in its society.

To say this is rhetorical is an understatement. Nothing collected has ever just sat in the corner. It will be used, it will be used against you, it will be used against you in ways that are not in evidence now, but when it's too late.
I am not a doom-sayer, however, just look at the past governmental promises to the native Americans. Everyone of them was broken, ignored, shuffled under the pile of bureaucratic bullshit, like we were just kidding. This government is out of control. No town hall meetings because they already know what proverbial shit is going to hit the fan. No reason to inflame the situation by lying to everybody, better to ignore it, maybe it will go away. YEAH RIGHT!
It's time to RECALL! Let these representatives lose THEIR jobs, homes, pensions, health care, luxury benefit packages on the taxpayer's hard work.
$1.2 trillion bailout [bloomberg.com] is a long way from $600 million.

whats stopping you from covering it? (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#37185200)

Why arent you writing a slashdot article about Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain?

I can barely tie my own shoelaces and put my pants on zipper-side-front, but I was somehow able to submit a slashdot story about Syria's internet. What is stopping you?

Duh (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180066)

If you're planning a revolution on Facebook, you're doing it wrong.

The answer is yes. (1)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 3 years ago | (#37180968)

The answer is yes. It is evidence of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of the internet.

Some people on the internet have more power than others. It may be because they know how to forge SSL certificates, or just because they have the persistence, organization and time to post to forums all day long.

We're used to these people being "good guys" more often than not. Libertarian-ish, atheist-ish, free software-ish. But there's nothing natural about it. What sympathetic traits the emerging net elites happens to have, are probably just vestigal consequences of their relative sense of vulnerability and powerlessness in the offline world. Once they get used to their power, they will start abusing it more often and more brazenly, and selling out to offline authorities. So, it's not at all surprising to see pro-government hacking groups.

What we need is to construct good forums, where the inequalities of time, technical skill, persistence, organization are effectively countered. On a low level, it may be as simple as making a site robust against hacking. On a higher level, experimentation with democratic procedure is necessary (slashdot was a pioneer in this with their moderation system, sadly it hasn't been taken further either by them or other sites).

Don't Be Naive, Don't Be Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37181310)

This is nothing new; tools with edges cut both ways. Even if you are on the side of the angels, you can still get yourself or someone else beaten, jailed, or killed.

"Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered." - T. Paine

Supid, naive people get busted all the time at demonstrations. Like the folks at the Washington DC anti-war protests in 2003 who were so glad to see all the cameras the gov't had "to keep us safe" until I pointed out the cameras were in fact for HD surveillance and were gathering faces for future reference. Idiots...

If you're going to do things like fight powerful things like governments, don't be stupid and don't be naive:

DON'T post from your own account or one that can be traced to you or someone you care about.
DON'T assume "they" aren't reading your mail (or Twits or Farcebook or whatever).
DON'T drive your own car, or, if you do make sure EVERYTHING is in PERFECT LEGAL ORDER (it's simple to bust you for a dead tail light) and don't park anywhere near where the sh*it happens. Park miles away, folks, miles.
DON'T assume that everyone cheering you on is on your side (agents provocateur, spies, honey-pots, etc).
DON'T post anything that identifies you or anyone else; photos, names, license plates, anything. It might be a great tableau from the barricades, but if the faces are recognizable, you may condemn someone to Hell...
DON'T expect to get away without difficulty: participating in anything like this makes you a target.

DON'T be naive: you are involved in a bare-knuckles brawl for power, money, and control.
DON'T be stupid: anything you do that leaves a trail is potentially deadly to you or others.

Be SMART, be WISE and don't make it easy to get busted.

Re:Don't Be Naive, Don't Be Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37181590)

And one last thing: always carry (or have someone uninvolved with the fracas who carries) your bail money... ;*)

Re:Don't Be Naive, Don't Be Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37181910)

Here's one I ran into -

Stay off camera! Don't assume someone with a camera crew and a nice suit jacket is a journalist coming to interview the nice protesters; they get nice close ups of you while you identify yourself in your own voice (TV reporters always ask you to say and then spell your name before you start) and they they ask seemingly innocent questions then they say thanks and then they have you all nice and wrapped up. Only later does it strike you, "You know, there were no channel numbers on the truck, the microphone, the suit jacket; what channel were they from?"

They weren't from any "channel": they weren't journalists, stupid, and you just gave yourself away on the off chance that Mom was watching the 11 o'clock news...

It's not about YOU stupid: it's about the change you're trying to induce. Remember that and check your ego at home...

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