Towards a Science of Censorship Resistance

Principal Investigator(s): 
Sadia Afroz, Vern Paxson

This project focuses on establishing a science of censorship resistance. Recent years have seen significant efforts on the part of both practitioners and researchers in countering large-scale Internet censorship imposed by nation-states. Driven by an active arms race, much of the research work in the field has been reactive in nature, lacking solid and methodical foundations. Because Tor has a wide user base across the world with a dedicated team of maintainers ensuring its continued existence, and is particularly targeted by censors, creating a threat-rich environment in which to study censorship resistance, it is being heavily utilized for this research. The research includes: assessment of historical trends in censorship and censorship research; identification of criteria to consider when assessing circumvention approaches; consideration of theoretical models of the censorship/evader conflict as a means for illuminating fundamental abstractions; empirical grounding rooted in extensive measurements of censorship mechanisms and policies; developing frameworks to automate testing of circumvention technologies, probing censorship systems for structural weaknesses, and discovering the onset of new forms of blocking; and deploying new technologies we develop at scale in order to “close the loop” on our scientific methodology and empirically observe the full gamut of issues that come into play in the censor/evader arms race.

Funding provided by NSF.