Touring the digital through type

Tag: DPI (Page 3 of 15)

Technology and Politics in Tunisia and Iran: Deep Packet Surveillance

Middleeast-IranFor some time, I’ve been keeping an eye on how the Iranian government monitors, mediates, and influences data traffic on public networks. This has seen me write several posts, here and elsewhere, about the government’s usage of deep packet inspection, the implications of Iranian government surveillance, and the challenges posed by Iranian ISPs’ most recent network updates. Last month I was invited to give a talk at the Pacific Centre for Technology and Culture about the usage of deep packet inspection by the Iranian and Tunisian governments.

Abstract

Faced with growing unrest that is (at least in part) facilitated by digital communications, repressive nation-states have integrated powerful new surveillance systems into the depths of their nations’ communications infrastructures. In this presentation, Christopher Parsons first discusses the capabilities of a technology, deep packet inspection, which is used to survey, analyze, and modify communications in real-time. He then discusses the composition of the Iranian and Tunisian telecommunications infrastructure, outlining how deep packet inspection is used to monitor, block, and subvert encrypted and private communications. The presentation concludes with a brief reflection on how this same technology is deployed in the West, with a focus on how we might identify key actors, motivations, and drivers of the technology in our own network ecologies.

Note: For more information on the Iranian use of deep packet inspection, see ‘Is Iran Now Actually Using Deep Packet Inspection?

Review: Surveillance or Security?

surveillance-or-security-the-risks-posed-by-new-wiretapping-technologiesIn Security or Security? The Real Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies, Susan Landau focuses on the impacts of integrating surveillance systems into communications networks. Her specific thesis is that  integrating surveillance capacities into communications networks does not necessarily or inherently make us more secure, but may introduce security vulnerabilities and thus make us less secure. This continues on threads that began to come together in the book she and Whitfield Diffie wrote, titled Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption, Updated and Expanded Edition.

Landau’s work is simultaneously technical and very easy to quickly read. This is the result of inspired prose and gifted editing. As a result, she doesn’t waver from working through the intricacies of DNSSEC, nor how encryption keys are exchanged or mobile surveillance conducted, and by the time the reader finishes the book they will have a good high-level understanding of how these technologies and systems (amongst many others!) work. On the policy side, she gracefully walks the reader through the encryption wars of the 1990s,[1] as well as the politics of wiretapping more generally in the US. You don’t need to be a nerd to get the tech side of the book, nor do you need to be a policy wonk to understand the politics of American wiretapping.

Given that her policy analyses are based on deep technical understanding of the issues at hand, each of her recommendations carry a considerable amount of weight. As examples, after working through authentication systems and their deficits, she differentiates between three levels of online identification (machine-based, which relies on packets; human, which relies on application authentication; and digital, which depends on biometric identifiers). This differentiation lets her  consider the kinds of threats and possibilities each identification-type provides. She rightly notes that the “real complication for attribution is that the type of attribution varies with the type of entity for which we are seeking attribution” (58). As such, totalizing identification systems are almost necessarily bound to fail and will endanger our overall security profiles by expanding the surface that attackers can target.

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Deep Packet Inspection and Consumer Transparency

Image by David Clow

Rogers Communications modified their packet inspection systems last year, and ever since customers have experienced degraded download speeds. It’s not that random users happen to be complaining about an (effectively) non-problem: Rogers’ own outreach staff has confirmed that the modifications took place and that these changes have negatively impacted peer to peer (P2P) and non-P2P applications alike. Since then, a Rogers Communications senior-vice president, Ken Englehart, has suggested that any problems customers have run into are resultant of P2P applications themselves; no mention is made of whether or how Rogers’ throttling systems have affected non-P2P traffic.

In this brief post, I want to quickly refresh readers on the changes that Rogers Communications made to their systems last year, and also note some of the problems that have subsequently arisen. Following this, I take up what Mr. Englehart recently stated in the media about Rogers’ throttling mechanisms. I conclude by noting that Rogers is likely in compliance with the CRTC’s transparency requirements (or at least soon will be), but that such requirements are ill suited to inform the typical consumer.

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Is Iran Now Actually Using Deep Packet Inspection?


Photo by Hamed Saber

I’ve previously written about whether the Iranian government uses deep packet inspection systems to monitor and mediate data content. As a refresher, the spectre of DPI was initially raised by the Wall Street Journal in a seriously flawed article several years ago. In addition to critiquing that article, last year I spent a while pulling together various data sources to outline the nature of the Iranian network infrastructure and likely modes of detecting dissident traffic.

Since January 2010, the Iranian government  may have significantly modified their network monitoring infrastructure. In short, the government seems to have moved from somewhat ham-fisted filtering systems (e.g. all encrypted traffic is throttled/blocked) to a granular system (where only certain applications’ encrypted traffic is blocked). In this post I’ll outline my past analyses of the Iranian Internet infrastructure and look at the new data on granular targeting of encrypted application traffic. I’ll conclude by raising some questions that need to be answered about the new surveillance system, and note potential dangers facing Iranian dissidents if DPI has actually been deployed.

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