Bypassing the Censors

What happens when a government attempts to censor people who are using a secure mode of communication? The censorship is bypassed:

Over the weekend, we heard reports that Signal was not functioning reliably in Egypt or the United Arab Emirates. We investigated with the help of Signal users in those areas, and found that several ISPs were blocking communication with the Signal service and our website. It turns out that when some states can’t snoop, they censor.


Today’s Signal release uses a technique known as domain fronting. Many popular services and CDNs, such as Google, Amazon Cloudfront, Amazon S3, Azure, CloudFlare, Fastly, and Akamai can be used to access Signal in ways that look indistinguishable from other uncensored traffic. The idea is that to block the target traffic, the censor would also have to block those entire services. With enough large scale services acting as domain fronts, disabling Signal starts to look like disabling the internet.

Censorship is an arms race between the censors and the people trying to communicate freely. When one side finds a way to bypass the other then the other side responds. Fortunately, each individual government is up against the entire world. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates only have control over their own territories but the people in those territories can access knowledge from anywhere in the world. With odds like that, the State is bound to fail every time.

This is also why any plans to compromise secure means of communication are doomed to fail. Let’s say the United States passes a law that requires all encryption software used within its borders to include a government backdoor. That isn’t the end of secure communications in the United States. It merely means that people wanting to communicate securely need to obtain tools developed in nations where such rules don’t exist. Since the Internet is global access to the goods and services of other nations is at your fingertips.

One thought on “Bypassing the Censors”

  1. Outstanding! The arms race you speak of will be won by free communicators, I think, though not without some skirmishes along the way. Ultimately, the only way to shut down private, anonymized information transfer is to shut down everything, which pretty much means living in the stone age. Even rapacious control freak governments aren’t willing to go that far, though some are coming close. It is much easier to hide a file inside another, and recover the hidden file with the right program and password, than it is to figure out if anything is hidden in the outer file, much less decipher the embedded contents. What can even the most repressive government do about that?

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