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Google's uProxy could help fight Internet censorship

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October 22, 2013

Google's uProxy is a P2P virtual private network that will help make Internet connections ...

Google's uProxy is a P2P virtual private network that will help make Internet connections safer and more private (Image: Google)

At its Ideas Summit in New York, Google has announced that it is working on developing a browser extension that will act as an easy-to-use way to bypass country-specific Internet censorship and make connections safer and more private.

Safer connections

The tool, which was developed by the University of Washington and seeded by Google, is at its core a peer-to-peer personalized virtual private network (VPN) that redirects Internet traffic coming from an initial, less secure connection through a second, trusted connection, and then encrypts the pathway between the two terminals.

Whenever you access the Internet, the connection is routed through a number of terminals. At each step of the way the connection may be blocked, surveilled, or even tampered with (especially if the data is not encrypted). On the whole, the safety and privacy of your data is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

Google's solution with uProxy was to develop a tool that makes it much easier to make an unsafe connection more secure, with the help of a trusted friend.

The software, which will be available as a Chrome and Firefox extension to begin with, can use existing social networks like Facebook or Google Hangouts to help find users who already have uProxy installed on their system. If two users agree to use the service in tandem, the software can begin to make data connections safer.

How it works

Let's assume that Alice, who lives in a country with an Internet censorship problem such as China or Iran, contacts Bob, who has much safer, or uncensored, or unmonitored access to the Internet.

Bob agrees to act as a proxy for Alice, and as long as his browser is open, Alice's outgoing web traffic will now be routed through Bob's connection, and so she'll now be able to access websites that she wouldn't otherwise be able to reach on her own. The connection between Alice and Bob is also encrypted.

To an external observer looking at Bob's connection, it would appear that he is simply surfing the net, while it is really Alice who's doing the browsing. Likewise, an observer looking at Alice's connection would only see a stream of encrypted data being sent from and to Bob, but would not be able to understand it, or determine whether it's "allowed" web traffic or not.

One more possible use for the software could be to proxy your own web traffic whenever you are traveling and worried about the safety of your connection (when you're connecting to an open Wi-Fi hotspot or public network, for example). In cases like these, you can use uProxy to route your web traffic back to your home computer and access the Web as if you were in your own home.

What uProxy is (and isn't)

Internet proxies already provide a similar service, but the advantage with uProxy is that it's a true P2P service, so there is no centralized server that governments can block. The data packets in the encrypted connection between Alice and Bob aren't marked in any way, and so they can't be easily flagged by a malicious user (or government).

Google cautions that users should only make use of uProxy with those they trust. If you provide someone access to your safer connection, you have to trust that they will be using the connection legally: since the traffic is routed through you, you will be responsible for their online activity.

Likewise, if you're using the service to get access from someone else, you have to trust that their connection is secure. If it isn't, you may be thinking that you're not being monitored, while really you are. In fact, if your friend's connection turns out to be less safe than your own, you'll just be making things worse for yourself.

The service doesn't anonymize traffic like Tor, and it isn't a file sharing tool as it only proxies traffic from web browsers.

What's next?

Google says it is developing uProxy for the desktop versions of Chrome and Firefox to start with, and that the tool may be expanded to other browsers and mobile platforms in the future.

The software has been launched as a private beta only, and the code hasn't been made available to the public yet because Google wants to make sure that the software is indeed tamper-proof. For that, it is allowing technically-savvy beta testers to take a look at the code to iron out any bugs.

Once the software reaches the desired stability, it will be audited by Internet freedom organizations such as OpenITP, and then made freely available under an open source license.

The video below is a short introduction to the software.

Source: uProxy

About the Author
Dario Borghino Dario studied software engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin. When he isn't writing for Gizmag he is usually traveling the world on a whim, working on an AI-guided automated trading system, or chasing his dream to become the next European thumbwrestling champion.   All articles by Dario Borghino
6 Comments

"To an external observer looking at Bob's connection, it would appear that he is simply surfing the net, while it is really Alice who's doing the browsing."

Yeah that sounds safe to me...(Can you feel the sarcasm.) That line makes it sound a lot like a good way to end up in jail to me Bob. Let’s carry the hypothetical here. Let's add the assumption that Alice is a Syrian opposition fighter. She is using Bob's connection in a way that looks like Bob is doing the browsing. She searches for improvised explosives. She finds an article about the Boston bombing and searches for pressure cookers and outlets for fertilizer and kerosene, possibly gun powder. That alone would be enough in the US for the FBI and possibly the secret Service to break down Bob's door, arrest him, search his home, and indict him on conspiracy to commit terrorism.

VirtualGathis
22nd October, 2013 @ 12:52 pm PDT

"Let's assume that Alice, who lives in a country with an Internet censorship problem such as China or Iran, contacts Bob, who has much safer, or uncensored, or unmonitored access to the Internet.

Bob agrees to act as a proxy for Alice, and as long as his browser is open, Alice's outgoing web traffic will now be routed through Bob's connection, and so she'll now be able to access websites that she wouldn't otherwise be able to reach on her own. The connection between Alice and Bob is also encrypted."

..Then a few short hours later, someone knocks down Bob's door and drags him off to the torture/interrogation chamber.

Alice, having found the ideal recipe for cupcakes and Molotov, goes off to cause havoc,. ..then gets intercepted and sent off to the torture/interrogation chamber.

Iran and China and to a lesser extent the Eastern block employ a good majority of the world's better hackers.

This uProxy tool will assist in the internet equivalent of natural selection, where silly people are duped into showing their hand to the authorities.

Nairda
22nd October, 2013 @ 11:06 pm PDT

So if you have a friend working in China or some relatives there for awhile, they will automatically browse for terrorist things if given the uProxy tool to use? If you let someone you don't know use your uProxy connection then you deserve what happens, just like if you leave your wireless internet router without a password.

I have set a VPN for my friend working in China so he can use facebook and youtube, but this may be simpler. I'm glad google has come out with this.

telocity
23rd October, 2013 @ 12:46 pm PDT

The courts already ruled on the issue, you can run a tor node, or a proxy and you can't be found guilty of any crime if the person uses it to do wrong.

I realise I am not American like the people above, and its saddening that Americans are so reluctant these days to share information in case they get in serious trouble, and fear their own intelligence and security agencies will knock down their doors and carry them away.

It's a shame. Anyone can use my connection I don't mind.

fenshwey
23rd October, 2013 @ 05:41 pm PDT

ISPs love proxies!!! Bob also foots the bill for Alice, TWICE!

nutcase
24th October, 2013 @ 02:22 am PDT

Censorship prevention from those that censor, I don't quite get it?

Michael Van Dijk
24th October, 2013 @ 09:23 am PDT
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