June 2018 Monthly Report
In June, the Open Technology Fund continued to support a diverse portfolio of Internet freedom projects and fellows addressing Internet censorship and surveillance threats worldwide, while also receiving a large number of support requests. For the July 1 application round, OTF received 187 concept notes - the highest amount ever received in a single round. With this round, OTF’s running 2018 total has already exceeded the total number of requests for support and the total dollar amount requested in all of 2017. Should the next two rounds remain consistent, OTF is on pace to receive well over 1,000 requests for support this year.
EFF announced the launch of STARTTLS Everywhere, a Core Infrastructure effort focused on securing the delivery of email, which EFF notes is inherently insecure in numerous ways. STARTTLS Everywhere is designed to allow system administrators to quickly and easily secure and authenticate connections between email servers. Although the tool is made for mail server administrators, EFF also made an email provider security check-up tool that anyone can use: just enter your email address domain here to try it out.
WeChatScope, a platform that collects and visualizes censored messages on public WeChat accounts, launched the beta version of the WeChatScope website and API, which will enable public access to the project’s collected data with information of recently censored WeChat articles. The tool allows users to search for censored content from public accounts, view its title in Chinese or automatically translated to English, and view the post’s full text. A tutorial and more information can be found here: http://wechatscope.jmsc.hku.hk/
In June, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)’s censorship detection app, OONI Probe, was run 240,541 times from 4,627 different vantage points in 214 countries around the world. This information is accessible via the OONI API. Also this month, OONI released a report on measuring internet censorship in Nigeria, corroborating previously reported censorship instances and also finding “that Nigerian ISPs appear to be quite consistent in the types of censorship techniques that they adopt.” Another OONI report released in June sought to test the reported unblocking of hundreds of websites in Ethiopia, with OONI finding that the previously blocked sites were in fact now accessible. And in Venezuela, OONI’s in-country partner, IPYS Venezuela, utilized OONI data to report on the country’s largest ISP, CANTV, blocking prominent news outlets.
The Securing Domain Validation project made continued progress towards the goal of designing and deploying secure domain validation protocols in real-world production systems. The project has created an ethical testing environment in which realistic BGP hijacks, including a variety of advanced adversarial attacks, are being conducted in a controlled environment.
In the alpha 8 browser release, Tor began implementing some of the usability upgrades being made through its usability improvement project, including an improved circuit display (showing a user’s Tor relay path), “onion indicators” that better explain .onion sites’ relationships to TLS certificates to users, expanded localization support, and graphic upgrades. Read more about the changes and help test out the new alpha version here: https://blog.torproject.org/new-release-tor-browser-80a9
Privacy and anonymity-enhancing operating system Tails continued the implementation of open-source disk encryption software VeraCrypt into the GNOME user interface, drafting and testing user documentation, and soliciting further user testing and community feedback for the new Veracrypt feature. Also this month, Tails version 3.8, which you can read more about and download Tails here: https://tails.boum.org/news/version_3.8/
Several new projects are now under contract with OTF, including Bind9 (a Core Infrastructure effort adding new security features to BIND, one of the most widely-used open source software applications for running a DNS resolver, which translate domain names to their corresponding IP address), CGIProxy (upgrading the CGIProxy circumvention tool to offer a more efficient and secure experience for users of the clientless tool), Sinar Project (creating an online dashboard displaying censorship events from across Southeast Asia, powered by OONI data), and OpenAppStack (a new suite of provisioning tooling to allow for automated deployment and management of open source collaborative software tools, secure communication, circumvention, and more).
DNS Privacy submitted a newly drafted “Best current practices document for DNS privacy operators” to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), including new research on pseudonymization and anonymization techniques for handling DNS traffic, and an analysis and comparison of the privacy policies and practices for DNS providers GoogleDNS, Cloudflare, Quad9, and OpenDNS. The findings on these two topics can also be read in this wiki entry on the DNS Privacy site.
Localization Lab facilitated the translation and review of secure news reader Courier into 22 languages, including Arabic, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Azerbaijani, Spanish, and French - adding six from the total of 16 reached last month. The translations will be deployed in an upcoming Courier release. Also this month, Localization Lab hosted a Southeast Asia translation sprint, with participants from Indonesia and Cambodia completing a translation of Signal Desktop as well as updates for Signal Android and iOS into both Bahasa Indonesia and Khmer.
Through OTF’s Usability Lab, Ura Design released a new style guide and usability study for Thunderbird, a popular free and open source email client. Ura’s work for Thunderbird included creating a new logo and word mark, laying down groundwork for a coming UI revamp, and helping with the design for Thunderbird’s new website. The full Thunderbird style guide can be accessed here, and the usability study here (pdf download).
Select news collected by OTF from the month of June 2018 - Get the full feed live @OpenTechFund or sign up to receive our daily newsletter.
Venezuela blocks access to the Tor network | Access Now
50+ NGOs urge UN to challenge restrictions to internet freedom in Russia | Article 19
RedAlpha: New Campaigns Discovered Targeting the Tibetan Community | Recorded Future
John Oliver, Having Mocked Chinese Censorship, Is Censored in China | New York Times
New website documenting rights abuses blocked 9 hours after launch | Mada Masr
Study reveals extent of Awami Workers political party website block in Pakistan | NetBlocks
Belarus moves to prosecute ‘fake news,’ control the Internet | Committee to Protect Journalists
Censorship in the Age of Large Cloud Providers | Lawfare
Russian lawmakers approve fines against those who circumvent Internet censorship | Meduza