Acording to the post on the Tor blog by Isabela, on May 2 2016, a Brazilian judge ordered all cell phone carries to block access to WhatsApp messaging service for 72 hours. This applied tot he whole nation of Brazil, or around 100 million WhatsApp users. Internet censorship events happen all the time. Most accur in countries like Brazil. Places with oppressive governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
With observation of certian data points, we can determine whether or not our tools are capable of going around these blackages. Tor has a set of tools that can help study, and learn the answers. They can not only help determine if the censorship is happening, but also how it was done by the party cencoring, and they help see if people are using Tors tools to bypass the blockage.
The OONI, or, Open Observation of Network Interference is a Tor based project thats main focus is detecting these censorships, along with detecting surveillance, and traffic manipulation on the internet. Regarding the recent WhatsApp censorship, OONI published a report telling how the Brazilian mobile carriers blacked out WhatsApp for the 72 hours through DNS hijacking.
OOIN was able to determine this by running two kinds of tests on Brazils network. One was a DNS consistency test, and the other was a HTTP-request test. OONI tests are not currently designed to directly test IM protocols, OONI did monitor access to WhatsApp. The data allows us to analyze the censorship mechanisms used and also determined if the tools Tor provides could bypass the block.
“Brazilians could easiely bypass the block by using Orbot, a Tor proxy tool for android. Right after the block was announced we began promoting key tips in portuguese on our social media sites and anywhere we could to instruct them on how to bypass the blockage,” the blog reads.
“For Orbot statistics, we don’t use Google Analytics or other systems to track Orbot users, other than what Google Play can show us about installs and uninstalls. Based only on that, Orbot’s active install for Brazil on May 1st was at 33,458. On May 2nd it went up to 41,333.”
The metrics.torproject.org portal, which hosts data visualizations from the network, caught all the people going around the blockage.
“The little blue dot represents the fact that something is happening in the region. Is great to see that even for very sudden and short lived actions, we were still capable of capturing it in our data,” the blog continued.
“We know that we are talking about a small number of users in a world of 100 million, in the case of WhatsApp. There is still alot of work to be done to help people become aware of such tools. However, it is great to see our projects coming together to tell this story,” the blog goes on. “Our experience with the WhatsApp blockage in Brazil demonstrates the potential these efforts have to provide us with information about censorship events and to help us build circumvention mechanisms against them.”