Thousands of Syrian democracy activists engaged in a cyber-war with the regime’s “electronic army” are evading surveillance with the aid of a Canadian-designed software program funded by the U.S. State Department, CNN reports:
“What we’re doing is not much different to what the airwaves provided during the Cold War to provide those citizens living behind the Iron Curtain with an ability to get information which otherwise they were not getting from their state,” said Rafal Rohozinski (right) of SecDev, the company which developed Psiphon.
“Whereas shortwave radio during the Cold War was very unidirectional … with the Internet these technologies are by definition bidirectional, meaning that it gives an opportunity for citizens within these states to also communicate amongst themselves and with the outside world.”
“The Syrian electronic army is basically a group of hackers built around the Syrian computer club which at one time was under the patronage of Bashar al-Assad. Its IP addresses indicate that it is collocated in facilities which belong to the Syrian government,” said Rohozinski of SecDev, who has worked closely with the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab program documenting the Syrian conflict in cyberspace.
“They have been responsible for a number of high-level hacking attacks against a variety of targets including Syrian opposition movements,” he added.
Psiphon establishes a private connection between a person’s phone or computer “to a part of the Internet cloud that makes it very difficult for the authorities to know where that person is going through. Moreover, it usually both encrypts and obfuscates that connection.”
Rohozinski said Psiphon is distributed through the discrete delivery of a link.
“It can be an SMS message, it can be an e-mail, it can be a link to a website that says ‘go here to get a secure tool,’” Rohozinski said. “They go there, and either that tool opens when they click on the link, or they download a small application which will run natively on their device and provide that kind of service.”
It’s a striking example of “getting things done” through public-private partnership and operational collaboration between leading democracies.