News

May 12, 2015 - Updated on January 25, 2016

#CollateralFreedom: RSF unblocks two more websites


Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is unblocking two more websites as part of Collateral Freedom, the operation it launched on 12 March, World Press Freedom Day, when it unblocked sites censored in 11 countries. Today it is unblocking the website of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, Vietnam Thoi Bao, which is blocked in Vietnam, and Chronicles of Turkmenistan, blocked in Turkmenistan.

Operation Collateral Freedom is based on the technique of mirroring. RSF creates a copy of the blocked site on a website hosting service provided by a big Internet company such as Fastly, Amazon, Microsoft or Google. If a government that is an “Enemy of the Internet” were to block access to the mirror, it would at the same time deprive thousands of its companies of the essential technological services provided by these Internet giants. The collateral economic and political damage would be hard to assume.

Two new sites unblocked

After unblocking nine censored sites in 11 countries, RSF is pressing ahead with Operation Collateral Freedom and unblocking two more sites: Vietnam Thoi Bao (Vietnam Times) and Chronicles of Turkmenistan.

Vietnam Thoi Bao (Vietnam Times) is the site of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN). With “critical spirit” as its motto, it covers subjects related to human rights, politics and the economy. Created in July 2014, it was blocked three days after going online. Pham Chi Dung, a journalist who heads the IJAVN and edits the Vietnam Times, is on RSF’s list of “100 Information Heroes.”

The mirror site is accessible here: https://d1s66ldlhegqs2.cloudfront.net

Created in 2006, Chronicles of Turkmenistan (Хроника Туркменистана) is the news website of the “Turkmen Initiative for the Defence of Human Rights” and is one of the few sources of independent information in a country where the government keeps tight control on the media. As it is very critical of the government, it is subjected to a great deal of pressure and the site has been blocked in Turkmenistan since 2007.

The mirror site is accessible here: https://ctm1.global.ssl.fastly.net/

Collateral Freedom – an initial evaluation

Since Collateral Freedom’s launch on 12 March, RSF’s servers have accepted more than 24 million requests and have provided more than 200 gigabytes of data. The operation’s success during the first few days forced RSF to increase the capacity of its servers into order to absorb the massive traffic influx.

Since then, RSF has created other mirrors and is using new hosting services. This makes it possible to circulate a new website address if a country takes the decision to block access to all the services of an Internet company such as Fastly, Amazon, Microsoft and Google. A constantly updated list of the mirrors and the services being used is available at github.com.

Censorship in China – Great Cannon after Great Firewall

Collateral Freedom’s name was never so well chosen. A few days after the operation got under way, the Chinese authorities blocked access to the entire content delivery network of Fastly, one of the companies used by RSF for its mirror sites. Many of Fastly’s clients were affected. But instead of reconsidering its contract with RSF, Fastly supported the operation and provided RSF with the necessary bandwidth.

GreatFire.org, the non-profit organization that devised the tools used by RSF for this operation, was itself the target of massive cyber-attacks from 17 March onwards. GitHub, the site that hosts GreatFire’s tools, came under attack on 26 March. The company described it as “the largest DDoS attack in github.com's history.”

After investigating for several days, GreatFire identified the source of the attacks – the Chinese authorities. “Based on the technical forensic evidence provided above and the detailed research that has been done on the GitHub attack, we can now confidently conclude that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is responsible for both of these attacks,” GreatFire said.

This has been confirmed by Citizen Lab, a Canadian research institute specializing in cyber-attacks. In a report released on 10 April, Citizen Lab gave a name to the tool used by the Chinese authorities – “Great Cannon.” In addition to its Great Firewall, which imposes a relentless censorship on the Chinese Internet, the government now also has offensive weapons that allow it to attack and neutralize websites located outside China.

“The Show must go on”

Despite the profusion of technological resources being deployed to block the free flow of information and gag dissident voices, RSF will press on with Operation Collateral Freedom as long as its own resources permit.

You can contribute to this battle:
* By sharing this information with the #CollateralFreedom hashtag and by helping to make others aware of the content on the blocked websites.
* By making a donation so that we can keep funding this operation.
* By creating your own mirror site using the tools developed by GreatFire: https://github.com/greatfire/website-mirror-by-proxy

Vietnam, China and Turkmenistan are respectively ranked 175th, 176th and 178th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.