Privacy News Roundup 19 September 2016

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre plan to build “the Great Firewall of Britain”

CEO Ciaran Martin of UK‘s new cybersecurity watchdog, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has announced plans for a collaborative government/industry-organized DNS firewall to protect internet interests in the country.

The NCSC was founded according to a government mandate, and although some of the big players in the private sector hold sway, its biggest influence is GCHQ – the UK’s national intelligence agency. NCSC has said that its goal is “making the UK the safest place to live and work online,” which isn’t far away from the language used by China‘s Ministry of Public Security, the governing body responsible for the Great Firewall of China.

The announcement was made at the Billington Cyber Security Summit in Washington DC earlier this week, where Martin said the following:

We’re exploring a flagship project on scaling up DNS filtering: what better way of providing automated defences at scale than by the major private providers effectively blocking their customers from coming into contact with known malware and bad addresses?

It’s not immediately clear from Martin’s statement what constitutes a “bad address” though it is apparent that the UK is planning to construct a DNS firewall to censor internet access, while promoting the move as a social project for the ‘good of UK citizens’. According to Martin, the government faces two hundred cyber threats per month, which has doubled since last year and is expected to increase.

Detractors are calling the project “the Great Firewall of Britain” after China’s pioneering firewall, which blocks companies on a black list, including Google and Facebook. At present, China exports the technology used for the firewall to several countries, including Cuba, Zimbabwe and Belarus, so there’s no reason why the technology won’t be used in the British version. The likelihood of the firewall becoming a reality is fairly high given the private sector’s influence on government decisions in the UK to block websites, including pornography and torrent sites.

There’s also concern that a firewall in Britain would be open to abuse from both its operators and those threatening security, which could result in a lack of usability and security for the average internet user in UK.

Activist Jim Pollack from the London-based group Open Rights Group said in response to the proposal:

Even if we trust ISPs and governments not to abuse their extending powers of censorship, we ought to be worried that GCHQ is proposing at least one security measure which undermines international efforts to improve the integrity of the internet and thereby its security.

ciaranmartin_cyber_security_UK
The CEO of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre has called for a DNS firewall to protect the UK from alleged cyber threats. Source: The Guardian.

Russia blocks two of the largest porn sites

Last week Russia announced that it had blocked two of the largest porn websites, Pornhub.com and Youporn.com. The block order was requested by Roskomnadzor, Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media. All of Russia’s internet service providers (ISPs) have been given 24 hours notice to comply with the order.

In a statement, Pornhub said: “We can confirm that Roskomnadzor has blacklisted Pornhub in Russia and we are currently investigating and considering available means to reinstate our website in Russia.”

Roskomnadzor are known for banning sites that they do not agree with. Last year the Russian language version of Pornhub was banned. In reaction to the latest ban, an irate Russian citizen called Lyolya tweeted Roskomnadzor asking for an alternative to the blocked sites. This was the response:

Dear Lyolya, as an alternative you can meet someone in real life.

Roskomnadzor also maintains a black list, which recently has included pages from Reddit, Wikipedia and Facebook. After pressure from the public, some politicians and media, the government restored access to these sites.

The latest blocks are part of a simmering anti-porn movement in Russia that has seen the likes of churches banning access to pornographic material via its Wi-Fi networks, including any material that even slightly implies homosexuality.

Facebook prepare drones for global Wi-Fi

Tech giant Facebook plan to unleash its first ever drone in a bid to provide Wi-Fi access to poverty-stricken regions of the world. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that a small team had been working on construction of a high-altitude solar-powered plane, which it is hoped will deliver internet access around the world.

The first drone under construction is named “Aquila”. It weighs 900 pounds and has a 141 feet wingspan, which is considerably larger than that of a Boeing 737, which is 113 feet. Construction has been taking place in Yuma, a small desert city in southwestern Arizona.

Facebook plan to bring internet access to all 7 billion people on Earth regardless of income, which it is hoped will improve education and health globally, lifting people out of poverty, as well as offering new services such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Facebook drone
Facebook is building its first ever drone in an attempt to provide internet access across the globe. Source: Flickr.

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