Tracking Syrian Internet censorship with data from Alkasir, Internet circumvention tool
Dr. Walid Al-Saqf, creator of the Alkasir, a tool to circumvent Internet censorship, discusses his research on how Syrians are using the tool to get information. The tool is used most often when there are major military events in the war. The most popular censored destinations are Facebook, Youtube, Tagged, Mig33, and All4Syria.
Like other censorship circumvention tools, Alkasir relies on proxies. While a user may be blocked from accessing a site, they are able to communicate with proxies. The proxies are not blocked from accessing the site; they are able to collect the information, encrypt it, and send it to the user.
Al-Saqf originally created Alkasir in 2009 to encourage access to his own news aggregator, Yemeniportal.net, which was banned by the Yemeni government. By October 2012, Alkasir had been downloaded over 72,000 times in over 100 countries around the world.
To track which websites the Syrian government is censoring, Al-Saqf investigated Alkasir data from October 2010 – October 2012 for users from Syrian Internet Service Providers. Social media websites were 92% of what users wanted to see; these included Facebook, Tagged, Mig33, and Netlog. Also popular were multimedia sites such as Youtube. The most frequently accessed dissident site was All4syria.info.
Al-Saqf also noted peaks in user activity. The highest was July 2012, with two peaks, one on July 15 and a second on July 26. On July 15 the Free Syrian Army announced military operations directed at liberating Damascus. July 26 was the lead up to battle in Aleppo, where the Free Syrian Army had taken control of some districts. Al-Saqf heard that one person used Aklasir to send messages to others warning of attack, to allow for safe evacuation in time.
See the original research:
Walid Al-Saqaf, “Internet censorship circumvention tools: escaping the control of the Syrian regime.” Media and Communications, 2016. 4(1): 39-50.