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Google's uProxy could help fight Internet censorship


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Google's uProxy could help fight Internet censorship


At its Ideas Summit in New York, Google has announced that it is working on developing a browser extension that will act as an easy-to-use way to bypass country-specific Internet censorship and make connections safer and more private.

Safer connections

The tool, which was developed by the University of Washington and seeded by Google, is at its core a peer-to-peer personalized virtual private network (VPN) that redirects Internet traffic coming from an initial, less secure connection through a second, trusted connection, and then encrypts the pathway between the two terminals.

Whenever you access the Internet, the connection is routed through a number of terminals. At each step of the way the connection may be blocked, surveilled, or even tampered with (especially if the data is not encrypted). On the whole, the safety and privacy of your data is only as good as the weakest link in the chain.

Google's solution with uProxy was to develop a tool that makes it much easier to make an unsafe connection more secure, with the help of a trusted friend.

The software, which will be available as a Chrome and Firefox extension to begin with, can use existing social networks like Facebook or Google Hangouts to help find users who already have uProxy installed on their system. If two users agree to use the service in tandem, the software can begin to make data connections safer.

How it works

Let's assume that Alice, who lives in a country with an Internet censorship problem such as China or Iran, contacts Bob, who has much safer, or uncensored, or unmonitored access to the Internet.

Bob agrees to act as a proxy for Alice, and as long as his browser is open, Alice's outgoing web traffic will now be routed through Bob's connection, and so she'll now be able to access websites that she wouldn't otherwise be able to reach on her own. The connection between Alice and Bob is also encrypted.

To an external observer looking at Bob's connection, it would appear that he is simply surfing the net, while it is really Alice who's doing the browsing. Likewise, an observer looking at Alice's connection would only see a stream of encrypted data being sent from and to Bob, but would not be able to understand it, or determine whether it's "allowed" web traffic or not.

One more possible use for the software could be to proxy your own web traffic whenever you are traveling and worried about the safety of your connection (when you're connecting to an open Wi-Fi hotspot or public network, for example). In cases like these, you can use uProxy to route your web traffic back to your home computer and access the Web as if you were in your own home.

What uProxy is (and isn't)

Internet proxies already provide a similar service, but the advantage with uProxy is that it's a true P2P service, so there is no centralized server that governments can block. The data packets in the encrypted connection between Alice and Bob aren't marked in any way, and so they can't be easily flagged by a malicious user (or government).

Google cautions that users should only make use of uProxy with those they trust. If you provide someone access to your safer connection, you have to trust that they will be using the connection legally: since the traffic is routed through you, you will be responsible for their online activity.

Likewise, if you're using the service to get access from someone else, you have to trust that their connection is secure. If it isn't, you may be thinking that you're not being monitored, while really you are. In fact, if your friend's connection turns out to be less safe than your own, you'll just be making things worse for yourself.

The service doesn't anonymize traffic like Tor, and it isn't a file sharing tool as it only proxies traffic from web browsers.

What's next?

Google says it is developing uProxy for the desktop versions of Chrome and Firefox to start with, and that the tool may be expanded to other browsers and mobile platforms in the future.

The software has been launched as a private beta only, and the code hasn't been made available to the public yet because Google wants to make sure that the software is indeed tamper-proof. For that, it is allowing technically-savvy beta testers to take a look at the code to iron out any bugs.

Once the software reaches the desired stability, it will be audited by Internet freedom organizations such as OpenITP, and then made freely available under an open source license.

The video below is a short introduction to the software.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does uProxy do and why would I want to use it?

You might not realize it, but every time you connect to a website, your information takes many steps. For example it may travel from your computer to a WiFi hotspot, to an Internet service provider, then on to an international gateway before arriving at the site. This journey matters because it is at each step that the connection may be blocked, surveilled or misdirected.

uProxy lets you provide a pathway for trusted friends to get safer, more private and more reliable access. You give access to a friend by email or chat (you can use any chat network). By accessing the Internet through uProxy, a friend's Internet connection is routed through your computer before continuing to the site they are visiting. uProxy helps avoid attacks on your friend's Internet connection. You can also use uProxy when you are traveling and worried about the security of your Internet connection. By using uProxy to route your connection back to your home computer, you can access the Internet as if you were in your own home.

Who made uProxy?

uProxy is being developed by the University of Washington, with help from Brave New Software. The project was seeded by Google Ideas.

What web-browsers does uProxy work in?

uProxy is being developed for Chrome and Firefox. We may expand to other browsers and to mobile in the future, depending on resources available.

Where can I get and install uProxy?

At the moment, uProxy is in a limited release to trusted testers who can help make it as reliable, secure and private as possible. In the coming months, the trusted tester program will also be rolled out to more users. You sign up for the extended rollout of the trusted tester program by going to https://uproxy.org/#join

Why is uProxy launched for trusted testers only to start with?

We are working on making uProxy as secure and private as it can be. uProxy's trusted tester program is intended to get user feedback and fix bugs before releasing it more widely.

How does uProxy help protect my Internet connection?

Insecure connections to the Internet introduce many risks. For example, when using a Wi-Fi hotspot, if you visit a site that doesn't use encryption, other people on the same network may be able to see what websites you go to, and what information you send and receive. It's worrying that even some email providers still don't use encryption; What this means is that on insecure connections to the Internet, any part of the pathway from your computer to final site on the Internet will be able to read your email, and may even be able to modify it.

uProxy routes one user's connection to the Internet via a friend they trust. Both users have to have uProxy installed. uProxy is intended to allow one user, with a safer and more secure connection to the Internet, to share their connection to the Internet with trusted friends and family, or even with themselves when they travel. By encrypting the connection between the two users, uProxy makes it much harder for an intermediate step on the journey to watch, block or misdirect traffic.

Does uProxy store logs that hold user data?

uProxy does not store any logs. Some information on what chat networks to connect to, and how, can be stored in the browser's local storage at the user's request.

What other tools provide similar functionality to uProxy?

uProxy is a bit like a (Virtual Private Network) VPN such as OpenVPN, or other types of proxy services. But setting up a VPN service can be rather complicated. uProxy makes it easy to provide your friends and your family with a way to get access from a location that you trust. For instance, you may trust your ISP provider at your home and want to access the Internet from there when you use an untrusted WiFi hotspot.

How is uProxy different to other proxies?

There are many differences, depending on the exact details of the proxy service you want to compare uProxy to. But the main difference is that users selectively share their Internet connection with trusted friends. It's intended for user's to be able to have the same level of security as their friends and family.

It's also worth noting that uProxy not a centralized service, so it cannot be blocked in one place. It runs on your browser, so it moves with you. The proxy also lives only as long as your friend is running uProxy in their web-browser. If your friend fully closes their web-browser or turns off their computer while you are using their computer to get access to the Internet, the uProxy connection will stop (and you will be notified). When they open their browser again, you will be able to start using them as a proxy service again.

Is there a risk to using uProxy (or VPNs or other proxies)?

There are two ways to use VPNs or other proxies (including uProxy) which have different kinds of risks:

1. If you are providing a someone with access, then you have to trust that they will use your Internet connection legally. You are responsible for their online activity. Because you cannot see what a friend is doing on your Internet connection, you should think carefully before you give someone access to your Internet connection. If you are behind a corporate or restricted network, you should also check with your network administrators and technical support magicians to make sure you are not opening a security hole into the normally restricted network.

2. On the other hand, if you are using uProxy to get access to the Internet from someone, you also have to trust them. If their computer is at an insecure WiFi hotspot, you will not necessarily be making your Internet connection any more private or secure. Moreover, you need to trust the proxy services you use, because the proxy service has the technical capacity to block, misdirect, and manipulate your Internet traffic. Even if you trust the location from which you are connecting to the Internet, make sure you know how to stay safe and secure online.

Does uProxy anonymize a user's Internet connection?

uProxy is not designed to be an anonymizing service. Services like Tor provide a much stronger guarantee that a user's IP address is hidden from from the target site as well as intermediaries. uProxy does not provide such a guarantee.

Who sees that I'm using uProxy and how do they see it?

One of the ways uProxy connects you through your friends, is by connecting to existing chat networks, such as Facebook or Google Hangouts. uProxy can use a chat network to discover new friends and setup peer-to-peer proxying from your friends. If a user does so, then the chat network can see that the user has uProxy installed. A user's chat contacts may also see this.

To anyone on the same local network (e.g. WiFi hotspot) the uProxy connection looks like an encrypted connection to another user on the Internet. There’s no uProxy-specific mark on traffic that identifies the traffic as being sent by uProxy. We'd like the traffic to look no different from a networked video game or Internet phone calls. Protocol detection and obfuscation are both very active research fields.We'll be using encryption and obfuscation technologies to make it hard to identify the traffic between users. This means that the traffic will not look like standard WebRTC Internet traffic, and should be very hard to identify and block.

Does uProxy let people do P2P sharing of files, like torrent systems do?

uProxy is not a file sharing tool. uProxy only proxies your web browser traffic.

Can I look at the source code?

The source code will be released by the University of Washington under the Apache 2 license after the trusted tester phase is completed. If you would like to get involved sooner go to https://uproxy.org/#join

What about schools and restricted corporate networks?

There are standard ways to restrict access with a school or corporate network. For example, when they control the hardware, they can restrict the installation of extensions. They need to do this already in order to stop traditional proxying extensions.




Edited by november_ra1n
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Sounds interesting, Until i test it and proven wrongly...

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If google are involved "privacy" will be a joke, google does nothing that doesnt involve them being able to mine the shit out of the data of every possible user, full stop.

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