Censored Planet Observatory

Censored Planet Observatory

The Censored Planet Observatory is a platform for measuring various types of interference on the Internet. We use thousands of remote infrastructural vantage points from over 170 countries to continuously monitor disruption tactics used by authorities around the world. By making our data and measurement practices easily accessible, we seek to facilitate multi-disciplinary research that promotes accountability and transparency.

What can you do with the Censored Planet Observatory?

By maintaining coverage and continuity of our measurements, we aim to use our longitudinal data to observe how censorship evolves over time. When political events occur, our data can help political and social scientists understand how these events relate to changes in blocking and disruption. Our data can also help researchers distinguish likely censorship from other network failures in their datasets. Using our visualizations, we also aim to let users know what their governments are denying them. Finally, companies can use our data to estimate financial losses from markets that can’t reach their content.

Our Data

Recent datasets from the Observatory

Research Projects

The following projects are part of the Observatory

  • Augur

    Internet-Wide Measurement of Network Layer Disruption

    Augur is a system that utilizes TCP/IP side channels to measure reachability between two Internet locations without directly controlling a measurement vantage point at either location. It is a scalable, statistically robust methods to infer network-layer filtering, and capable of performing continuous monitoring of global Internet disruption. It is currently deployed and runs Internet-wide disruption tests in nearly 180 countries against sites known to be frequently blocked.

  • Satellite

    Global Detection Of DNS-Layer Disruption

    Satellite measures global trends in website deployment and accessibility via the consistency of DNS records. Satellite watches DNS resolution through active measurements of DNS resolvers across the IPv4 address space. A data-set of the alexa top 10,000 domains is collected each week. Satellite is committed to openness, with all code and data made publicly available.

  • Quack

    Scalable Remote Measurement of Application-Layer Disruption

    Quack is a technique for detecting content-level disruption. Quack sacrifices idenitification of tightly controlled DPI behavior in exchange for broad measurements of keywords and protocol disruption.

How the Observatory Works

With the increasing focus on network management and growing prevalence of commodity DPI technology, network interference practices such as censorship, surveillance, content injection, traffic throttling, and net neutrality violations are on the rise.

The problem Censored Planet attempts to solve: Characterizing policy of remote firewalls.
Network interference can happen at each layer of Internet communication. The Censored Planet Observatory aims to track all layers above the physical layer.

Past research has focused on the potential of distributed networks, including PlanetLab, VPNs, and volunteer end-user machines, to directly and systematically measure disruption. These vantage points offer direct access to a multitude of networks, and can conduct measurements tailored to a deep and specific understanding of a focused inquiry. Unfortunately, these types of vantage points scale poorly and have trouble covering even half of the countries on earth. In practice, tailored deployments are extremely time and labor intensive, and individual vantage points frequently suffer from periods of disruption. These methods also raise ethical issues: the user responsible for a machine may be held accountable for actions of a researcher. To ensure safety, researchers have had to resort to quizzes and in-person warnings of assumed risk. The Censored Planet Observatory uses a fundamentally different method that allows for global-scale observation of Internet connectivity and disruption.

Censored Planet’s projects, Augur, Satellite, and Quack, use network side channels to remotely detect network anomalies. Critically, these systems allow us to learn whether a remote system B has network connectivity to another remote system C, without needing control of B or C. To do this, these systems make use of features in existing Internet protocols and infrastructure to interact with remote systems, using their responses to determine whether they were able to interact with other targeted hosts. These techniques overcome the traditional limitations of vantage point and participant selection. With tens of thousands of vantage points, they provide an unprecedented breadth of coverage and avoid the ethical dilemmas hindering other contemporary measurement techniques.