Lantern leaps over the Great Wall

great wall A bunch of activists has developed a piece of software which is giving the Chinese censors a run for their money.

The program was created late last year by Adam Fisk, a former engineer at the pioneering file sharing service Limewire, which was shut down by a federal judge in 2010. However Fisk used his background in developing peer-to-peer technology to create a decentralised system of combatting censorship that governments are cannot block effectively.

Fisk told the Daily Dot  that until now censors have had the upper hand in being able to block these tools.

But peer-to-peer to get around that because it allows individuals in uncensored regions can download and install it really easily and become these instant access points.

Lantern has around 25,000 users mostly in China, but with a few thousand in Iran. Fisk expects that number to grow significantly as the company makes its first big push to increase the number of users in the “uncensored” world.

Downloading Lantern in an uncensored region connects you with someone in a censored region, who can then access whatever content he or she wants through you. It operates on trust.

To use Lantern, you have to sign in with Google, and then information about your computer trickles through your network of real-world friends who are also using Lantern.

A censor who wanted to shut down your IP address would have to convince you that you are their friend.

A government censor who downloads the software  can’t bring down the whole system because the network detects attempts to block information from passing through and seamlessly route around them.

Through a process called consistent routing, the amount of information any single Lantern user can learn about other users is limited to a small subset, making infiltration significantly more difficult.

Fisk said that the Chinese government is clearly worried about the software. Direct downloads of the program are already blocked and most Chinese users have obtained the program through virtual private networks.

The outfit disguises Lantern’s traffic to look like unassuming types of traffic that censoring governments do not block is actually a key part of its strategy. Lantern partners with other companies sympathetic to its mission to hide its traffic inside theirs.

The downside of the project is that Lantern is largely funded by the U.S. State Department. This funding arrangement has led to some fears that the NSA may have inserted backdoors into the system.

Fisk said that the people he worked with at the State Department are very different than the people across the river at the NSA in their agendas and their beliefs.

The project’s government backers have been very hands-off and, since the project is open source, anyone could go in and inspect the code themselves to see how it works and check for any backdoors that may have been put in place by government spooks.