In an attempt to make it easier for dissidents in countries such as China and North Korea to communicate without fear of government sanctions, researchers at Georgia Tech have developed software that can hide information inside messages posted to Twitter and other social networks, as well as in images that can be uploaded to photo-sharing sites such as Flickr and Picasa. The researchers plan to unveil the program — known as Collage — and a related research paper at the Usenix security conference next month.
Some dissidents in China and other countries communicate using external proxy servers and anonymous-proxy software such as the open-source Tor program. But these require administration of a server, and can be detected and disabled or blocked by governments and security forces. By hiding communications in Twitter messages and images uploaded to photo-sharing sites, the researchers — Sam Burnett, Nick Feamster and Santosh Vempala — say that they hope to get around some of these issues:
Oppressive regimes and even democratic governments restrict Internet access. Existing anti-censorship systems often require users to connect through proxies, but these systems are relatively easy for a censor to discover and block. This project offers a possible next step in the censorship arms race: rather than relying on a single system or set of proxies to circumvent censorship firewalls, we explore whether the vast deployment of sites that host user-generated content can breach these firewalls.
Here’s hoping technology wins. And never becomes tyranny.