Zebra 3 Report by Joe Anybody
Monday, 4 August 2008
Filters On The Web - How to get around them
Mood:  bright
Now Playing: How to Get Past Internet Filters

How to Get Past Filters:

A Guide for Students

It's unfortunate that this guide ever had to be written, that we ever had to use proxies in the first place, that anybody ever thought we weren't smart enough to decide for ourselves what was right and wrong, and that somebody ever thought censorship was a good idea. Unfortunately, the world we currently live in has found it acceptable to censor internet access to kids because we aren't smart or responsible enough to use it. This guide will debunk some popular myths about web filters and show you how to get past them.

I'd like to take some time to quickly destroy some arguments that people use to install filters on internet

1. Filters only block bad sites
This is absolutely not true, and anybody who has ever been behind a filter can tell you that. Filters block thousands and thousands of legitimate, academic sites. While I was at Leelanau, I ran into multiple sites a day that I needed for school, some of which I was able to get unblocked.

2. Filters stop kids from seeing "bad" content
This is also absolutely not true, as anybody under the age of 35 can tell you. Filters are easy to get past and only serve as an inconvenience to people trying to use the internet. Everybody's definition of "bad" is different, so this isn't really a good point to argue on.

3. There are places out there on the internet that tell kids how to do bad things, we have to stop them!
Well, the good thing is that you can't. If you really think it's a good idea to censor the internet, then you should also stick to your word and censor mail, books, and all communications between people. We don't do that because it's incredibly Orwellian and an infringement on numerous human rights. For some reason, people think the internet is an exception. Laws that have tried to implement web filtering on a national scale such as COPA have been shot down by courts as unconstitutional. There might be things on the internet that you find offensive, in fact, there are certainly things you would find offensive. If you see something offensive, you just move on as if you has heard somebody on the street saying offensive things. Chances are if you find something offensive, your kids will find it offensive too. I don't think Nazi hate sites are cool either, but they have their free speech rights. One of the main reason that hate groups are able to flourish is that information is so tightly regulated. If people were able to look at different sources and see the facts, nobody would be duped into those kinds of beliefs.

4. They're my kids, I should be able to control what they see online!
The problem is that your kids are human beings, which means they have human rights. These rights include the right to free speech. If you won't let them see things, they'll go and get those things from friends etc. and friends aren't always the most reliable source of information. If you want your kids to be able to say no to those "bad things" on the internet, the best course of action is to show your kids why those things are bad. If you can't make an argument to prove this, maybe you need to reconsider why you think those things are bad.

5. If we don't censor myspace, my kids will get abducted by pedophiles!
Again, you'd have to censor mail, telephone calls, and conversations if you truly believed that. The internet is a tool, just like the written word or any other tool, and it can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. Kids these days are very aware of the risks of giving out their personally identifiable information thanks to a lot of education on this topic, so there isn't a lot to worry about. Instead of shutting down the site or making your kids turn a blind eye to it, have a conversation with them about how to protect themselves online and why they shouldn't give out their information.

6. Isn't the school required by law to put filters on the internet?
No. There is no law that requires them to do that, although installing them does earn the school some fancy tax breaks. Remember: As Thomas Jefferson said, "Freedom requires eternal vigilance".

7. Isn't it illegal to give out these proxies? Isn't it illegal to bypass filters?
Not unless your hacking into the school mainframe and elevating your user account to administrator. You can do illegal things with proxies (like watching porn before you turn 18 or hacking) but proxies aren't illegal on their own. This is like how you could run over somebody with a car (illegal) or go to the grocery store with your car (not illegal).

8. The blocklists used by filters are reviewed by humans, so they're 100% accurate!
Ok, now think about this. If human beings really added all those sites to the filter then there's no way they could block even half of the "bad" content on the internet. These filters are mainly created by machines which is why you have thousands of false postitives.

9. But kids will use Facebook/Myspace to harass each other! I've seen it happen!
As long as there are stupid people, they will do stupid things. During the middle ages, we probably harassed people with wax tablets. Now we do it online, or in newspapers, or by word of mouth. For one, if they do it online, there's a clear record that they did it and it's easy to get them in trouble. If they whispered it to somebody, there's no way to prove that. So consider internet harassment to be a blessing! In reality though, people can harass others with any tool available at their disposal such as their voice, their writing, their facebook, and even their hand signals. Facebook clearly isn't the culprit here. The culprit is the person doing the harassing!

10. If a filter wrongly blocks something, why don't you just tell the school?
That can sometimes work, as I've gotten dozens of sites unblocked but it's an incredible inconvenience. This the-filter-is-perfect assumption doesn't work and ends up leaving your network admin with a dizzying list of sites to look at and unblock. It's much easier to just use proxies. Doing this also allows the school to build a profile of the sites your looking at (they already do this through logging) and in all reality, 99% of it isn't their business. It only becomes their business when you break the law on their internet connection.

Peacefire, a group that distributes proxies for students, also has a wonderful piece on whey we shouldn't censor kids at school at http://peacefire.org/info/why.shtml

There are three different types of filters that you will encounter called whitelists, blacklists, and keyword filters.

Whitelist filters have a list of sites that the filter provider (school, Fortiguard, etc.) have determined to be "acceptable" for you to view. By design, whitelist filters block the majority of the internet as well as all new sites. The Leelanau School moved from a Blacklist filter to a Whitelist filter in 2007.

Blacklist filters have a list of sites that have been deemed "bad". These, like all filters, also block tons of academic sites. Everything that hasn't been blocked is automatically unblocked.

Keyword filters usually have a blacklist in them, but they operate by inspecting the pages you view for keywords such as proxy, pipe bomb, porn, etc.

As I said earlier, the school uses a whitelist filter which is probably the most restrictive type. As anybody who has spent five minutes on the school internet can tell you, it's almost worthless because of the vast number of sites that it blocks.

Beating the Filter: Web Proxies
This is probably the most common way to beat filters. You visit a site such as http://www.stupidcensorship.com where you type in the name of the site you want to visit such as http://www.myspace.com and then it lets you through. These work by obscuring your traffic (web surfing) so the filter can't see what's going on. The web filter thinks you're just connecting to http://www.stupidcensorship.com instead of http://www.myspace.com. These can get blocked, meaning you have to find new ones all the time, which can be really difficult if all of yours get blocked at once. If you use this method, it's good to have one or two backups in case they block one of yours. I suggest you subscribe to the mailing list at http://www.peacefire.org which will send you new proxies fairly regularly right to your email. http://www.proxy.org also has a fairly exhaustive list of proxies available.

Beating the Filter: Tor
This is the best way to beat filters. Tor is a program that has a huge list of proxies it can send you through. It goes through this list until it finds some that are unblocked, and then it send you through them automatically. Some of these proxies are in other countries so you might end up at the German google, but you'll get used to that fairly quickly. It can also be slow at times, but it works 99% of the time. It can be difficult to set up, so the developers over at OperaTor have made a program that you can put on your flash drive with Tor built in. You can use this on any computer that is behind a filter. An added benefit of Tor is that it encrypts your traffic so your school, work, etc. can't see what you're doing. Just go to http://archetwist.com/en/opera/operator, download the program, install it to your flash drive, and you're done. When a filter is bothering you, plug in your flash drive and run it. Simple!

It's important to remember that using these programs or bypassing the filter is usually a violation of your school's computer use policy. I don't know anybody at Leelanau who has gotten in trouble *specifically and only* for bypassing the filter, but I guess there's a first time for everything. Everybody does it, so they'd have to get everybody in trouble. I did it all the time and nothing ever happened to me so my advice to you is: Don't worry about it!

Posted by Joe Anybody at 6:13 PM PDT

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