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How Syria censors the Internet during civil war

Syria is in the midst of civil war, and has been since the Arab Spring in 2011, during which time the government has used extensive online censorship policies.

The Internet continues to entrench itself in the daily lives of citizens around the world. While the uses vary, more and more people are logging online with each passing day. This means that part of themselves is moving online in the process. Facebook and Twitter profiles are now the pieces of individuals that they choose to share online.

The average person uses the Internet for their work or to share entertainment with one another, but in areas of social, economic or political crisis, it becomes an outlet to mobilize and speak out against oppression. One of the crowning examples of this can be seen in the Middle East when protests erupted throughout the region during the Arab Spring. While the ends of these revolutions have yet to be seen, those who participated made use of social media outlets like Twitter to organize and report on the events when other mediums were blocked.

Syria's long struggle
While the events of the Arab Spring are over for the most part, there is still civil war in Syria. The country is embroiled in one of the most complicated conflicts that emerged from these revolutions, with the government, rebels, extremists and supporters of democracy all looking to shape the future of the country.

This means that there are going to be a lot of opinions, ideas and demonstrations spread and discussed online, making cyberspace an important online tool and one that plays a role in shaping the future of the country. Right around the start of the civil war, a group of online activists uncovered evidence that the Syrian government was using devices across the country's online networks that monitored and controlled the information that flowed through them.

The devices were produced by the California-based company Blue Coat Systems, a firm that specializes in network security. The online activists who obtained the information went by the name Telecomix. The group leaked numerous gigabytes that it was able to obtain from these devices in October 2011, but because of the sheer size of this information, it has not been until recently that sheer scope of government's online censorship had been.

New findings
Motherboard reported that researchers recently published a paper entitled, "Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria," on the extent to which the government was using these proxy devices. One of the more concerning elements of the of the devices is that they were operating transparently, meaning that they would be able to perform their services without users even knowing that they were being censored or redirected.

These redirections were most active when users tried to use websites that put people into connection with one another, like Skype. This would make sense considering activists would be likely to use them to coordinate with one another, but also alarming given the fact that friends and family members would likely be concerned with one another throughout the course of the fighting. Also, certain keywords were censored from search engines as well.

An inside look
This information that was provided by Telecomix allowed researchers to get an inside look at a live censorship operation. Physics Central reported that 93 percent of the requests were allowed, meaning not a lot of content was censored, but it was done so in a very targeted and covert manner.

"Our analysis shows that, compared to other countries (such as China and Iran), Internet filtering in Syria seems to be less invasive yet quite targeted," the paper noted, according to Physics Central.

The news source noted that Syria has worked to make it more difficult to access this equipment. While this information is important, conflict is still on going in Syria, and without a free Internet it will likely continue.

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