Apr 25, 2017


People living in countries where the Internet is censored will be able to use a new tool to access websites their governments restrict.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo are developing technology called Slitheen — after aliens on Doctor Who that disguise themselves as humans to evade detection.

“Some countries block certain websites based on their web address or their content,” said Ian Goldberg, a professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo. “Similar to the aliens on Doctor Who, our Slitheen censorship-resistance system works by disguising your connection to a restricted website — for example, a connection to Wikipedia or the New York Times — as that of an allowed website, maybe a site about cute cats.”

Goldberg is also a founding member of the Cryptography, Security, and Privacy (CrySP) research group at Waterloo.

“The technology not only provides users with content blocked in their region, but it also protects them by hiding the fact that they are evading their country’s censorship policies,” said Cecylia Bocovich, a PhD student in Goldberg’s lab, and leader of the research project.

Goldberg acknowledges that no matter how sophisticated a censorship-resistance system is, the work is never complete.

“Unlike other fields of computer science, we have active adversaries. People see our research and how to protect a system and they use that to try to defeat," said Goldberg. "We have to play both sides of the game — thinking like an attacker to try to defeat our own systems, in order to build better defences.

“There’s always an arms race where the defender makes a better system, then the attacker makes a better system. This is what makes the research fun and interesting but also very challenging.”

The work is still in development, but the researchers hope to have a version available for public use within a year.