Waterloo researchers develop browser to bypass Internet censorship
Waterloo researchers develop browser to bypass Internet censorship. Image: YouTube.

University of Waterloo researchers developed a new browser that uses a form of decoy routing to bypass blocked websites in some networks. It is called Slitheen, and it hides the censored site’s content inside the media of another site.

Developers named the browser Slitheen after an alien race of the same name featured on the popular sci-fi show Doctor Who. These aliens disguise themselves as humans by wearing the skin of their victims, a technique that resembles decoy routing.

The University of Waterloo has a deeply ingrained science and research culture, and it is notorious among academics as a place for discovery. Recently, experts from the institution captured unprecedented images of dark matter and presented evidence supporting the holographic universe theory.

What is decoy routing and how does it work in Slitheen?

Decoy routing is an internet traffic model proposed in 2011 under which a browser sends a hidden, encrypted website request inside a regular one. Servers detect only the safe one and interpret the user is browsing that site only.

This model, however, is prone to fingerprinting by overseeing regulators and authorities. These entities can easily discern if the request package someone sends for a website is legitimate or not by contrasting it with the size of the actual portal.

If the numbers don’t match, then authorities know that you are not browsing the site you claim and that you are potentially looking up sites that are blocked or forbidden in that network.

Waterloo researchers made it so that regulators cannot differentiate between the two. If the covert site you are requesting is bigger than the safe one, then it splits the content load among several requests.

Slitheen browser and Tor have similar problems

There are some disadvantages to this approach. For instance, its adoption is limited given that Slitheen software must be installed on both of the user’s computer and in relay stations or servers so they can detect and decrypt the unique key for the underlying request.

On top of that, the process through which Slitheen displays forbidden sites in blocked networks involves stripping the regular site requested from all its media contents. In these empty photo and video slots is where the browser loads the hidden content.

Since this is not how regular browsers work and it is a significantly longer route to looking at the content you want, it takes more time. A defining characteristic of these alternative browsers, like Tor, is that they offer security and versatility in exchange for speed and performance.

Researchers say they are still working to improve Slitheen and make it more usable. In a statement to The Atlantic, Ian Goldberg, one of the project leaders, said they might launch an open version of the browser in the future.

Source: The Atlantic