November 25, 2015
Last week, The MIT Technology Review spotlighted the work of CICS researchers in an article, Browser Plug-in Punches an Unfixable Hole in China's Great Firewall. Highlighted was the work of Assistant CICS Professor Amir Houmansadr and former undergraduate student John Holowczak, who have developed a program that allows users to access web pages that have been blocked by government-imposed firewalls.
Specifically targeting China's "Great Firewall," the plug-in, called CacheBrowser, is remarkable because it provides access to previously blocked sites without hindering browsing speed or page quality. CacheBrowser exploits a mechanism used by companies to make their pages load faster to allow a computer to sidestep censors and access the pages it wants directly.
Encrypted websites trigger censors which alert the host when these sites are accessed. However, CacheBrowser works around this because of its indistinguishability from other encrypted web pages, forcing those who are censoring content to shut down millions of unblocked websites if they want to shut the plug-in down.
Houmansadr and Hadi Zolfaghari, a first year CICS graduate student, are working on improving the plug-in, currently available as research prototypes for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, in order to make it easier for people who are living in areas where access to unfiltered web content is increasingly scarce to stay connected and informed.
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