September 2 2021 GM

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Glitter Meetups

Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IFF Square on the IFF Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.

Date: September 2nd

Time: 9am EST / 1:00 PM UTC

Where: IFF Square on IFF Mattermost

Topic: Pluggable Transports

We are kicking off the NEW Pluggable Transports Monthly Meetup during our weekly Glitter Meetup. This will give digital rights defenders the opportunity to meet the host(s) of the new monthly meetup and ask questions.

Pluggable Transports (PT) are being developed and used to circumvent Internet censorship. If you use any VPNs, the Tor network or other services to access blocked content in you network, chances are that you are using PTs in the background. The new meetup is geared towards users, developers and PT enthusiasts, providing them with an opportunity to share their news/updates happening once per month.


Featured Guest: Vasilis, co-host of the NEW Pluggable Transport Meetup. More info about them here: https://magma.lavafeld.org/

Notes

Vasilis from magma guide. Magma provides documentation specifically on detecting, researching or "understanding" how Internet censorship happens. Vasilis is available as @anadahz on Mattermost, and he was our featured guest sharing his knowledge about Pluggable Transports. He is working with Internews too, that has small grants dedicated to Pluggable Transports

What Pluggable Transports (PT) are? Why “pluggable”? Do PT have a material form or is it software?

  • Pluggable Transports (PTs) help you bypass censorship on a network.
  • An example PT case from Tor
  • Pluggable Transports (PT) transform the Tor traffic flow between the client and the bridge. This way, censors who monitor traffic between the client and the bridge will see innocent-looking transformed traffic instead of the actual Tor traffic. External programs can talk to Tor clients and Tor bridges using the pluggable transport API, to make it easier to build interoperable programs.
  • If you are a visual person you may enjoy the short video explanation of PTs in many languages.
  • Here is documentation in different languages.

Could you share a real-life situation in which PT have been useful against surveillance?

  • PT are mainly designed to circumvent Internet censorship, however people have been using them to obfuscate their network traffic, for instance to hide the fact that they are using the Tor network. One may use a bridge to achieve this. It's important to have in mind that adversaries or ISPs may still be able to detect the fact that one uses Tor.

How do people who might need tools for censorship circumvention find out about PTs?

  • Some information is available here

What is the best place to start for developers who would like to contribute to developing and deploying new PTs?

In relation to the devs/end-users discussion, what do you see as the main challenges for the further development of PTs?

  • PTs and censorship circumvention is an arms-race and apart from the technical challenges as the censors and the infrastructure they are using becomes more efficient and manages to blocks usually with success most network traffic as desired.
  • Nevertheless there are non-technical issues such as for instance when Google, Amazon and Microsoft decided to block domain fronting a technique that is used to circumvent internet censorship effectively as the collateral damage for the censors is too high. You can find this blog post also interesting to our discussion.

The monthly pluggable transport meetings

Vasilis and Team CommUNITY, we're planning to host a monthly event on the topic of PTs. You can join the new Pluggable Transport Channel on our Mattermost.

  • Would love to see both developers and users joining the meeting. As it's often very important in the censorship circumvention world.
  • We already started seeing the gap between the development of PTs and the levels of access to them by digital rights defenders.
  • One of the tricky things is that end-users typically would not necessarily know they are using a PT, per se. It's more visible to developers.
  • All the users in this graph are using some kind of pluggable transport to access Tor. (Though Tor is only a part of the pluggable transports world.)
  • The checkboxes "meek", "obfs4", "snowflake", etc. are the names of specific tunneling/circumvention technologies.
  • For users, the language around PTs is still very technical, it would be great in the monthly meetups to work on easier language/explainers for users.