On 17 October 2016, a website hosted by the French Ministry of the Interior went offline when a large number of customers of the Internet service provider, Orange, were redirected to the site. The problem occurred after Google, Wikipedia and cloud provider OVH were mistakenly placed on a terrorism block list.
For little over an hour, users attempting to connect to these sites were redirected to a notification page informing them that they had “tried to connect to a site whose content encourages terrorism, or publicly condones terrorism". Since 2015, the French government has been actively carrying out censorship of sites deemed to provide support for terrorist activities, providing ISPs with lists of domains to be blocked.
This case once again raises important concerns about DNS censorship and its effects on the Internet. In previous RIPE Labs articles, (see for instance DNS Censorship as Seen by RIPE Atlas and Operator Level DNS Hijacking) we’ve discussed why it is crucial to obtain a clear overview of the way censorship is implemented and how RIPE Atlas can act as an important tool in achieving such an overview.
Using RIPE Atlas probes, it is possible to carry out measurements that can contribute to gaining a better understanding of the way in which censorship is actually deployed. In particular, one can select RIPE Atlas probes to perform measurements by country. This is essential when dealing with censorship because censorship is local, deployed in particular countries or, in this case, by particular operators. For instance, take a look at these measurements of the Orange redirection: 6886264 (Google from Orange network, default resolver), 6886273 (Google from Orange network, alternative DNS resolver), 6886283 (Wikipedia from Orange network, default resolver).
Ultimately, the more information that can be made available through the use of such measurements, the more informed debate on the topic will become. In order to extend our efforts on this front, we would like to take this as an opportunity to once again encourage participation in RIPE Atlas. The question of Internet censorship has deep implications for the future infrastructure of the Internet, its reliability and security. You can help by hosting a RIPE Atlas probe so as to expand the global measurement network and help make the processes underlying censorship on the Internet more transparent to all.