cyberwar explodes in syria with state dept-funded software ‘psiphon’

cyberwar explodes in syria with state dept-funded software 'psiphon'

from cnn: A familiar digital chime rang on the computer. Someone was calling via Skype from Syria. It was a law student and opposition activist from the city of Homs who uses the pseudonym Musaab al Hussaini to protect himself from arrest. He had fresh reports that security forces were shooting guns wildly in the neighborhood Baba Amrr. Hussaini was calling via Psiphon, an online encryption system he had just installed that morning. He said it protected him from detection by the Syrian security services, also known as mukhabarat.

Yeah, I feel safe now, because I use software to get an encryption connection to the Internet,” Hussaini said. He said Psiphon also allowed him to circumvent government firewalls which block access to popular communications sites like Skype. “If you want to open Skype in Syria today, we cannot, because its blocked. And if it was opened, we would be afraid of everything … of making a voice call. We are afraid to be recorded by the mukhabarat,” he said.

Psiphon is a surveillance-busting networking system designed by a Canadian company with funding from the U.S. State Department. The company’s CEO told CNN the software had been “aggressively” introduced to Syria just three weeks ago. Since then, thousands of people had begun using it.

What we’re doing is not much different to what the airwaves provided during the Cold War to provide those citizens living behind the Iron Curtain with an ability to get information which otherwise they were not getting from their state,” said Rafal Rohozinski, CEO of two companies involved in developing Psiphon.

Whereas shortwave radio during the Cold War was very unidirectional … with the Internet these technologies are by definition bidirectional, meaning that it gives an opportunity for citizens within these states to also communicate amongst themselves and with the outside world.”

For the past eight months, Syria has been locked in a bloody cycle of anti-regime protests and violent crackdown. The United Nations accuses government security forces of systematic torture, disappearances and the use of deadly force to crush dissent. More than 3,500 people have been killed since March. The UN’s top human rights monitoring commission has repeatedly accused the Syrian regime of carrying out crimes against humanity.

But this bloody test of wills is not only being fought in the streets. Activists, diplomats and IT specialists say there is also a high-stakes war of information being waged in cyberspace.

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