04 February 2005

More Notes from a Very Small Island and Its Funny Proxy Technology

Few days ago, I described a workaround to Singnet's fluctuating proxy servers.

But how and why does it work?

Singapore's leaders decided early on that the nation had to be protected from undesirable content on the internets such as pr0n, www.playboy.com, pr0n, politically-sensitive (i.e. critical of Singapore's policies and leaders) writings, pr0n, viagra ads, pr0n, email spams, pr0n, William Safire, pr0n with eggs and ham, pr-n, pr_n and prawn.

The OTHER problem Singapore's leaders tried to solve at that time (and are still trying) is the nation's plummeting birth rates. And I blame Singapore's net nanny for censoring normal pr0n sites and not censoring something as dangerous as www.gay.com or www.sgboy.com. Hello, people!??

There were several censoring/proxy solutions:

1. Vet through every website in existence and create a blacklist. Rejected as the growth of webpages is exponential. What we do now is to create a blacklist of prominent sites.

2. Vet through what every Singaporean surfs online. Rejected. You'd require an ever-expanding bureacracy that would mestasize to include the entire population of Singapore, in order to keep tabs on what Singaporeans read online...

3. Have an intelligent program, in essense a True Proxy, that intercepts every url request your browser sends to the ISP. Your request will be blocked if matched with a site on the blacklist. Rejected as this will greatly slow down traffic on the internets. The degradation in surfing will be a warning sign to investors in the knowledge-based economy.

This is what Singapore now does: every ISP here has a program that checks if your browser is configured to have a proxy. It doesn't actually check which proxy you use: you can surf the internets as long as you have one configured. For them to do any more layers of censorship would severely degrade surfing.

If your IE/netscape has no proxy set, the new transparent proxy system (phased in about 4-5 years ago. Before that, you really had to configure your proxy settings) assigns the ISP's proxy server to you.

Hassle-free surfing: the people don't know their internet is being censored.

Now, what happens when you follow my guide and configure a foreign proxy server (such as the ones in Malaysia)? Singnet, Pacnet and Starhub's sniffing programs don't care. And you can now surf the entire internet, censorship-free.

The implications? Tremendous.

Websites that track your IP can only detect the proxy server you're using. That means I appear to be a Malaysian whenever I log into the Straitened Times Online. I can finally register, provide all the fake information, and search their articles without worrying about my privacy. Of course, the ST's search engine is still as craptastic as ever - searching for articles more than 3 days old does not work. With the free subscription-only searching, this means even google can't find the articles on ST that I know exist, and want to retrieve.

Google, the search engine that uses IP tracking to find out what country you're from (Gee, thanks!), frightens the hell out of my privacy-concerned friends. Let me just say that since I changed my proxy server, google now thinks I'm from Malaysia. Whoopie, privacy-enhanced surfing once again.

I'll let you know what more practical goodies can come out of this proxy substition in the future.

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