Governments can now block anticensorship tools such as the Tor anonymity network or encrypted VPN connections, for example. But a new censorship evasion tool called Marionette may help reverse that trend. Marionette helps Internet traffic that would normally be blocked masquerade as ordinary, permitted online behavior. It can be configured to make your activity emulate just about any type of “innocent” activity, such as online gaming or Skype, by analyzing samples of that kind of traffic. Marionette can even be programmed to respond in the right way to maintain its cover if actively probed by a censorship computer system, a tactic China sometimes uses to investigate suspicious connections before blocking them.
Coull hopes that Marionette will one day be integrated into the anonymity network Tor or the censorship evasion tool Lantern—two systems backed by the U.S. government and used by activists, government workers, and NGOs. He’s already talked with Tor developers about Marionette’s open-source code. The system was introduced in a paper at the USENIX Security conference in Washington, D.C., this month, and developed by Coull with Kevin Dyer andThomas Shrimpton of Portland State University