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A Survey of Worldwide Censorship Techniques
RFC 9505

Document Type RFC - Informational (November 2023) Errata
Authors Joseph Lorenzo Hall , Michael D. Aaron , Amelia Andersdotter , Ben Jones , Nick Feamster , Mallory Knodel
Last updated 2023-11-27
RFC stream Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)
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RFC 9505

Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)                           J. L. Hall
Request for Comments: 9505                              Internet Society
Category: Informational                                      M. D. Aaron
ISSN: 2070-1721                                               CU Boulder
                                                         A. Andersdotter
                                                                B. Jones
                                                             N. Feamster
                                                               U Chicago
                                                               M. Knodel
                                       Center for Democracy & Technology
                                                           November 2023

              A Survey of Worldwide Censorship Techniques


   This document describes technical mechanisms employed in network
   censorship that regimes around the world use for blocking or
   impairing Internet traffic.  It aims to make designers, implementers,
   and users of Internet protocols aware of the properties exploited and
   mechanisms used for censoring end-user access to information.  This
   document makes no suggestions on individual protocol considerations,
   and is purely informational, intended as a reference.  This document
   is a product of the Privacy Enhancement and Assessment Research Group
   (PEARG) in the IRTF.

Status of This Memo

   This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
   published for informational purposes.

   This document is a product of the Internet Research Task Force
   (IRTF).  The IRTF publishes the results of Internet-related research
   and development activities.  These results might not be suitable for
   deployment.  This RFC represents the consensus of the Privacy
   Enhancements and Assessments Research Group of the Internet Research
   Task Force (IRTF).  Documents approved for publication by the IRSG
   are not candidates for any level of Internet Standard; see Section 2
   of RFC 7841.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2023 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction
   2.  Terminology
   3.  Technical Prescription
   4.  Technical Identification
     4.1.  Points of Control
     4.2.  Application Layer
       4.2.1.  HTTP Request Header Identification
       4.2.2.  HTTP Response Header Identification
       4.2.3.  Transport Layer Security (TLS)
       4.2.4.  Instrumenting Content Distributors
       4.2.5.  DPI Identification
     4.3.  Transport Layer
       4.3.1.  Shallow Packet Inspection and Transport Header
       4.3.2.  Protocol Identification
     4.4.  Residual Censorship
   5.  Technical Interference
     5.1.  Application Layer
       5.1.1.  DNS Interference
     5.2.  Transport Layer
       5.2.1.  Performance Degradation
       5.2.2.  Packet Dropping
       5.2.3.  RST Packet Injection
     5.3.  Routing Layer
       5.3.1.  Network Disconnection
       5.3.2.  Adversarial Route Announcement
     5.4.  Multi-layer and Non-layer
       5.4.1.  Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
       5.4.2.  Censorship in Depth
   6.  Non-technical Interference
     6.1.  Manual Filtering
     6.2.  Self-Censorship
     6.3.  Server Takedown
     6.4.  Notice and Takedown
     6.5.  Domain Name Seizures
   7.  Future Work
   8.  IANA Considerations
   9.  Security Considerations
   10. Informative References
   Authors' Addresses

1.  Introduction

   Censorship is where an entity in a position of power -- such as a
   government, organization, or individual -- suppresses communication
   that it considers objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient
   [WP-Def-2020].  Although censors that engage in censorship must do so
   through legal, martial, or other means, this document focuses largely
   on technical mechanisms used to achieve network censorship.

   This document describes technical mechanisms that censorship regimes
   around the world use for blocking or impairing Internet traffic.  See
   [RFC7754] for a discussion of Internet blocking and filtering in
   terms of implications for Internet architecture rather than end-user
   access to content and services.  There is also a growing field of
   academic study of censorship circumvention (see the review article of
   [Tschantz-2016]), results from which we seek to make relevant here
   for protocol designers and implementers.

   Censorship circumvention also impacts the cost of implementation of a
   censorship measure, and we include mentions of trade-offs in relation
   to such costs in conjunction with each technical method identified

   This document has seen extensive discussion and review in the IRTF
   Privacy Enhancement and Assessment Research Group (PEARG) and
   represents the consensus of that group.  It is not an IETF product
   and is not a standard.

2.  Terminology

   We describe three elements of Internet censorship: prescription,
   identification, and interference.  This document contains three major
   sections, each corresponding to one of these elements.  Prescription
   is the process by which censors determine what types of material they
   should censor, e.g., classifying pornographic websites as
   undesirable.  Identification is the process by which censors classify
   specific traffic or traffic identifiers to be blocked or impaired,
   e.g., deciding that webpages containing "sex" in an HTTP header or
   that accept traffic through the URL "" are likely to
   be undesirable.  Interference is the process by which censors
   intercede in communication and prevent access to censored materials
   by blocking access or impairing the connection, e.g., implementing a
   technical solution capable of identifying HTTP headers or URLs and
   ensuring they are rendered wholly or partially inaccessible.

3.  Technical Prescription

   Prescription is the process of figuring out what censors would like
   to block [Glanville-2008].  Generally, censors aggregate information
   "to block" in blocklists, databases of image hashes [ekr-2021], or
   use real-time heuristic assessment of content [Ding-1999].  Some
   national networks are designed to more naturally serve as points of
   control [Leyba-2019].  There are also indications that online censors
   use probabilistic machine learning techniques [Tang-2016].  Indeed,
   web crawling and machine learning techniques are an active research
   area in the effort to identify content deemed as morally or
   commercially harmful to companies or consumers in some jurisdictions

   There are typically a few types of blocklist elements: keyword,
   domain name, protocol, or IP address.  Keyword and domain name
   blocking take place at the application level, e.g., HTTP; protocol
   blocking often occurs using deep packet inspection (DPI) to identify
   a forbidden protocol; IP blocking tends to take place using IP
   addresses in IPv4/IPv6 headers.  Some censors also use the presence
   of certain keywords to enable more aggressive blocklists
   [Rambert-2021] or to be more permissive with content [Knockel-2021].

   The mechanisms for building up these blocklists vary.  Censors can
   purchase from private industry "content control" software, which lets
   censors filter traffic from broad categories they would like to
   block, such as gambling or pornography [Knight-2005].  In these
   cases, these private services attempt to categorize every semi-
   questionable website to allow for meta-tag blocking.  Similarly, they
   tune real-time content heuristic systems to map their assessments
   onto categories of objectionable content.

   Countries that are more interested in retaining specific political
   control typically have ministries or organizations that maintain
   blocklists.  Examples include the Ministry of Industry and
   Information Technology in China, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic
   Guidance in Iran, and the organizations specific to copyright law in
   France [HADOPI] and consumer protection law across the EU

   Content-layer filtering of images and video requires institutions or
   organizations to store hashes of images or videos to be blocked in
   databases, which can then be compared, with some degree of tolerance,
   to content that is sent, received, or stored using centralized
   content applications and services [ekr-2021].

4.  Technical Identification

4.1.  Points of Control

   Internet censorship takes place in all parts of the network topology.
   It may be implemented in the network itself (e.g., local loop or
   backhaul), on the services side of communication (e.g., web hosts,
   cloud providers, or content delivery networks), in the ancillary
   services ecosystem (e.g., domain name system (DNS) or certificate
   authorities (CAs)), or on the end-client side (e.g., in an end-user
   device, such as a smartphone, laptop, or desktop, or software
   executed on such devices).  An important aspect of pervasive
   technical interception is the necessity to rely on software or
   hardware to intercept the content the censor is interested in.  There
   are various logical and physical points of control that censors may
   use for interception mechanisms, including, though not limited to,
   the following:

   Internet Backbone:
      If a censor controls elements of Internet network infrastructure,
      such as the international gateways into a region or Internet
      Exchange Points (IXPs), those choke points can be used to filter
      undesirable traffic that is traveling into and out of the region
      by packet sniffing and port mirroring.  Censorship at gateways is
      most effective at controlling the flow of information between a
      region and the rest of the Internet, but is ineffective at
      identifying content traveling between the users within a region,
      which would have to be accomplished at exchange points or other
      network aggregation points.  Some national network designs
      naturally serve as more effective choke points and points of
      control [Leyba-2019].

   Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
      ISPs are frequently exploited points of control.  They have the
      benefit of being easily enumerable by a censor -- often falling
      under the jurisdictional or operational control of a censor in an
      indisputable way -- with the additional feature that an ISP can
      identify the regional and international traffic of all their
      users.  The censor's filtration mechanisms can be placed on an ISP
      via governmental mandates, ownership, or voluntary/coercive

      Private institutions such as corporations, schools, and Internet
      cafes can use filtration mechanisms.  These mechanisms are
      occasionally at the request of a government censor but can also be
      implemented to help achieve institutional goals, such as fostering
      a particular moral outlook on life by schoolchildren, independent
      of broader society or government goals.

   Content Distribution Network (CDN):
      CDNs seek to collapse network topology in order to better locate
      content closer to the service's users.  This reduces content
      transmission latency and improves QoS.  The CDN service's content
      servers, located "close" to the user in a network sense, can be
      powerful points of control for censors, especially if the location
      of CDN repositories allows for easier interference.

   CAs for Public Key Infrastructures (PKIs):
      Authorities that issue cryptographically secured resources can be
      a significant point of control.  CAs that issue certificates to
      domain holders for TLS/HTTPS (the Web PKI) or Regional or Local
      Internet Registries (RIRs or LIRs) that issue Route Origin
      Authorizations (ROAs) to BGP operators can be forced to issue
      rogue certificates that may allow compromise, i.e., by allowing
      censorship software to engage in identification and interference
      where it may not have been possible before.  CAs may also be
      forced to revoke certificates.  This may lead to adversarial
      traffic routing, TLS interception being allowed, or an otherwise
      rightful origin or destination point of traffic flows being unable
      to communicate in a secure way.

      Application service providers can be pressured, coerced, or
      legally required to censor specific content or data flows.
      Service providers naturally face incentives to maximize their
      potential customer base, and potential service shutdowns or legal
      liability due to censorship efforts may seem much less attractive
      than potentially excluding content, users, or uses of their
      service.  Services have increasingly become focal points of
      censorship discussions as well as discussions of moral imperatives
      to use censorship tools.

   Content Sites:
      On the service side of communications lie many platforms that
      publish user-generated content and require terms of service
      compliance with all content and user accounts in order to avoid
      intermediary liability for the web hosts.  In aggregate, these
      policies, actions, and remedies are known as content moderation.
      Content moderation happens above the services or application
      layer, but these mechanisms are built to filter, sort, and block
      content and users, thus making them available to censors through
      direct pressure on the private entity.

   Personal Devices:
      Censors can mandate censorship software be installed on the device
      level.  This has many disadvantages in terms of scalability, ease
      of circumvention, and operating system requirements.  (Of course,
      if a personal device is treated with censorship software before
      sale and this software is difficult to reconfigure, this may work
      in favor of those seeking to control information, say, for
      children, students, customers, or employees.)  The emergence of
      mobile devices has exacerbated these feasibility problems.  This
      software can also be mandated by institutional actors acting on
      non-governmentally mandated moral imperatives.

   At all levels of the network hierarchy, the filtration mechanisms
   used to censor undesirable traffic are essentially the same: a censor
   either directly identifies undesirable content using the identifiers
   described below and then uses a blocking or shaping mechanism (such
   as the ones exemplified below to prevent or impair access), or
   requests that an actor ancillary to the censor (such as a private
   entity) perform these functions.  Identification of undesirable
   traffic can occur at the application, transport, or network layer of
   the IP stack.  Censors often focus on web traffic, so the relevant
   protocols tend to be filtered in predictable ways (see Sections 4.2.1
   and 4.2.2).  For example, a subversive image might make it past a
   keyword filter.  However, if later the image is deemed undesirable, a
   censor may then blocklist the provider site's IP address.

4.2.  Application Layer

   The following subsections describe properties and trade-offs of
   common ways in which censors filter using application-layer
   information.  Each subsection includes empirical examples describing
   these common behaviors for further reference.

4.2.1.  HTTP Request Header Identification

   An HTTP header contains a lot of useful information for traffic
   identification.  Although "host" is the only required field in an
   HTTP request header (for HTTP/1.1 and later), an HTTP method field is
   necessary to do anything useful.  As such, "method" and "host" are
   the two fields used most often for ubiquitous censorship.  A censor
   can sniff traffic and identify a specific domain name (host) and
   usually a page name (for example, GET /page) as well.  This
   identification technique is usually paired with transport header
   identification (see Section 4.3.1) for a more robust method.

   Trade-offs: HTTP request header identification is a technically
   straightforward identification method that can be easily implemented
   at the backbone or ISP level.  The hardware needed for this sort of
   identification is cheap and easy to acquire, making it desirable when
   budget and scope are a concern.  HTTPS (Hypertext Transport Protocol
   Secure) will encrypt the relevant request and response fields, so
   pairing with transport identification (see Section 4.3.1) is
   necessary for HTTPS filtering.  However, some countermeasures can
   trivially defeat simple forms of HTTP request header identification.
   For example, two cooperating endpoints -- an instrumented web server
   and client -- could encrypt or otherwise obfuscate the "host" header
   in a request, potentially thwarting techniques that match against
   "host" header values.

   Empirical Examples: Studies exploring censorship mechanisms have
   found evidence of HTTP header and/or URL filtering in many countries,
   including Bangladesh, Bahrain, China, India, Iran, Malaysia,
   Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey
   [Verkamp-2012] [Nabi-2013] [Aryan-2013].  Commercial technologies are
   often purchased by censors [Dalek-2013].  These commercial
   technologies use a combination of HTTP request header identification
   and transport header identification to filter specific URLs.  Dalek
   et al. and Jones et al. identified the use of these products in the
   wild [Dalek-2013] [Jones-2014].

4.2.2.  HTTP Response Header Identification

   While HTTP request header identification relies on the information
   contained in the HTTP request from client to server, HTTP response
   header identification uses information sent in response by the server
   to client to identify undesirable content.

   Trade-offs: As with HTTP request header identification, the
   techniques used to identify HTTP traffic are well-known, cheap, and
   relatively easy to implement.  However, they are made useless by
   HTTPS because HTTPS encrypts the response and its headers.

   The response fields are also less helpful for identifying content
   than request fields, as "Server" could easily be identified using
   HTTP request header identification, and "Via" is rarely relevant.
   HTTP response censorship mechanisms normally let the first n packets
   through while the mirrored traffic is being processed; this may allow
   some content through, and the user may be able to detect that the
   censor is actively interfering with undesirable content.

   Empirical Examples: In 2009, Jong Park et al. at the University of
   New Mexico demonstrated that the Great Firewall of China (GFW) has
   used this technique [Crandall-2010].  However, Jong Park et al. found
   that the GFW discontinued this practice during the course of the
   study.  Due to the overlap in HTTP response filtering and keyword
   filtering (see Section 4.2.4), it is likely that most censors rely on
   keyword filtering over TCP streams instead of HTTP response

4.2.3.  Transport Layer Security (TLS)

   Similar to HTTP, censors have deployed a variety of techniques
   towards censoring TLS (and by extension HTTPS).  Most of these
   techniques relate to the Server Name Indication (SNI) field,
   including censoring SNI, Encrypted SNI (ESNI), or omitted SNI.
   Censors can also censor HTTPS content via server certificates.  Note
   that TLS 1.3 acts as a security component of QUIC.  Server Name Indication (SNI)

   In encrypted connections using TLS, there may be servers that host
   multiple "virtual servers" at a given network address, and the client
   will need to specify in the ClientHello message which domain name it
   seeks to connect to (so that the server can respond with the
   appropriate TLS certificate) using, the SNI TLS extension [RFC6066].
   The ClientHello message is unencrypted for TCP-based TLS.  When using
   QUIC, the ClientHello message is encrypted, but its confidentiality
   is not effectively protected because the initial encryption keys are
   derived using a value that is visible on the wire.  Since SNI is
   often sent in the clear (as are the cert fields sent in response),
   censors and filtering software can use it (and response cert fields)
   as a basis for blocking, filtering, or impairment by dropping
   connections to domains that match prohibited content (e.g.,
   "" may be censored while "" is not)
   [Shbair-2015].  There are ongoing standardization efforts in the TLS
   Working Group to encrypt SNI [RFC8744] [TLS-ESNI], and recent
   research shows promising results in the use of ESNI in the face of
   SNI-based filtering [Chai-2019] in some countries.

   Domain fronting has been one popular way to avoid identification by
   censors [Fifield-2015].  To avoid identification by censors,
   applications using domain fronting put a different domain name in the
   SNI extension than in the "host" header, which is protected by HTTPS.
   The visible SNI would indicate an unblocked domain, while the blocked
   domain remains hidden in the encrypted application header.  Some
   encrypted messaging services relied on domain fronting to enable
   their provision in countries employing SNI-based filtering.  These
   services used the cover provided by domains for which blocking at the
   domain level would be undesirable to hide their true domain names.
   However, the companies holding the most popular domains have since
   reconfigured their software to prevent this practice.  It may be
   possible to achieve similar results using potential future options to
   encrypt SNI.

   Trade-offs: Some clients do not send the SNI extension (e.g., clients
   that only support versions of SSL and not TLS), rendering this method
   ineffective (see Section  In addition, this technique
   requires deep packet inspection (DPI) techniques that can be
   expensive in terms of computational complexity and infrastructure,
   especially when applied to QUIC where DPI requires key extraction and
   decryption of the ClientHello in order to read the SNI.  Improper
   configuration of an SNI-based block can result in significant over-
   blocking, e.g., when a second-level domain like
   "populardomain.example" is inadvertently blocked.  In the case of
   ESNI, pressure to censor may transfer to other points of
   intervention, such as content and application providers.

   Empirical Examples: There are many examples of security firms that
   offer SNI-based filtering products [Trustwave-2015] [Sophos-2023]
   [Shbair-2015].  The governments of China, Egypt, Iran, Qatar, South
   Korea, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates all do
   widespread SNI filtering or blocking [OONI-2018] [OONI-2019]
   [NA-SK-2019] [CitizenLab-2018] [Gatlan-2019] [Chai-2019]
   [Grover-2019] [Singh-2019].  SNI blocking against QUIC traffic was
   first observed in Russia in March 2022 [Elmenhorst-2022].  Encrypted SNI (ESNI)

   With the data leakage present with the SNI field, a natural response
   is to encrypt it, which is forthcoming in TLS 1.3 with Encrypted
   Client Hello (ECH).  Prior to ECH, the ESNI extension is available to
   prevent the data leakage caused by SNI, which encrypts only the SNI
   field.  Unfortunately, censors can target connections that use the
   ESNI extension specifically for censorship.  This guarantees over-
   blocking for the censor but can be worth the cost if ESNI is not yet
   widely deployed within the country.  ECH is the emerging standard for
   protecting the entire TLS ClientHello, but it is not yet widely

   Trade-offs: The cost to censoring ESNI is significantly higher than
   SNI to a censor, as the censor can no longer target censorship to
   specific domains and guarantees over-blocking.  In these cases, the
   censor uses the over-blocking to discourage the use of ESNI entirely.

   Empirical Examples: In 2020, China began censoring all uses of ESNI
   [Bock-2020b], even for innocuous connections.  The censorship
   mechanism for China's ESNI censorship differs from how China censors
   SNI-based connections, suggesting that new middleboxes were deployed
   specifically to target ESNI connections.  Omitted SNI

   Researchers have observed that some clients omit the SNI extension
   entirely.  This omitted-SNI approach limits the information available
   to a censor.  Like with ESNI, censors can choose to block connections
   that omit the SNI, though this too risks over-blocking.

   Trade-offs: The approach of censoring all connections that omit the
   SNI field is guaranteed to over-block, though connections that omit
   the SNI field should be relatively rare in the wild.

   Empirical Examples: In the past, researchers have observed censors in
   Russia blocking connections that omit the SNI field [Bock-2020b].  Server Response Certificate

   During the TLS handshake after the TLS ClientHello, the server will
   respond with the TLS certificate.  This certificate also contains the
   domain the client is trying to access, creating another avenue that
   censors can use to perform censorship.  This technique will not work
   in TLS 1.3, as the certificate will be encrypted.

   Trade-offs: Censoring based on the server certificate requires DPI
   techniques that can be more computationally expensive compared to
   other methods.  Additionally, the certificate is sent later in the
   TLS handshake compared to the SNI field, forcing the censor to track
   the connection longer.

   Empirical Examples: Researchers have observed the Reliance Jio ISP in
   India using certificate response fields to censor connections

4.2.4.  Instrumenting Content Distributors

   Many governments pressure content providers to censor themselves, or
   provide the legal framework, within which content distributors are
   incentivized to follow the content restriction preferences of agents
   external to the content distributor [Boyle-1997].  Due to the
   extensive reach of such censorship, we define "content distributor"
   as any service that provides utility to users, including everything
   from websites to storage to locally installed programs.

   A commonly used method of instrumenting content distributors consists
   of keyword identification to detect restricted terms on their
   platforms.  Governments may provide the terms on such keyword lists.
   Alternatively, the content provider may be expected to come up with
   their own list.

   An increasingly common method of instrumenting content distribution
   consists of hash matching to detect and take action against images
   and videos known to be restricted either by governments,
   institutions, organizations or the distributor themselves [ekr-2021].

   A different method of instrumenting content distributors consists of
   requiring a distributor to disassociate with some categories of
   users.  See also Section 6.4.

   Trade-offs: By instrumenting content distributors to identify
   restricted content or content providers, the censor can gain new
   information at the cost of political capital with the companies it
   forces or encourages to participate in censorship.  For example, the
   censor can gain insight about the content of encrypted traffic by
   coercing websites to identify restricted content.  Coercing content
   distributors to regulate users, categories of users, content, and
   content providers may encourage users and content providers to
   exhibit self-censorship, an additional advantage for censors (see
   Section 6.2).  The trade-offs for instrumenting content distributors
   are highly dependent on the content provider and the requested
   assistance.  A typical concern is that the targeted keywords or
   categories of users are too broad, risk being too broadly applied, or
   are not subjected to a sufficiently robust legal process prior to
   their mandatory application (see page 8 of [EC-2012]).

   Empirical Examples: Researchers discovered keyword identification by
   content providers on platforms ranging from instant messaging
   applications [Senft-2013] to search engines [Rushe-2014] [Cheng-2010]
   [Whittaker-2013] [BBC-2013] [Condliffe-2013].  To demonstrate the
   prevalence of this type of keyword identification, we look to search
   engine censorship.

   Search engine censorship demonstrates keyword identification by
   content providers and can be regional or worldwide.  Implementation
   is occasionally voluntary, but normally it is based on laws and
   regulations of the country a search engine is operating in.  The
   keyword blocklists are most likely maintained by the search engine
   provider.  China is known to require search engine providers to
   "voluntarily" maintain search term blocklists to acquire and keep an
   Internet Content Provider (ICP) license [Cheng-2010].  It is clear
   these blocklists are maintained by each search engine provider based
   on the slight variations in the intercepted searches [Zhu-2011]
   [Whittaker-2013].  The United Kingdom has been pushing search engines
   to self-censor with the threat of litigation if they do not do it
   themselves: Google and Microsoft have agreed to block more than
   100,000 queries in the U.K. to help combat abuse [BBC-2013]
   [Condliffe-2013].  European Union law, as well as United States law,
   requires modification of search engine results in response to either
   copyright, trademark, data protection, or defamation concerns

   Depending on the output, search engine keyword identification may be
   difficult or easy to detect.  In some cases, specialized or blank
   results provide a trivial enumeration mechanism, but more subtle
   censorship can be difficult to detect.  In February 2015, Microsoft's
   search engine, Bing, was accused of censoring Chinese content outside
   of China [Rushe-2014] because Bing returned different results for
   censored terms in Chinese and English.  However, it is possible that
   censorship of the largest base of Chinese search users, China, biased
   Bing's results so that the more popular results in China (the
   uncensored results) were also more popular for Chinese speakers
   outside of China.

   Disassociation by content distributors from certain categories of
   users has happened for instance in Spain, as a result of the conflict
   between the Catalan independence movement and the Spanish legal
   presumption of a unitary state [Lomas-2019].  E-sport event
   organizers have also disassociated themselves from top players who
   expressed political opinions in relation to the 2019 Hong Kong
   protests [Victor-2019].  See also Section 5.3.1.

4.2.5.  DPI Identification

   DPI technically is any kind of packet analysis beyond IP address and
   port number and has become computationally feasible as a component of
   censorship mechanisms in recent years [Wagner-2009].  Unlike other
   techniques, DPI reassembles network flows to examine the application
   "data" section, as opposed to only headers, and is therefore often
   used for keyword identification.  DPI also differs from other
   identification technologies because it can leverage additional packet
   and flow characteristics, e.g., packet sizes and timings, when
   identifying content.  To prevent substantial QoS impacts, DPI
   normally analyzes a copy of data while the original packets continue
   to be routed.  Typically, the traffic is split using either a mirror
   switch or fiber splitter and analyzed on a cluster of machines
   running Intrusion Detection Systems (IDSs) configured for censorship.

   Trade-offs: DPI is one of the most expensive identification
   mechanisms and can have a large QoS impact [Porter-2005].  When used
   as a keyword filter for TCP flows, DPI systems can cause also major
   over-blocking problems.  Like other techniques, DPI is less useful
   against encrypted data, though DPI can leverage unencrypted elements
   of an encrypted data flow (e.g., the Server Name Indication (SNI)
   sent in the clear for TLS) or metadata about an encrypted flow (e.g.,
   packet sizes, which differ across video and textual flows) to
   identify traffic.  See Section for more information about
   SNI-based filtration mechanisms.

   Other kinds of information can be inferred by comparing certain
   unencrypted elements exchanged during TLS handshakes to similar data
   points from known sources.  This practice, called "TLS
   fingerprinting", allows a probabilistic identification of a party's
   operating system, browser, or application, based on a comparison of
   the specific combinations of TLS version, ciphersuites, compression
   options, etc., sent in the ClientHello message to similar signatures
   found in unencrypted traffic [Husak-2016].

   Despite these problems, DPI is the most powerful identification
   method and is widely used in practice.  The Great Firewall of China
   (GFW), the largest censorship system in the world, uses DPI to
   identify restricted content over HTTP and DNS and to inject TCP RSTs
   and bad DNS responses, respectively, into connections [Crandall-2010]
   [Clayton-2006] [Anonymous-2014].

   Empirical Examples: Several studies have found evidence of censors
   using DPI for censoring content and tools.  Clayton et al., Crandal
   et al., Anonymous, and Khattak et al., all explored the GFW
   [Crandall-2010] [Clayton-2006] [Anonymous-2014].  Khattak et al. even
   probed the firewall to discover implementation details like how much
   state it stores [Khattak-2013].  The Tor project claims that China,
   Iran, Ethiopia, and others must have used DPI to block the obfs2
   protocol [Wilde-2012].  Malaysia has been accused of using targeted
   DPI, paired with DDoS, to identify and subsequently attack pro-
   opposition material [Wagstaff-2013].  It also seems likely that
   organizations that are not so worried about blocking content in real
   time could use DPI to sort and categorically search gathered traffic
   using technologies such as high-speed packet processing

4.3.  Transport Layer

4.3.1.  Shallow Packet Inspection and Transport Header Identification

   Of the various shallow packet inspection methods, transport header
   identification is the most pervasive, reliable, and predictable type
   of identification.  Transport headers contain a few invaluable pieces
   of information that must be transparent for traffic to be
   successfully routed: destination and source IP address and port.
   Destination and source IP are doubly useful, as not only do they
   allow a censor to block undesirable content via IP blocklisting but
   also allow a censor to identify the IP of the user making the request
   and the IP address of the destination being visited, which in most
   cases can be used to infer the domain being visited [Patil-2019].
   Port is useful for allowlisting certain applications.

   By combining IP address, port, and protocol information found in the
   transport header, shallow packet inspection can be used by a censor
   to identify specific TCP or UDP endpoints.  UDP endpoint blocking has
   been observed in the context of QUIC blocking [Elmenhorst-2021].

   Trade-offs: Header identification is popular due to its simplicity,
   availability, and robustness.

   Header identification is trivial to implement in some routers, but is
   difficult to implement in backbone or ISP routers at scale, and is
   therefore typically implemented with DPI.  Blocklisting an IP is
   equivalent to installing a specific route on a router (such as a /32
   route for IPv4 addresses and a /128 route for IPv6 addresses).
   However, due to limited flow table space, this cannot scale beyond a
   few thousand IPs at most.  IP blocking is also relatively crude.  It
   often leads to over-blocking and cannot deal with some services like
   Content Distribution Networks (CDNs) that host content at hundreds or
   thousands of IP addresses.  Despite these limitations, IP blocking is
   extremely effective because the user needs to proxy their traffic
   through another destination to circumvent this type of
   identification.  In addition, IP blocking is effective against all
   protocols above IP, e.g., TCP and QUIC.

   Port blocking is generally not useful because many types of content
   share the same port, and it is possible for censored applications to
   change their port.  For example, most HTTP traffic goes over port 80,
   so the censor cannot differentiate between restricted and allowed web
   content solely on the basis of port.  HTTPS goes over port 443, with
   similar consequences for the censor except only partial metadata may
   now be available to the censor.  Port allowlisting is occasionally
   used, where a censor limits communication to approved ports (such as
   80 for HTTP traffic), and is most effective when used in conjunction
   with other identification mechanisms.  For example, a censor could
   block the default HTTPS port (port 443), thereby forcing most users
   to fall back to HTTP.  A counterexample is that port 25 (SMTP) has
   long been blocked on residential ISP networks to reduce the risk of
   email spam, but doing this also prohibits residential ISP customers
   from running their own email servers.

4.3.2.  Protocol Identification

   Censors sometimes identify entire protocols to be blocked using a
   variety of traffic characteristics.  For example, Iran impairs the
   performance of HTTPS traffic, a protocol that prevents further
   analysis, to encourage users to switch to HTTP, a protocol that they
   can analyze [Aryan-2013].  A simple protocol identification would be
   to recognize all TCP traffic over port 443 as HTTPS, but a more
   sophisticated analysis of the statistical properties of payload data
   and flow behavior would be more effective, even when port 443 is not
   used [Hjelmvik-2010] [Sandvine-2015].

   If censors can detect circumvention tools, they can block them.
   Therefore, censors like China are extremely interested in identifying
   the protocols for censorship circumvention tools.  In recent years,
   this has devolved into a competition between censors and
   circumvention tool developers.  As part of this competition, China
   developed an extremely effective protocol identification technique
   that researchers call "active probing" or "active scanning".

   In active probing, the censor determines whether hosts are running a
   circumvention protocol by trying to initiate communication using the
   circumvention protocol.  If the host and the censor successfully
   negotiate a connection, then the censor conclusively knows that the
   host is running a circumvention tool.  China has used active scanning
   to great effect to block Tor [Winter-2012].

   Trade-offs: Protocol identification only provides insight into the
   way information is traveling, and not the information itself.

   Protocol identification is useful for detecting and blocking
   circumvention tools (like Tor) or traffic that is difficult to
   analyze (like Voice over IP (VoIP) or SSL) because the censor can
   assume that this traffic should be blocked.  However, this can lead
   to over-blocking problems when used with popular protocols.  These
   methods are expensive, both computationally and financially, due to
   the use of statistical analysis and can be ineffective due to their
   imprecise nature.

   Censors have also used protocol identification in the past in an
   "allowlist" filtering capacity, such as by only allowing specific,
   pre-vetted protocols to be used and blocking any unrecognized
   protocols [Bock-2020].  These protocol filtering approaches can also
   lead to over-blocking if the allowed lists of protocols are too small
   or incomplete but can be cheap to implement, as many standard
   "allowed" protocols are simple to identify (such as HTTP).

   Empirical Examples: Protocol identification can be easy to detect if
   it is conducted in real time and only a particular protocol is
   blocked.  However, some types of protocol identification, like active
   scanning, are much more difficult to detect.  Protocol identification
   has been used by Iran to identify and throttle Secure Shell (SSH)
   protocol traffic to make it unusable [Van-der-Sar-2007] and by China
   to identify and block Tor relays [Winter-2012].  Protocol
   identification has also been used for traffic management, such as the
   2007 case where Comcast in the United States used RST injection
   (injection of a TCP RST packet into the stream) to interrupt
   BitTorrent traffic [Winter-2012].  In 2020, Iran deployed an
   allowlist protocol filter, which only allowed three protocols to be
   used (DNS, TLS, and HTTP) on specific ports, and censored any
   connection it could not identify [Bock-2020].  In 2022, Russia seemed
   to have used protocol identification to block most HTTP/3 connections

4.4.  Residual Censorship

   Another feature of some modern censorship systems is residual
   censorship, a punitive form of censorship whereby after a censor
   disrupts a forbidden connection, the censor continues to target
   subsequent connections, even if they are innocuous [Bock-2021].
   Residual censorship can take many forms and often relies on the
   methods of technical interference described in the next section.

   An important facet of residual censorship is precisely what the
   censor continues to block after censorship is initially triggered.
   There are three common options available to an adversary: 2-tuple
   (client IP, server IP), 3-tuple (client IP, server IP, server port),
   or 4-tuple (client IP, client port, server IP, server port).  Future
   connections that match the tuple of information the censor records
   will be disrupted [Bock-2021].

   Residual censorship can sometimes be difficult to identify and can
   often complicate censorship measurement.

   Trade-offs: The impact of residual censorship is to provide users
   with further discouragement from trying to access forbidden content,
   though it is not clear how successful it is at accomplishing this.

   Empirical Examples: China has used 3-tuple residual censorship in
   conjunction with their HTTP censorship for years, and researchers
   have reported seeing similar residual censorship for HTTPS.  China
   seems to use a mix of 3-tuple and 4-tuple residual censorship for
   their censorship of HTTPS with ESNI.  Some censors that perform
   censorship via packet dropping often accidentally implement 4-tuple
   residual censorship, including Iran and Kazakhstan [Bock-2021].

5.  Technical Interference

5.1.  Application Layer

5.1.1.  DNS Interference

   There are a variety of mechanisms that censors can use to block or
   filter access to content by altering responses from the DNS
   [AFNIC-2013] [ICANN-SSAC-2012], including blocking the response,
   replying with an error message, or responding with an incorrect
   address.  Note that there are now encrypted transports for DNS
   queries in DNS over HTTPS [RFC8484] and DNS over TLS [RFC7858] that
   can mitigate interference with DNS queries between the stub and the

   Responding to a DNS query with an incorrect address can be achieved
   with on-path interception, off-path cache poisoning, or lying by the
   name server.

   "DNS mangling" is a network-level technique of on-path interception
   where an incorrect IP address is returned in response to a DNS query
   to a censored destination.  Some Chinese networks, for example, do
   this.  (We are not aware of any other wide-scale uses of mangling.)
   On those Chinese networks, each DNS request in transit is examined
   (presumably by network inspection technologies such as DPI), and if
   it matches a censored domain, a false response is injected.  End
   users can see this technique in action by simply sending DNS requests
   to any unused IP address in China (see example below).  If it is not
   a censored name, there will be no response.  If it is censored, a
   forged response will be returned.  For example, using the command-
   line dig utility to query an unused IP address in China of
   for the name "www.uncensored.example" compared with
   "www.censored.example" (censored at the time of writing), we get a
   forged IP address "" as a response:

   % dig +short +nodnssec @ A www.uncensored.example
   ;; connection timed out; no servers could be reached

   % dig +short +nodnssec @ A www.censored.example

   DNS cache poisoning happens off-path and refers to a mechanism where
   a censor interferes with the response sent by an authoritative DNS
   name server to a recursive resolver by responding more quickly than
   the authoritative name server can respond with an alternative IP
   address [Halley-2008].  Cache poisoning occurs after the requested
   site's name servers resolve the request and attempt to forward the
   true IP back to the requesting device.  On the return route, the
   resolved IP is recursively cached by each DNS server that initially
   forwarded the request.  During this caching process if an undesirable
   keyword is recognized, the resolved IP is "poisoned", and an
   alternative IP (or NXDOMAIN error) is returned more quickly than the
   upstream resolver can respond, causing a forged IP address to be
   cached (and potentially recursively so).  The alternative IPs usually
   direct to a nonsense domain or a warning page.  Alternatively,
   Iranian censorship appears to prevent the communication en route,
   preventing a response from ever being sent [Aryan-2013].

   There are also cases of what is colloquially called "DNS lying",
   where a censor mandates that the DNS responses provided -- by an
   operator of a recursive resolver such as an Internet Access Provider
   -- be different than what an authoritative name server would provide

   Trade-offs: These forms of DNS interference require the censor to
   force a user to traverse a controlled DNS hierarchy (or intervening
   network on which the censor serves as an active pervasive attacker
   [RFC7624] to rewrite DNS responses) for the mechanism to be
   effective.  DNS interference can be circumvented by using alternative
   DNS resolvers (such as any of the public DNS resolvers) that may fall
   outside of the jurisdictional control of the censor or Virtual
   Private Network (VPN) technology.  DNS mangling and cache poisoning
   also imply returning an incorrect IP to those attempting to resolve a
   domain name, but in some cases the destination may be technically
   accessible.  For example, over HTTP, the user may have another method
   of obtaining the IP address of the desired site and may be able to
   access it if the site is configured to be the default server
   listening at this IP address.  Target blocking has also been a
   problem, as occasionally users outside of the censor's region will be
   directed through DNS servers or DNS-rewriting network equipment
   controlled by a censor, causing the request to fail.  The ease of
   circumvention paired with the large risk of content blocking and
   target blocking make DNS interference a partial, difficult, and less-
   than-ideal censorship mechanism.

   Additionally, the above mechanisms rely on DNSSEC not being deployed
   or DNSSEC validation not being active on the client or recursive
   resolver (neither of which is hard to imagine given limited
   deployment of DNSSEC and limited client support for DNSSEC
   validation).  Note that an adversary seeking to merely block
   resolution can serve a DNSSEC record that doesn't validate correctly,
   assuming of course that the client or recursive resolver validates.

   Previously, techniques were used for censorship that relied on DNS
   requests being passed in cleartext over port 53 [SSAC-109-2020].
   With the deployment of encrypted DNS (e.g., DNS over HTTPS [RFC8484])
   these requests are now increasingly passed on port 443 with other
   HTTPS traffic, or in the case of DNS over TLS [RFC7858] no longer
   passed in the clear (see also Section 4.3.1).

   Empirical Examples: DNS interference, when properly implemented, is
   easy to identify based on the shortcomings identified above.  Turkey
   relied on DNS interference for its country-wide block of websites,
   including Twitter and YouTube, for almost a week in March of 2014.
   The ease of circumvention resulted in an increase in the popularity
   of Twitter until Turkish ISPs implemented an IP blocklist to achieve
   the governmental mandate [Zmijewski-2014].  Ultimately, Turkish ISPs
   started hijacking all requests to Google and Level 3's international
   DNS resolvers [Zmijewski-2014].  DNS interference, when incorrectly
   implemented, has resulted in some of the largest censorship
   disasters.  In January 2014, China started directing all requests
   passing through the Great Fire Wall to a single domain
   "", due to an improperly configured DNS poisoning
   attempt.  This incident is thought to be the largest Internet service
   outage in history [AFP-2014] [Anon-SIGCOMM12].  Countries such as
   China, Turkey, and the United States have discussed blocking entire
   Top-Level Domains (TLDs) as well [Albert-2011].  DNS blocking is
   commonly deployed in European countries to deal with undesirable
   content, such as

   *  child abuse content (Norway, United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark,
      Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands,
      Poland, Spain, and Sweden [Wright-2013] [Eneman-2010]),

   *  online gambling (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus,
      Denmark, Estonia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia,
      Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and
      Spain (see Section 6.3.2 of [EC-gambling-2012],

   *  copyright infringement (all European Economic Area countries),

   *  hate speech and extremism (France [Hertel-2015]), and

   *  terrorism content (France [Hertel-2015]).

5.2.  Transport Layer

5.2.1.  Performance Degradation

   While other interference techniques outlined in this section mostly
   focus on blocking or preventing access to content, it can be an
   effective censorship strategy in some cases to not entirely block
   access to a given destination or service but instead to degrade the
   performance of the relevant network connection.  The resulting user
   experience for a site or service under performance degradation can be
   so bad that users opt to use a different site, service, or method of
   communication or may not engage in communication at all if there are
   no alternatives.  Traffic-shaping techniques that rate-limit the
   bandwidth available to certain types of traffic is one example of a
   performance degradation.

   Trade-offs: While implementing a performance degradation will not
   always eliminate the ability of people to access a desire resource,
   it may force them to use other means of communication where
   censorship (or surveillance) is more easily accomplished.

   Empirical Examples: Iran has been known to shape the bandwidth
   available to HTTPS traffic to encourage unencrypted HTTP traffic

5.2.2.  Packet Dropping

   Packet dropping is a simple mechanism to prevent undesirable traffic.
   The censor identifies undesirable traffic and chooses to not properly
   forward any packets it sees associated with the traversing
   undesirable traffic instead of following a normal routing protocol.
   This can be paired with any of the previously described mechanisms so
   long as the censor knows the user must route traffic through a
   controlled router.

   Trade-offs: Packet dropping is most successful when every traversing
   packet has transparent information linked to undesirable content,
   such as a destination IP.  One downside packet dropping suffers from
   is the necessity of blocking all content from otherwise allowable IPs
   based on a single subversive subdomain; blogging services and GitHub
   repositories are good examples.  China famously dropped all GitHub
   packets for three days based on a single repository hosting
   undesirable content [Anonymous-2013].  The need to inspect every
   traversing packet in almost real time also makes packet dropping
   somewhat challenging from a QoS perspective.

   Empirical Examples: Packet dropping is a very common form of
   technical interference and lends itself to accurate detection given
   the unique nature of the timeout requests it leaves in its wake.  The
   Great Firewall of China has been observed using packet dropping as
   one of its primary technical censorship mechanisms [Ensafi-2013].
   Iran has also used packet dropping as the mechanism for throttling
   SSH [Aryan-2013].  These are but two examples of a ubiquitous
   censorship practice.  Notably, packet dropping during the handshake
   or working connection is the only interference technique observed for
   QUIC traffic to date (e.g., in India, Iran, Russia, and Uganda
   [Elmenhorst-2021] [Elmenhorst-2022]).

5.2.3.  RST Packet Injection

   Packet injection, generally, refers to a machine-in-the-middle (MITM)
   network interference technique that spoofs packets in an established
   traffic stream.  RST packets are normally used to let one side of a
   TCP connection know the other side has stopped sending information
   and that the receiver should close the connection.  RST packet
   injection is a specific type of packet injection attack that is used
   to interrupt an established stream by sending RST packets to both
   sides of a TCP connection; as each receiver thinks the other has
   dropped the connection, the session is terminated.

   QUIC is not vulnerable to these types of injection attacks once the
   connection has been set up.  While QUIC implements a stateless reset
   mechanism, such a reset is only accepted by a peer if the packet ends
   in a previously issued (stateless reset) token, which is difficult to
   guess.  During the handshake, QUIC only provides effective protection
   against off-path attackers but is vulnerable to injection attacks by
   attackers that have parsed prior packets.  (See [RFC9000] for more

   Trade-offs: Although ineffective against non-TCP protocols (QUIC,
   IPsec), RST packet injection has a few advantages that make it
   extremely popular as a technique employed for censorship.  RST packet
   injection is an out-of-band interference mechanism, allowing the
   avoidance of the QoS bottleneck that one can encounter with inline
   techniques such as packet dropping.  This out-of-band property allows
   a censor to inspect a copy of the information, usually mirrored by an
   optical splitter, making it an ideal pairing for DPI and protocol
   identification [Weaver-2009].  (This asynchronous version of a MITM
   is often called a machine-on-the-side (MOTS).)  RST packet injection
   also has the advantage of only requiring one of the two endpoints to
   accept the spoofed packet for the connection to be interrupted.

   The difficult part of RST packet injection is spoofing "enough"
   correct information to ensure one endpoint accepts a RST packet as
   legitimate; this generally implies a correct IP, port, and TCP
   sequence number.  The sequence number is the hardest to get correct,
   as [RFC9293] specifies that a RST packet should be in sequence to be
   accepted, although that RFC also recommends allowing in-window
   packets.  This in-window recommendation is important; if it is
   implemented, it allows for successful Blind RST Injection attacks
   [Netsec-2011].  When in-window sequencing is allowed, it is trivial
   to conduct a Blind RST Injection.  While the term "blind" injection
   implies the censor doesn't know any sensitive sequencing information
   about the TCP stream they are injecting into, they can simply
   enumerate all ~70000 possible windows.  This is particularly useful
   for interrupting encrypted/obfuscated protocols such as SSH or Tor
   [Gilad].  Some censorship evasion systems work by trying to confuse
   the censor into tracking incorrect information, rendering their RST
   packet injection useless [Khattak-2013] [Wang-2017] [Li-2017]
   [Bock-2019] [Wang-2020].

   RST packet injection relies on a stateful network, making it useless
   against UDP connections.  RST packet injection is among the most
   popular censorship techniques used today given its versatile nature
   and effectiveness against all types of TCP traffic.  Recent research
   shows that a TCP RST packet injection attack can even work in the
   case of an off-path attacker [Cao-2016].

   Empirical Examples: RST packet injection, as mentioned above, is most
   often paired with identification techniques that require splitting,
   such as DPI or protocol identification.  In 2007, Comcast was accused
   of using RST packet injection to interrupt traffic it identified as
   BitTorrent [Schoen-2007], subsequently leading to a US Federal
   Communications Commission ruling against Comcast [VonLohmann-2008].
   China has also been known to use RST packet injection for censorship
   purposes.  This interference is especially evident in the
   interruption of encrypted/obfuscated protocols, such as those used by
   Tor [Winter-2012].

5.3.  Routing Layer

5.3.1.  Network Disconnection

   While it is perhaps the crudest of all techniques employed for
   censorship, there is no more effective way of making sure undesirable
   information isn't allowed to propagate on the web than by shutting
   off the network.  The network can be logically cut off in a region
   when a censoring entity withdraws all of the Border Gateway Protocol
   (BGP) prefixes routing through the censor's country.

   Trade-offs: The impact of a network disconnection in a region is huge
   and absolute; the censor pays for absolute control over digital
   information by losing the benefits a globally accessible Internet
   brings.  Network disconnections are also politically expensive as
   citizens accustomed to accessing Internet platforms and services see
   such disconnections as a loss of civil liberty.  Network
   disconnection is rarely a long-term solution for any censor and is
   normally only used as a last resort in times of substantial civil
   unrest in a country.

   Empirical Examples: Network disconnections tend to only happen in
   times of substantial unrest, largely due to the huge social,
   political, and economic impact such a move has.  One of the first,
   highly covered occurrences was when the junta in Myanmar employed
   network disconnection to help junta forces quash a rebellion in 2007
   [Dobie-2007].  China disconnected the network in the Xinjiang region
   during unrest in 2009 in an effort to prevent the protests from
   spreading to other regions [Heacock-2009].  The Arab Spring saw the
   most frequent usage of network disconnection, with events in Egypt
   and Libya in 2011 [Cowie-2011] and Syria in 2012 [Thomson-2012].
   Russia indicated that it would attempt to disconnect all Russian
   networks from the global Internet in April 2019 as part of a test of
   the nation's network independence.  Reports also indicate that, as
   part of the test disconnect, Russian telecommunications firms must
   now route all traffic to state-operated monitoring points
   [Cimpanu-2019].  India saw the largest number of Internet shutdowns
   per year in 2016 and 2017 [Dada-2017].

5.3.2.  Adversarial Route Announcement

   More fine-grained and potentially wide-spread censorship can be
   achieved with BGP hijacking, which adversarially re-routes BGP IP
   prefixes incorrectly within a region and beyond.  This restricts and
   effectively censors the correctly known location of information that
   flows into or out of a jurisdiction and will similarly prevent people
   from outside your jurisdiction from viewing content generated outside
   that jurisdiction as the adversarial route announcement propagates.
   The first can be achieved by an adversarial BGP announcement of
   incorrect routes that are not intended to leak beyond a jurisdiction,
   where the latter attacks traffic by deliberately introducing bogus
   BGP announcements that reach the global Internet.

   Trade-offs: A global leak of a misrouted website can overwhelm an ISP
   if the website gets a lot of traffic.  It is not a permanent solution
   because incorrect BGP routes that leak globally can be fixed, but
   leaks within a jurisdiction can only be corrected by an ISP/IXP for
   local users.

   Empirical Examples: In 2008, Pakistan Telecom censored YouTube at the
   request of the Pakistan government by changing its BGP routes for the
   website.  The new routes were announced to the ISP's upstream
   providers and beyond.  The entire Internet began directing YouTube
   routes to Pakistan Telecom and continued doing so for many hours.  In
   2018, nearly all Google services and Google Cloud customers, like
   Spotify, all lost more than one hour of service after Google lost
   control of several million of its IP addresses.  Those IP prefixes
   were being misdirected to China Telecom, a Chinese government-owned
   ISP [Google-2018], in a manner similar to the BGP hijacking of US
   government and military websites by China Telecom in 2010.  ISPs in
   both Russia (2022) and Myanmar (2021) have tried to hijack the same
   Twitter prefix more than once [Siddiqui-2022].

5.4.  Multi-layer and Non-layer

5.4.1.  Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

   Distributed Denial of Service attacks are a common attack mechanism
   used by "hacktivists" and malicious hackers.  Censors have also used
   DDoS in the past for a variety of reasons.  There is a wide variety
   of DDoS attacks [Wikip-DoS].  However, at a high level, two possible
   impacts from the attack tend to occur: a flood attack results in the
   service being unusable while resources are being spent to flood the
   service, and a crash attack aims to crash the service so resources
   can be reallocated elsewhere without "releasing" the service.

   Trade-offs: DDoS is an appealing mechanism when a censor would like
   to prevent all access (not just regional access) to undesirable
   content for a limited period of time.  Temporal impermanence is
   really the only uniquely beneficial feature of DDoS as a technique
   employed for censorship.  The resources required to carry out a
   successful DDoS against major targets are computationally expensive,
   usually requiring rental or ownership of a malicious distributed
   platform such as a botnet, and they are imprecise.  DDoS is an
   incredibly crude censorship technique and appears to largely be used
   as a timely, easy-to-access mechanism for blocking undesirable
   content for a limited period of time.

   Empirical Examples: In 2012, the U.K.'s signals intelligence
   organization, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), used
   DDoS to temporarily shutdown Internet Relay Chat (IRC) chat rooms
   frequented by members of Anonymous using the Syn Flood DDoS method;
   Syn Flood exploits the handshake used by TCP to overload the victim
   server with so many requests that legitimate traffic becomes slow or
   impossible [NBC-2014] [CERT-2000].  Dissenting opinion websites are
   frequently victims of DDoS around politically sensitive events like
   the DDoS in Burma [Villeneuve-2011].  Controlling parties in Russia
   [Kravtsova-2012], Zimbabwe [Orion-2013], and Malaysia
   [Muncaster-2013] have been accused of using DDoS to interrupt
   opposition support and access during elections.  In 2015, China
   launched a DDoS attack using a true MITM system (dubbed "Great
   Cannon"), collocated with the Great Firewall, that was able to inject
   JavaScript code into web visits to a Chinese search engine that
   commandeered those user agents to send DDoS traffic to various sites

5.4.2.  Censorship in Depth

   Often, censors implement multiple techniques in tandem, creating
   "censorship in depth".  Censorship in depth can take many forms; some
   censors block the same content through multiple techniques (such as
   blocking a domain by DNS, IP blocking, and HTTP simultaneously), some
   deploy parallel systems to improve censorship reliability (such as
   deploying multiple different censorship systems to block the same
   domain), and others can use complimentary systems to limit evasion
   (such as by blocking unwanted protocols entirely, forcing users to
   use other filtered protocols).

   Trade-offs: Censorship in depth can be attractive for censors to
   deploy, as it offers additional guarantees about censorship: even if
   someone evades one type of censorship, they may still be blocked by
   another.  The main drawback to this approach is the cost to initial
   deployment, as it requires the system to deploy multiple censorship
   systems in tandem.

   Empirical Examples: Censorship in depth is present in many large
   censoring nation states today.  Researchers have observed that China
   has deployed significant censorship in depth, often censoring the
   same resource across multiple protocols [Chai-2019] [Bock-2020b] or
   deploying additional censorship systems to censor the same content
   and protocol [Bock-2021b].  Iran also has deployed a complimentary
   protocol filter to limit which protocols can be used on certain
   ports, forcing users to rely on protocols their censorship system can
   filter [Bock-2020].

6.  Non-technical Interference

6.1.  Manual Filtering

   As the name implies, sometimes manual labor is the easiest way to
   figure out which content to block.  Manual filtering differs from the
   common tactic of building up blocklists in that it doesn't
   necessarily target a specific IP or DNS but instead removes or flags
   content.  Given the imprecise nature of automatic filtering, manually
   sorting through content and flagging dissenting websites, blogs,
   articles, and other media for filtration can be an effective
   technique on its own or combined with other automated techniques of
   detection that are then followed by an action that would require
   manual confirmation.  This filtration can occur on the backbone or
   ISP level.  China's army of monitors is a good example [BBC-2013b],
   but more commonly, manual filtering occurs on an institutional level.
   ICPs, such as Google or Weibo, require a business license to operate
   in China.  One of the prerequisites for a business license is an
   agreement to sign a "voluntary pledge" known as the "Public Pledge on
   Self-discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry".  The failure to
   "energetically uphold" the pledged values can lead to the ICPs being
   held liable for the offending content by the Chinese government

6.2.  Self-Censorship

   Self-censorship is difficult to document as it manifests primarily
   through a lack of undesirable content.  Tools that encourage self-
   censorship may lead a prospective speaker to believe that speaking
   increases the risk of unfavorable outcomes for the speaker (technical
   monitoring, identification requirements, etc.).  Reporters Without
   Borders exemplify methods of imposing self-censorship in their annual
   World Press Freedom Index reports [RWB-2020].

6.3.  Server Takedown

   As mentioned in passing by [Murdoch-2008], servers must have a
   physical location somewhere in the world.  If undesirable content is
   hosted in the censoring country, the servers can be physically
   seized, or -- in cases where a server is virtualized in a cloud
   infrastructure where it may not necessarily have a fixed physical
   location -- the hosting provider can be required to prevent access.

6.4.  Notice and Takedown

   In many countries, legal mechanisms exist where an individual or
   other content provider can issue a legal request to a content host
   that requires the host to take down content.  Examples include the
   systems employed by companies like Google to comply with "Right to be
   Forgotten" policies in the European Union [Google-RTBF], intermediary
   liability rules for electronic platform providers [EC-2012], or the
   copyright-oriented notice and takedown regime of the United States
   Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Section 512 [DMLP-512].

6.5.  Domain Name Seizures

   Domain names are catalogued in name servers operated by legal
   entities called registries.  These registries can be made to cede
   control over a domain name to someone other than the entity that
   registered the domain name through a legal procedure grounded in
   either private contracts or public law.  Domain name seizure is
   increasingly used by both public authorities and private entities to
   deal with undesired content dissemination [ICANN-2012] [EFF-2017].

7.  Future Work

   In addition to establishing a thorough resource for describing
   censorship techniques, this document implicates critical areas for
   future work.

   Taken as a whole, the apparent costs of implementation of censorship
   techniques indicate a need for better classification of censorship
   regimes as they evolve and mature and better specification of
   censorship circumvention techniques themselves.  Censor maturity
   refers to the technical maturity required of the censor to perform
   the specific censorship technique.  Future work might classify
   techniques by essentially how hard a censor must work, including what
   infrastructure is required, in order to successfully censor content,
   users, or services.

   On circumvention, the increase in protocols leveraging encryption is
   an effective countermeasure against some forms of censorship
   described in this document, but that thorough research on
   circumvention and encryption is left for another document.  Moreover,
   the censorship circumvention community has developed an area of
   research on "pluggable transports," which collect, document, and make
   agile methods for obfuscating the on-path traffic of censorship
   circumvention tools such that it appears indistinguishable from other
   kinds of traffic [Tor-2019].  Those methods would benefit from future
   work in the Internet standards community, too.

   Lastly, the empirical examples demonstrate that censorship techniques
   can evolve quickly, and experience shows that this document can only
   be a point-in-time statement.  Future work might extend this document
   with updates and new techniques described using a comparable

8.  IANA Considerations

   This document has no IANA actions.

9.  Security Considerations

   This document is a survey of existing literature on network
   censorship techniques.  As such, it does not introduce any new
   security considerations to be taken into account beyond what is
   already discussed in each paper surveyed.

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   This document benefited from discussions with and input from David
   Belson, Stéphane Bortzmeyer, Vinicius Fortuna, Gurshabad Grover,
   Andrew McConachie, Martin Nilsson, Michael Richardson, Patrick Vacek,
   and Chris Wood.

   Coauthor Hall performed work on this document before employment at
   the Internet Society, and his affiliation listed in this document is
   for identification purposes only.

Authors' Addresses

   Joseph Lorenzo Hall
   Internet Society

   Michael D. Aaron
   CU Boulder

   Amelia Andersdotter

   Ben Jones

   Nick Feamster
   U Chicago

   Mallory Knodel
   Center for Democracy & Technology