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Alibi Offers User-Specified Traffic Routing to Avoid Censorship

by Tracy Knauer •

Most anti-censorship tools focus on getting Internet data inside countries that attempt to block it. Alibi Routing, a new system created by academic researchers in the United States, does the opposite. It lets users prevent their data from passing through certain countries in order to avoid government sniffing.

When data travels across the Internet, it can hop between servers in many countries before reaching its final destination. And because the Internet was designed to provide redundant routes for data, packets – the snippets of information through which online data travels – don’t always follow the same route even if the sender and receiver remain the same.

Alibi Routing was designed to provide more control over where packets travel. It creates a peer-to-peer network through which it routes packets, rather than relying on the default routes through which information would otherwise travel.

Each Alibi user can specify which countries he does not want his information to pass through. As long as the peer-to-peer network provides a route around those countries, Alibi will send the data accordingly. It also provides confirmation that the blacklisted countries were avoided.

Of course, depending on how many peers are using Alibi Routing at a given time and where they are located, it may not be possible to transmit data without passing it through certain geographic areas. According to the Alibi developers, the system should be able to find a route 85-95 percent of the time, based on simulations that model real-world expectations.

On its own, Alibi Routing won’t circumvent access restrictions that block websites or other parts of the Internet in certain countries. However, it provides a way for users to avoid passing their data through countries whose governments might log or read Internet traffic. Combined with encryption, it offers an additional safeguard against eavesdropping.

The system also has the advantage of not slowing Internet traffic, since latency rates are not likely to be any different than they would using normal routes.

Alibi Routing was developed by researchers at the University of Maryland, who unveiled it earlier this year.

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