Marionette Promises More Flexible Anti-Censorship Tools

by Tracy Knauer •

Most anti-censorship tools attempt to provide a one-size-fits-all solution for accessing banned online content. Marionette, a “programmable network proxy” currently under development, could offer a much more robust anti-censorship solution.

Marionette is an open-source project that aims to build “a programmable client-server proxy that enables the user to control network traffic features with a lightweight domain-specific language,” according to the developers.

In non-technical terms, that means that Marionette will provide a programming framework that users can use to build anti-censorship tools tailored to particular situations.

Marionette does not offer a single type of anti-censorship solution. Instead, it provides access to multiple ways of circumventing access restrictions on the Internet and lets users choose which ones work best for their particular needs.

That’s important because censorship tools are constantly evolving. Governments and other authorities that attempt to block content on the Internet are well aware of the traditional tools — like Tor and VPN, or encrypted chat apps — that users deploy to try to skirt censorship barriers and stay private online. As a result, anti-censorship or privacy tools that work today in a given country may not work tomorrow.

Marionette promises to help solve that problem by making it easy for users to adapt anti-censorship tools quickly whenever censorship barriers are updated. While the system is not exactly simple enough for most grandmothers to use, the programming interface is designed to be easy for people with a basic level of technical expertise to deploy in order to build anti-censorship solutions tailored to their particular circumstances.

Marionette also helps hide anti-censorship activity. Traditionally, people who use anti-censorship tools or privacy apps take a risk because it is sometimes possible for authorities to determine who is using them. In contrast, since Marionette does not rely on a single strategy for circumventing censorship, it does not leave a signature that can be easily traced to individual users.

Marionette currently remains under development, and the programmers warn that the “code is still pre-alpha and is NOT suitable for any real-world deployment.” For those who want to try it out anyway, however, instructions are available for installation on Linux and Mac OS X.

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