When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to “root out” Twitter by ordering Turkey’s internet service providers to block access to it, his citizens rebelled.
People were reportedly using the social network to share recordings which allegedly featured him telling his son to hide large sums of money in anticipation of a police raid. His first move? Shut Twitter down.
When ISPs received orders to enforce the blocks, they implemented them in the easiest way they could by “poisoning” their Domain Name Servers — the equivalent of a phone book for the internet — with incorrect information for Twitter.com. As a result, when customers attempted to access Twitter, their ISPs’ Domain Name Servers, which would normally return 188.8.131.52 as Twitter’s IP address, would reply with something like 0.0.0.0.
Turkey residents graffitied 184.108.40.206 on many things. Photo: Facebook user kolektifler
This resulted in Twitter.com timing out and people being unable to access it.
But the Turks were having none of it, and started graffiting the numbers “220.127.116.11” across anything they could find in the streets. These four simple digits allowed people to bypass their ISPs’ poisoned internet phone book and instead use one of the hundreds of thousands of others that exist on the internet by changing some simple settings on their computer.
In this instance, 18.104.22.168 is Google’s Domain Name Server. Another number – 22.214.171.124 – was also offered as a backup, which Google offers as its secondary DNS when the primary one isn’t working.
The point is, anyone can bypass site-blocking regimes, such as the one recently passed by the Australian parliament to curb piracy, and sometimes it doesn’t even require paying for a virtual private network (VPN) service, which bypasses any type of blocking mechanisms your ISP may have implemented. Sometimes it’s just as easy as changing your computer or phone’s Domain Name Server settings to that of Google’s.
Internet service providers I speak to in Australia say it’s very likely they’ll use DNS poisoning to implement the Australian anti-piracy site-blocking regime, which is likely to result in The Pirate Bay and other sites being blocked.
At the end of the day, it’ll be up to a judge to decide whether or not they order the type of block an ISP implements.
ISPs already use the DNS poisoning method to block sites on Interpol’s “worst of the worst” list. If this method isn’t used, ISPs only have a few other options left: use deep packet inspection technology to filter out exact URLs (costly); or block sites by IP address. But if they go down the path of blocking by IP address, this could result in collateral damage, whereby thousands of other websites are blocked. This is because one web server’s IP address can host many other websites.
Given this, and given the Australian Securities and Investments Commission infamously (and accidentally) blocked more than 250,000 websites via the IP block method, it’s very unlikely we’ll see this used.
And given blocking using the deep packet inspection method is costly, it’s also very unlikely this method will be used either unless an ISP is using this type of equipment across its entire network. The Communications Alliance, which represents Australian telcos, also recently warned in a submission to government that this method might also “impair the performance of the blocker’s network by, for example, increasing latency” – the time it takes to load a web page.
So what will Australia’s site-blocking regime actually achieve if its implementation can so easily be circumvented? Not much really, especially given that those who pirate are usually pretty savvy and would know the above.
It might cause confusion at first, with some people wondering why their favourite torrent website isn’t loading. But once they consult Google or their resident tech head, it’ll result in either a VPN or DNS bypass being used.
If anything, the site-blocking plan will see more Australians using VPNs full-time, unintentionally cloaking their online activities from the recently passed metadata retention regime for catching criminals, terrorists and whistleblowers.
The site-blocking regime appears to be an ill-thought-out policy rushed through parliament (it had one public hearing) that favours rights holders over consumers.
You’ve probably heard it all before: making content available in a timely, more convenient, and affordable way is the only true way to curb online piracy. I firmly believe this. Look at Netflix’s extraordinary take up as one example.
Labor frontbencher Ed Husic said as much when he was the only Labor/Coalition MP to speak out against the site-blocking laws last week. The law’s “lopsided attempt to deal with piracy” was one that attempted to clamp down on piracy while not dealing with a business model that is broken and “doesn’t actually deal with the way of getting that content to people in much more efficient means”, he said.
I am not in favour of piracy. But I can understand why some people do it. In many instances they have no choice but to pirate, as popular American comedian Louis CK observed during a trip to Australia, when he found that there was a loyal following of his show Louie, despite the fact it wasn’t airing locally at the time. Without a viable option to buy or access the shows quickly and affordably, he said his fans (understandably) resorted to piracy.
“[In America] only weirdos pirate, there’s not that many people that pirate. But in Australia mums and dads pirate video because we’re not letting them buy it,” Louis told radio station Sirius XM.
“Everyone in the world is like: ‘Take my f–king credit card and let me just have the thing! But if you’re going to be a pain in the ass, f–k you! I can steal all of it!'”
Numerous surveys show that Australians want to pay for content. Just make it available to them in a timely way and at an affordable price and maybe they will buy it. This legislation won’t stop them.