The new arms race

A new arms race is on, but its not being fought between the usual players. Media outlets, nationalist groups, coders, and governments are all fighting to control the flow of information.

Some news from the front:

Russia bearing down

Government efforts to block access to websites like The Great Firewall of China are at this point well-known. Now it looks like Russia is getting into the game.

An official at the Russian prosecutor’s general office, Vyacheslav Sizov, told the Russian-language newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that any web site that is determined to host what he terms “extremist material” would be blocked from being accessible from within the Russian Federation. Given the Putin government’s history with the media, “extremist material” may be very broadly interpreted as any content unfriendly to the interests of the Russian government.

This comes fast on the heels of the news that Rossvyazokhrankultura (the Russian Mass Media, Communications and Cultural Protection Service) will require registration of any Wi-Fi device, including hotspots, mobile devices, laptops, and home networks.

Rossvyazokhrankultura’s interpretation of current law holds that users must register any electronics that use the frequency involved in Wi-Fi communications, said Vladimir Karpov, the deputy director of the agency’s communications monitoring division.

Though here is no guarantee that Wi-Fi registration will be used to censor the news, it most certainly could be.

For more on censorship and how efforts to dodge it, see my recent post on Internet censorship.

Chinese nationalist groups attack

Before the web, it was very difficult to shut down a news source half-way around the world. Now all an attacker need do is exploit a flaw in the code of a website, convince an unsuspecting employee to hand over the keys, or if all else fails, just beat the living crap out of the website by flooding it with requests.

In recent weeks, Chinese attackers have tried, with some success, to take down at least three western websites because of content sympathetic to the movement for Tibetan independence.

Most recently, presentation sharing site SlideShare was hit with a huge distributed denial of service attack. Before that, a denial of service attack on CNN mostly failed, and around the same time an attack on a site mistaken as CNN-related, SportsNetwork, was more successful.

Beijing backs off

Though many suspect that the Chinese government is at least indirectly supportive of the recent attacks, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that they are now suppressing online nationalist fervor to save face before this summer’s spandex extravaganza.

It is a familiar pattern: Chinese nationalism rears up, sometimes with what seems to be tacit government backing, only to get reined in before it threatens to spin out of control — in this case, before it can mar preparations for the summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Though this is *slightly* comforting, in no way do I expect this trend to continue.