Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ethiopia Criminalizes VOIP - RSF Reports

Reporters Without Borders is reporting that the government in Ethiopia is stepping up control of news and information. As part of this crack down, new legislation was ratified on May 24th, 2012. Here is a quote of what this law is reported to say:

"Use of VoIP hardware and software has just been made a crime by the new Ethiopian Telecom Service legislation, which was ratified on 24 May. Anyone violating this provision could be sentenced to up 15 years in prison.

The authorities say the ban was needed on national security grounds and because VoIP posed a threat to the state’s monopoly of telephone communications. The new law also gives the ministry of communications and information technology the power to supervise and issue licences to all privately-owned companies that import equipment used for the communication of information."

Shortwave America takes an interest in this due to the fact that licensed amateur radio operators use VOIP services as an allowed mode of communication world-wide. Use of VOIP in amateur radio is almost universal in regards to widespread international use. There is no information at this time about how or IF this ban will affect licensed amateur radio operators in that region of the world. 

This VOIP ban is only a small part of new law that has taken effect in Ethiopia. The government there has also blocked access to the TOR network, but the folks at TOR have found a way to circumvent this ban by way of the use of  certain TOR bridges in combination with Obfsproxy Tor Browser Bundle. Technical tests so far show that the TOR bridges are not responsive to pinging. Here is that instructional piece at the TOR Blog.

Reporters Without Borders says this: "This new law and the possibility that a Deep Packet Inspection system has been installed mark a turning point in the Ethiopian government’s control of the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We fear that DPI will be misused for surveillance purposes by a government that already subjects the political opposition and privately-owned media to a great deal of harassment."

On May 31st, 2012, the TOR Blog announced the following statement: (See the TOR link for technical graphs)

"Reports show that Tor stopped working a week ago -- even with bridges configured. Websites such as,,, and even continue to work."

Input/, "The free thinkin', free speakin', rabble rousin' geek has a tutorial up that tells us how to subvert DPI. (Shortwave America makes no guarantees as to the effectiveness of any advice given or linked to) 

As you read through the information and links provided here, you will have seen that Ethiopia is suspected of using TLS to achieve all of its censorship and monitoring activities. TLS stands for Transport Layer Security. This quote from Wikipedia tells us the basics of what TLS is:

"Transport Layer Security (TLS) and its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), are cryptographic protocols that provide communication security over the Internet.[1] TLS and SSL encrypt the segments of network connections at the Application Layer for the Transport Layer, using asymmetric cryptography for key exchange, symmetric encryption for privacy, and message authentication codes for message integrity.

Several versions of the protocols are in widespread use in applications such as web browsing, electronic mail, Internet faxing, instant messaging and voice-over-IP (VoIP).
TLS is an IETF standards track protocol, last updated in RFC 5246, and is based on the earlier SSL specifications developed by Netscape Communications."[2]