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Anti-firewall tool Lantern infiltrated by Chinese censors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 2:04pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 December, 2013, 4:40pm
 

Lantern, a software programme which allows internet users to circumvent government-imposed censorship, has been infiltrated by Chinese censors and partly blocked after the number of users in the country skyrocketed.

“We’ve seen exponential user growth, so the censors have attempted to nip it in the bud,” said Chris Holmes, a product manager behind the US-government sponsored computer application.

The software, financed through US Department of State seed funding, allows users to bypass China’s Great Firewall to access websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Users in countries with free internet access can share a part of their bandwidth with users in countries where the internet is partly blocked, in a network based on trust.

On Tuesday, several Lantern users posted on social media that they had lost their access to uncensored internet. Two mainland IT experts, who have been following the development of the network, said they thought Lantern had been blocked by the Chinese government. The website to access Lantern is also blocked in China, according to GreatFire.org, a website that monitors blocked websites in the country.

In a statement on the popular blogging platform Tumblr, Lantern’s developers said they were not caught unaware by the infiltration. “The way we have allowed users to request invites meant that anyone could sign up, including the censors,” they wrote. “We anticipated this happening.”

Some users in China had liberally shared their access to the network to others. The developers had warned of the consequences of adding an unknown person to the network. “If you are sharing with a censor, he/she could block or analyse your traffic,” they wrote in an earlier post.

Holmes said that Chinese blocking efforts have not been able to break Lantern. “We are still seeing some users connect from China on our servers,” he said. “They have not completely blocked it yet.”

“Our next step is to release a new version of Lantern that is more resistant to blocking, and to work with our users so Lantern spreads along trusted connections,” he said.

Lantern has been in the pipeline for some time, but has only in the last weeks gained traction among the Chinese dissident community. About 74 per cent of Lantern’s users 17,000 users globally are based in the mainland. They have transferred some 6.4 terabytes of data, or 94 per cent of Lantern’s global traffic.

Watch: What is Lantern? 

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