UMass security expert receives $541458 grant to combat Internet censorship – MassLive.com

AMHERST – Growing up in Iran, College of Information and Computer Sciences assistant professor Amir Houmansadr saw first hand what Internet censorship meant.

Now with a five-year, $581,458 Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation, the University of Massachusetts Internet security expert hopes to help combat Internet censorship globally by analyzing current censor-circumvention systems and designing a model that will lead to new anti-blocking tools.

“My research concerns global Internet censorship by repressive governments around the world, and my personal experience of being censored only gave me a sense of how critical it is to have open Internet access,” he said in an email.

“All the tools that we develop do not target any particular geographic region or government, but they are meant to help censored users regardless of their location.”

He said “Fortunately, Internet users don’t face any explicit censorship from the US government.” 

Current anti-censorship techniques, whether used by people simply trying to get on social media or by dissidents and human rights workers, are mostly based on trial and error rather than on solid theoretical foundations, said Houmansadr in a press release about the grant.

This “cat and mouse” or “whack-a-mole” approach means they can be defeated by most state-level censors, he explained in a press release.

“Censorship resistance tools exist already to help people circumvent those who block free access to the Internet,” he said in the release.

“But they have different levels of success against different types of censors, depending on the user’s location and how aggressive the censoring government is.

“My goal is to make it much, much easier to bypass censorship no matter where you are in the world.”

In the email, he wrote “I believe that repressive governments who actively practice Internet censorship are not and will not be happy with research on censorship evasion that my colleagues and I are involved with.

“No one should or could claim that they can offer the ultimate solution in five years, especially because the current Internet doesn’t allow it.

“But I want to advance the state of the art and improve the availability of effective techniques to help the good guys.”

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