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CITP Lunch Seminar: Roya Ensafi – Three Transformations in the Globally Spreading Practice of Online Censorship

Tuesday, October 15, 2019
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


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Online censorship is spreading across the world and changing form. Three transformations are underway in the global practice of online information control: commoditization of filtering technologies, the decentralization of filtering from government-run technical chokepoints to legally mandatory distributed enforcement by private ISPs, and political normalization and transnational spread of new filtering practices — often in the name of “data sovereignty” or national security.

In this talk three new research projects will be presented: (1) our latest framework for discovering and monitoring DPI-based filtering at Internet scale, (2) our in-depth multifaceted exploration of the mechanisms by which Russian government is developing more sophisticated controls over its decentralized networks, and (3) our rapid investigation of, and response to, the Kazakh government’s attempted man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack against HTTPS connections — an investigation that led to Mozilla, Google, and Safari to take countermeasures to protect their Kazakh users.

It is argued that scalable measurement techniques, interdisciplinary and holistic investigation, and credible data-driven reports can arm technologists and policy communities to combat these threats.


Roya Ensafi is an assistant professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, where her research focuses on computer networking, security, and privacy. She designs scalable techniques and systems to protect users’ Internet connections from disruption and surveillance. Roya is best known for her work in the area of Internet censorship, where she pioneered the use of side-channels to remotely measure adversarial manipulation of Internet traffic. She is a founder of CensoredPlanet a global censorship observatory that continuously monitors various types of network interference in over 170 countries since August 2018. Her notable projects with real-world impact include researching and documenting the Kazakhstan HTTPS MitM interception, the Great Cannon of China, and large-scale study of server-side geoblocking. She has received the NSF CISE Research Initiation Initiative award and the Google Faculty Research Award. Roya’s work has appeared in the popular press publications such as the NY Times, Wired, Business Insider, and ArsTechnica.

Prior to joining Michigan, she was a postdoc at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP).

CITP Lunch Seminars are open to Princeton faculty, staff, and students only. Members of the public who would like to attend a particular talk should contact Jean Butcher at .

In an effort to support sustainability at our events, attendees are encouraged to bring reusable items for their personal use.

To request accommodations for a disability, please contact Jean Butcher, , 609-258-9658 at least one week prior to the event.