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Traffic Analysis, Anonymity, Freedom and digital "Cat and Mouse" in Cyberspace: A case study of China vs Iran

By Cameron J. Shahab & Reza Mousoli

A research paper published in a cybercrime conference (CFET 2010 : Cybercrime Forensics Education & Training) in UK.


Cameron J. Shahab
King's College London
University of London
London, United Kingdom
Reza Mousoli
Computing Department
Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom

ISBN: 978-1-899253-73-9


This paper aims to compare Chinese and Iranian cyberspace to highlight the excessive traffic analysis, surveillance, filtering and the resulting effects on anonymity and freedom of expression in the borderless society of the Internet. The paradoxical contrasts between these two different states provide much scope for analysis and discourse, particularly in light of recent media attention. As has been shown by the government crackdowns in the aftermath of the Iranian election of 2009, and China's recent dispute with Google, cyberspace is highly contested by government's seeking to harness digital economic and e-business benefits whilst restricting online dissent and political activism. Interdisciplinary by its very nature, this paper will investigate the ongoing 'cat and mouse' game between the authoritarian governments and how tools such as TOR, Mixminion, Incognito and Anonymizer are helping dissenters to hide their identity and stay anonymous. The multifaceted approach to the research consisted of semi-structured interviews with key actors, interviews with Iranian and Chinese citizens currently in the UK, focus groups and textual analysis of websites and blogs. This paper has shown the increase in traffic analysis and surveillance in both Iran and China. On the other hand, in this digital "cat and mouse" game, protesters persistently get their message out and access forbidden and filtered sites. The various tools used to bypass filters and restrictions have been outlined and briefly assessed, and the role of the new digital media landscape in shaping the political debates has been discussed. The Chinese government has been very successful in creating a society in which the state not only controls cyberspace for high e-commerce growth, but also uses it as a tool for reinforcing social control. From the interviews with Chinese citizens it was clear that although they were aware of the traffic analysis and filtering and surveillance, most were unconcerned, even considering it normal. In contrast, the Iranian citizens interviewed were extremely unhappy with the increasing trend towards surveillance, filtering and the limit on connection speed within Iran. The Iranian government has not been able to subtly enforce its control over cyberspace. Unlike China where there are large e-transaction activities and huge online commercial interests, Iran still rely heavily on traditional commerce (Bazaar) and lacks advanced IT infra structure, expertise and software tools for traffic analysis and filtering; instead they have relied on slowing the entire Internet or bringing the system to a halt completely to deter protesters.

Read the full resport 

Keywords: privacy, traffic analysis, anonymity, freedom, cyberspace, China, Iran, tor, mixminion, incognito,  anonymizer, anonymous, surveillance, filtering, ethics, "Open Net Initiative", ONI, bbc Persian, voa, gooyanews, jingjing, chacha, panopticon, censorship, e-business, golden shield, Reporters Sans Frontiers,rsf.


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