Xeni @ Boing Boing
More on blocked sites for .mil websurfers

Following up on this BoingBoing post about rumors that access to TheMemoryHole is being blocked on military computers in Iraq...

[John continues:]If the request was denied due to the Content Filter configuration is a sentence fragment, but with The content category reported is Gen. News. and If you feel this site was blocked in error, please contact the Help Desk the meaning is clear enough. For whatever reason, "General News" is not fit for our troops. I've been meaning to send her a list of links and ask her if she'd be willing to try to access them (Newsweek? New York Times? Common Dreams? Freerepublic.com [a conservative site]? townhall.com [another conservative site]?) I'm also curious what other kinds of sites she can't visit (geek news? music news? yahoo? wikipedia?) and whether she's prohibited from visiting these sites at work because she's /at work/, or if she's encouraged not to pursue the news in general.

Zaku, can you or anyone in the military in Iraq corroborate this or look into this?

14 Comments

Actually this sort of things has been going on for a number of years. I've actually found links indicating that as far back as 1999 access was denied to certain websites that were not "mission critical". I mean, let's face it, "freedom of speech" isn't something most soldiers are that used to having (i.e. When was the last time a private told a General to get stuffed?)

http://www.fpp.co.uk/online/99/09/USArmyCensors2.html

In that story, you'll see a statement from the Army (in Europe) that basically says "a soldier can do what he wants on his computer, but when he's on a military machine he is limited to what he can see."

Also, back in January other sites were being blocked as well.

http://electroniciraq.net/news/1309.shtml

The Pentagon has also done the reverse from time to time, denying public access to military websites, more often than not to prevent hackers or viruses from affecting their systems.

I suspect it's only a matter of time before other government systems also go with some filtering. For example, the "Hatch Act' prohibits a whole slew of political work being done by civil servants. It's very possible that anyone who works for a government agency and uses their office computer to post a note on a political website could find Hatch act problems sooner or later. God knows people would be screaming bloody murder if government employees were using government computers to access porn sites, hate sites and other "dark sides" of the Internet while being paid with taxpayer dollars.

Not sure why that site was blocked, but given that most commercial blockers often screw up and block sites for the wrong reason (like pro-choice sites blocked by libraries as being pornographic) it's really no real surprise that there is some collateral damage with some sites being knocked out from military access. Whether it stays on the blocked list now that it has been noticed will be interesting.

This blog http://ice.citizenlab.org/archives/2004_06.html#000020 talks about why they believe it could be BlueCoat and also mentions that there is procedure for getting off that list.

How experienced was this computer user? I get timeouts all the time: the solution: click a second time. But my mom would probably just sit there staring at the screen. My wife would start whining that the "computer is broken." With fourth-hand reports like this, you just don't know.

The part of the error message about filters reads like boilerplace text added to all time-out errors. And it seems unlikely that they would ban everything in the category General News.

BTW, the way you use your blog as a sort of bulletin board to throw up whatever rumors you come across that happen to mesh well with your political views under the pretense of "Hey, is this true," "I'm only doing some fact-checking," is kind of beneath you, isn't it? Do you not have any other routes to check stuff like this out before posting it?

I am at a military base in Baghdad, and I can assure you that all of the web sites we see in the USA are available to the soldiers. It is ludicrous to think they would want to try and censure the web. There are television sets all around with continuous news coverage. Some have Sky News others have CNN. The only "censorship" is if a soldier is killed, the phones the soldiers use to call home on, are turned off so that the next of kin is not tipped off about their loss. This is a very serious event that needs to be handled by trained personnel.

it doesnt sound too surprising to me that the government might be doing such a thing. can you post the link to the actual page that was was claimd to be blockd?

o yea, how the heck did you get on cnn's website? http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/internet/06/02/internet.profile.japan.ap/index.html

My cousin Cory, has been in Irag since last March. He can't access any news sites. He can only really get to his email. He said, they don't want the troops getting the wrong information...

Also, I sent him a link to my daughters Radion Station website and, he wasn't granted access to that either. I guess music is out of the question too.

hi joi, sorry to be out of topic, but what breed is pookie of?

i think he's real cute. ;)

thanks.

Hey Joi, I My final end of year project was on Venture Capital. Since then I've been trying to set up my own Venture Capital Company. With a view to Investing in entertainment and sport related projects. Any ideas?

my husband just returned from a year in iraq and was never denied any access to ANY sites on the internet, when the internet was actually up and running.(he sez the military has its hands way too full to be airbrushing out certain sites to be access denied!) the military computers in iraq can be soooo slow (ie.10min. to open one e-mail!!!), to have the luxury to loungesurf at a computer when you are doing 12 to 16 hour duty day is a hookahpipe dream for sure. it really makes it sound like slackerman central

when a soldier has the time to whine about access denied...ugh.

I'm tired of reading such bullshit in bloggers who have some influence. For god's sake, Joi, go research an issue before you spread it further.

(a) two-day-old discussion of Xeni's anecdotal report already raise the MemoryHole's presence on some commercial "safesite" lists, and the near-match of the description's error message to known commercial alerts

(b) there are TONS and TONS and TONS of actual coalition bloggers out there, and pretending they don't exist is what the New York Times does, not what a conscientous net writer should do!

"Oh, my goodness, I just heard Michael Moore sliced up Chelsea Clinton and ate her for breakfast, with a side of Iraqi Oil-For-Food slush funds, can anyone tell me if it's true?" Come ON, for gosh sakes.

Real internet user, we're having a discussion here. I'm not "running a story". We're all part of an investigative process. There have been a number of on-the-ground soldiers in Iraq commenting here or linking to this blog and I wanted to try to triangulate with multiple sources. If you look at the post, it says, "may be" and was intended to try to gather information from people who could provide it. Once we could have a discussion here and across the blogs and come up with a better view on an issue that might be more complex than we envision, there might be something there to post in a more assertive manner.

I think that the ability for blogs to correct and the fact that they are a dialog and not a story run where you can't see the feedback should allow us to pose questions about issues or bits of information that we would like to discuss as a group. I believe this is important aspect of blogs. So I do what research I can before I post, but I'm not a newspaper and the comments are often, if not usually more informative on this blog than my actual posts. Therefore, I would like to have the ability to post without doing the kind of research that print media has to do as long as I phrase the post as an inquiry. I realize that this can cause rumor ripples to spread, but I believe that blogs can also dampen stupid rumor ripples quickly as well.

On this issue, I believe there is evidence of sites being blocked as well as evidence that sites are not being blocks so I believe it is an interesting issue to investigate.

I have to concur with Johnny. Now an an ISO, and a regular user of military computers, you need to realise certain things.

I'm on a civilian owned internet right now. That means if I chose, I can search for pornographic material right at this moment if I felt so inclined.

However on a military computer, we use internet which is connected to a military owned server, broadcasted by our own Sattelites. These frequencies get filtered based on what the military deems is right and wrong. This includes shopping, games, pornographic material, dating services, chat lines, and perhaps some Blogs.

For those who felt they weren't being blocked from ANY site, well, if all you try to go to is Yahoo.com, then come on. Try out "bigkinkygirls.com" or something on a military computer. Or access a hate or racist site. Good luck.

Sometimes, due to the filters, a site containing news and information may be blocked without the intention of cencorship. Such as some adult software blocks a childs report on Mule's simply because the webpage had the word ass in it.

NIPR's "Websense" software is strict and server based. And is controlled by a higher leveled ISO. If there is any doubt to the web pages contents, contacting the help desk should help them realise the mistake, and fix the situation upon investigation. But NIPR would rather block any suspected webpage, than allow one to slip through.

But in the luckier parts of Iraq, the soldier is free to walk into a KBR internet cafe without cost. And many units supply them with free internet so that we may research, email our families, or simply have a good time at one of our favorite Blogs.

PFC "Zaku", 47th FSB, 1AD Baghdad

I work the the US Army Corps of Engineers and restricted website access is nothing new. Back in I believe 2001 I was doning research on buffer overflows in c programming and when to the cult of the dead cow web site. Certain sections of the website were blocked and I was sent an improper computer usage warning.

Ok... I'm an ex-employee (IT) of the Army and here's the deal...

They routinely, along with just about every other government entity, use http://www.websense.com to control internet usage. They mostly block the normal stuff... pr0n, streaming audio, ebay, etc.. but occasionally you'll find some sites blocked which might (or might not) be politically motivated. This appears to be somewhat rare but then I didn't investigate too closely. Mostly they appear to block using categories, not keywords. It is possible to request that sites be allowed or blocked and this happens frequently. (mostly MI & JAG needing access for investigations but also for normal office types) There does not appear to be an 'offical' black list other than the standard Websense provided categories. The Websense servers are directly controlled by your typical civilian sys admin types, and I'm pretty sure that they aren't part of or aware of any conspiracy.

The Army also runs intrusion detection software (severaly types) everywhere which can detect the use of things like SSH or P2P software which they have banned for general use. They will occasionally slap the wrist of people caught doing so. As far as actual intrusions go, they appear have their hands full with windows worms & false positives.

The thing is... this stuff is trivial to get around from the inside. I installed cgiproxy on my home server (DSL connected) whiched solved the Websense problem and to get around the 'don't run PC Anywhere or SSH type software' rule, I simply ran Windows Terminal Services on a alternate port (any well known one will do... all the better if normally encrypted) for over a year and was never detected despite having my home desktop open 8-12 hours a day.

They do block publicly known proxy sites so it can be slightly difficult locating one if you don't have 24x7 connected machine you control, but all in all I wouldn't really considered my internet experience hindered much.

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