Monday, June 11, 2012

Ethiopia Cyber Dragnet: Tor Project reveals deployment of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), with help of France Télécom

On May 31st, the Tor Project, whose software "Tor" helps, among other
things, organizations to safely use online data traffic and
cybercitizens to circumvent Internet control and censorship, released
on its website a terse technical statement flagging Ethiopia for
introducing Deep Packet Inspection (DPI).

Parts of the Tor Project statement reads:

"The Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation, which happens to be the
sole telecommunication service provider in Ethiopia, has deployed or
begun testing Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) of all Internet traffic. We
have previously analyzed the same kind of censorship in China, Iran,
and Kazakhstan.
Reports show that Tor stopped working a week ago -- even with bridges
configured. Websites such as , , , and even continue to work."

The announcement by the Tor Project of this deployment of the cyber
dragnet by the Ethiopian government simmered for more than a month
until yesterday (Sunday, June 10), when it was first picked up by the
French daily La Croix, and then relayed today by the daily Le Monde.

The headline of La Croix captures the outrage of the French public
over the involvement of France Télécom, a telecommunications behemoth
in which the French state owns shares worth more than 13%, in this
massive operation of cybersurveillance:

"In Ethiopia, France Télécom aids and abets Internet censorship."

A story echoed today by Le Monde: "Ethiopia sets up a system of web

La Croix reports that Ethio Telecom has been in partnership with
France Télécom for almost two years now.

What's more, the CEO of Ethio Telecom, Jean-Michel Latute, a French
national, is a senior executive of France Télécom on assignment in
Addis Ababa, within the framework of this partnership.

Latute confirmed to La Croix the deployment of DPI on cybertraffic in Ethiopia.

While claiming that France Télécom has "nothing to do" with the
decision to undertake this vast scale operation of cybersurveillance,
Latute acknowledges that it's being implemented by his corporation and
sees great benefits in it.

Says Latute:

"We'll use parts of this service to monitor our bandwidth. It'll help
us avoid misuses by customers, who download tons of movies for
example. It's a very useful tool."

A "specious claim," points out La Croix, as Internet access in
Ethiopia, and all over Africa for that matter, is on an access as you
pay basis.

Connections are so slow in Ethiopia, La Croix further argues, it'd
take a week to download one movie.

Besides, the new Ethiopian antiterrorism law is so ridiculously
draconian that the use of Skype, whose protocol is hard to crack,
could land you 15 years in jail!

La Croix also notes that Ethiopian Telecommunications Minister
Gebremikael Debretsion is "opportunely" the former spy chief.

In that capacity, Debretsion was aptly nicknamed "The Jammer" for
effectively jamming short-wave radio signals of Voice of America and
Deutsche Welle; and Western TV channels.

Le Monde gives a chilling snapshot of what Deep Packet Inspection
would mean to Ethiopian Internet users:

"In a nutshell, it's somewhat the equivalent of reading the content of
a letter by exposing its envelope to light."

This is awful news for Africa.

As the seat of African Union (AU), Addis Ababa is the hub where
African leaders rub elbows.

The danger is that other authoritarian regimes might copy the Ethiopian example.

And to think that Erithrea is still seen by some as the only bad boy
in that mean neighborhood...


PHOTO: Anti-government demonstration in Addis Ababa in 2005.


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