China Where Citizens Get around Internet Censorship


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By Art Reisman
CTO http://www.netequalizer.com

Over the years I have written a few articles on the perils of investing in deep packet inspection, and its coming obsolescence . One of my main points has been that tech savvy users in the US can bypass attempts to identify their traffic using encryption, thus reducing deep packet inspection firewalls into semi-comatose paper weights.

Sources for my blog articles came mostly from talking to hundreds of customers based in the US.  I have had scant information on China. My understanding of Chinese bandwidth shaping comes mostly from what I read in the papers. I have read about government sponsored censorship, plus a few of my US ex-pat customers in China have told me that there are many websites where they have been blocked.  They also have to be careful about what they say online.  I really had no idea if the average Chinese citizen resisted Internet censorship or not.

That was until a chance meeting last week.

On a plane flight from Denver to Charlotte,  I had the privilege to sit next to a recent Chinese college graduate who is currently teaching Chinese at a school here in the US. She was not a techie by any means, but obviously familiar with all the electronic social media tools that we use in the US.  I asked her if there was any problem with Internet censorship when she was in china, and before I could finish my sentence, she shrugged and half scolded me for being so “western stupid”.

We have very easy way to bypass the censorship, we use the” …. she stammered trying to come up with the English word… and then I finished her sentence . “You mean the VPN”, and then I showed her the VPN icon on my computer and she said “yes, yes, everybody does this.

Wow, what a windfall of a data point!  She obviously had no idea I had been preaching that Layer 7 was dead because VPNs cannot be easily cracked.

Even though this was just one data point and one person, I think I can infer that the use of VPN tunneling is probably widespread in China to avert China’s censorship. Another nail in the coffin of Deep Packet Inspection technology.

Virtual Internet Presence in The Netherlands, Thwarts TV Blackout


By Anonymous Guest

A few months ago I got rid of my Cable TV.  Other than a few sports networks, I never watched the other 507 channels.  Once free from that expensive local bundle, I  subscribed directly to MLB.tv for 1 year for about $100 a year, less than one months cable bill. It turned out there was one small hitch in my plan. Whenever I tried to watch my local Rockies , it is blacked out on the MLB.tv service in deference to their contractual obligations with their other distributor. ( my old cable company).  It seems the MLB.tv is smart enough to know where you are watching from based on your IP address.

Through the magic of the Internet , I now watch all my baseball games from the Netherlands, or Australia whatever Country sounds interesting. As I write my post, I am physically  in Colorado, but my virtual on-line presence for all purposes emanates from the Netherlands .  For example I went to check my local Colorado weather on weather Underground   just now, and these EU advertisements came up in the side bar. This one is from the UK but often they are in Dutch or German.

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Changing my virtual locations was easy, and it took about 5 minutes. First I signed up with the VPN application, IPvanish. When I fire up IPvanish it prompts me to pick a country. There are hundreds of options, next time I am going to Australia. It even shows me my connection speed.  Once IP vanish is up and running , I change my DNS server to a third-party, away from the Comcast Default. I use google’s 8.8.8.8 server. Otherwise MLB still thinks I am back in Colorado.  Lastly I clear my browsing history, and then I am set to go for tonight’s game without the black out restriction.

Seven Must Know Network Troubleshooting Tips


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By Art Reisman

CTO, APconnections
www.netequalizer.com

To get started you’ll need to get ahold of two key software tools: 1) Ping Tool and 2) a Network Scan Tool, both which I describe in more detail below.  And for advanced analysis (experts only), I will then show you how you can use a bandwidth shaper/sniffer if needed.

Ping Tool

Ping is a great tool to determine what your network responsiveness is (in milliseconds), identified by trying to get a response from a typical website. If you do not already know how to use Ping on your device there are hundreds of references to Ping and how to use it.  Simply google “how to use ping ” on  your favorite device or computer to learn how to use it.

For example, I found these instructions for my MAC; and there are similar instructions for Windows, iPhone, Linux, Android, etc.

  1. Open Network Utility (located inside Applications > Utilities).
  2. Click Ping.
  3. Fill out the “Enter the network that you want to ping” field. You can enter the IP address or a web URL. For example, enter http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer to test the ping with that website.
  4. Click Ping.

Network Scan Tool

There are a variety of network SCAN tools/apps available for just about any consumer device or computer.  The decent ones will cost a few dollars, but I have never regretted purchasing one.  I use mine often for very common home and business network issues as I will detail in the tips below. Be sure and use the term “network scan tool” when searching, so you do not get confusing results about unrelated document scanning tools.

Once you get your scan tool installed, test it out by selecting Network Scan. Here is the output from my MAC scan tool.  I will be referencing this output later in the article.

Network Scan Output
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Tip #1: Using Ping to see if you are really connected to your Network

I like to open a window on my laptop and keep Ping going all day, it looks like this:

yahoo.com Ping  Output

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Amazingly, seemingly on cue, I lost connectivity to my Internet while I was running the tool for the screen capture above, and no, it was not planned or contrived.  I kicked off my ping by contacting http://www.yahoo.com (type in “ping http://www.yahoo.com”), a public website. And you can see that my round-trip time was around 40 milliseconds before it went dead. Any ping results under 100 milliseconds are normal.

 

Tip #2: How to Deal with Slow Ping Times

In the case above, my Internet Connection just went dead; it came back a minute or so later, and was most likely not related to anything local on my network.

If you start to see missed pings or slow Ping Times above 100 milliseconds, it is most likely due to congestion on your network.  To improve your response times, try turning off other devices/applications and see if that helps.  Even your TV video can suck down a good chunk of bandwidth.

Note: Always test two public websites with a ping before jumping to any conclusions. It is not likely but occasionally a big site like Yahoo will have sporadic response times.

Note: If you have a satellite link, slow and missed pings are normal just a fact-of-life.

 

Tip #3: If you can’t ping a public site, try pinging your local Wireless Router

To ping your local router all you need to find is the IP address of your router. And on almost all networks you can guess it quite easily by looking up the IP address of your computer, and then replacing the last number with a 1.

For example, on my computer I click on my little apple icon, then System Preferences, and then Networking, and I get this screen.  You can see in the Status are it tells me that my IP address is 192.168.1.131.

Finding my IP address output

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The trick to finding your router’s IP address is to replace the last number of any IP address on your network with a 1.  So in my case, I start with my IP address of 192.168.1.131, and I swap the 131 with 1.  I then ping using 192.168.1.1 as my argument, by typing in “ping 192.168.1.1”. A  ping to my router looks like this:

Router Ping  Output

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In the case above I was able to ping my local router and get a response. So what does this tell me?  If I can ping my local wireless router but I can’t ping Yahoo or any other public site, most likely the problem is with my Internet Provider.  To rule out problems with your wireless router or cables, I recommend that you re-boot your wireless router and check the cables coming into it as a next step.

In one case of failure, I actually saw a tree limb on the cable coming from the utility pole to the house. When I called my Internet Provider, I was able to relay this information, which saved a good bit of time in resolving issue.

 

Tip  #4: Look for IP loops

Last week I was getting an error message when I powered up my laptop, saying that some other device had my IP address, and I determined that I was unable to attach to the wireless router. WHAT a strange message!  Fortunately, with my scan tool I can see all the other devices on my network. And although I do not know exactly how I got into this situation, I was quickly able to find the device with the duplicate IP address and powercycle it. This resolved the problem in this case.

 

Tip #5: Look for Rogue Devices

If you never give out the security code to your wireless router, you should not have any unwanted visitors on your network.  To be certain, I again turn to the scan tool.  From my scan output, in the image above (titled “Network Scan Output” near the top of this post), you can see that there are about 15 devices attached to my network. I can account for all of them so for now I have no intruders.

 

Tip #6: Maybe it is just Mischief

There was a time when I left my wireless router wide open as I live in a fairly rural neighborhood and was just being complacent. I was surprised to see that one of my neighbors was on my access point, but which one?

I did some profiling.  Neighbor to my west is a judge with his own network, probably not him.  Across the street, a retired librarian, so probably not her.  That left the Neighbor to my Southwest, kitty corner, a house with all kinds of extended family coming and going, and no network router of their own, at least that I could detect. I had my suspect. And I could also assume they never suspected I was aware of them.

The proper thing to do would have been to block them and lock my wireless router. But since I wanted to have a little fun, I plugged in my bandwidth controller and set their bandwidth down to a fraction of a Megabit.  This had the effect of making their connection painfully dreadfully slow, almost unusable but with a ray of hope.  After a week, he went away and then I completely blocked him (just in case he decided to come back!).

 

Tip #7: Advanced Analysis with a Bandwidth Shaper/Sniffer

If the Ping tool and the Scan tool don’t shed any light on an issue, the next step is to use a more advanced Packet Sniffer. Usually this requires a separate piece of equipment that you insert into your network between your router and network users. I use my NetEqualizer because I have several of them laying around the house.

Often times the problem with your network is some rogue application consuming all of the resources. This can be in the form of consuming total bandwidth, or it could also be seen as overwhelming your wireless router with packets (there are many viruses designed to do just this).

The image below is from a live snapshot depicting bandwidth utilization on a business network. Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 12.26.49 PM

That top number, circled in red, is a YouTube video, and it is consuming about 3 megabits of bandwidth. Directly underneath that are a couple of cloud service applications from Amazon, and they are consuming 1/10 of what the YouTube video demolishes. On some lower cost Internet links one YouTube can make the service unusable to other applications.

With my sniffer I can also see total packets consumed by a device, which can be a problem on many networks if somebody opens an email with a virus. Without a sniffer it is very hard to track down the culprit.

I hope these tips help you to troubleshoot your network.  Please let us know if you have any questions or tips that you would like to contribute.

If you are ever in need of a monitoring tool visit this site

NetEqualizer DDoS Firewall: Simple and Effective without the Bloat


One of the challenges when creating a security tool is validating that it works when the S$%^ hits the fan.  We have heard (via anonymous sources) that many of the high-dollar solutions out there create bloated, rotting piles of information, whose only purpose is to look impressive due to their voluminous output.  A typical $100K buys you a CYA report. A tool that covers  everything, leaving the customer to decide what to do; which is usually nothing or some misguided “make work”. These non-specific tools are about as useful as a weather forecast that predicts everything all the time. Rain, Snow, Wind, Hot, Cold, for everyday of the year. If you predict everything you can’t be wrong?

On the other hand, the reports from the field coming in for our DDoS tool are:

Yes, it works.

Yes, it is simple to use.

Yes, it takes action when appropriate.

We have confirmation that our DDoS tool, combined with our shaping algorithms, has kept some very large institutions up and running while under very heavy, sophisticated DDoS attacks.   The reasons are simple. We look at the pattern of incoming packets in a normal situation.  When the pattern reaches a watermark that is clearly beyond normal, we block those incoming circuits. If needed, we can also take a softer approach, so the attacker is not aware we are throttling them.  This is needed because in some situations outright blocking will alert the attacker you are on to them and cause the attacker to double-down.

When under DDoS attack you don’t need reports; you need immediate action. If you would like to discuss our solution in more detail feel free to contact us.

Death to Deep Packet Inspection?


A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on how I was able to watch YouTube while on a United flight, bypassing their layer 7 filtering techniques. Following up today, I was not surprised to see a few other articles on the subject popping up recently.

Stealth VPNs By-Pass DPI

How to By Pass Deep Packet Inspection

Encryption Death to DPI

I also just recently heard from a partner company that Meraki/Cisco was abandoning their WAN DPI technology in their access points.   I am not sure from the details if this was due to poor performance from DPI , but that is what I suspect.

Lastly, even the US government is annoyed that much of the data they formally had easy access to is now being encrypted by tech companies to protect their customer base privacy.

Does this recent storm of chatter on the subject spell the end  of commercial deep packet inspection? In my opinion no, not in the near term. The lure of DPI is so strong that preaching against it is like Galileo telling the church to shove off, it is going to take some time. And technically there are still many instances where DPI works quite well.

The Technology Differences Between a Web Filter and a Traffic Shaper


First, a couple of definitions, so we are all on the same page.
A Web Filter is basically a type of specialized firewall with a configurable list of URLs.  Using a Web Filter, a Network Administrator can completely block specific web sites, or block complete categories of sites, such as pornography.

A Traffic Shaper is typically deployed to change the priority of certain kinds of traffic.  It is used where blocking traffic completely is not required, or is not an acceptable practice.  For example, the mission of a typical Traffic Shaper might be to allow users to get into their Facebook accounts, and to limit their bandwidth so as to not overshadow other more important activities.  With a shaper the idea is to limit (shape) the total amount of data traffic for a given category.

From a technology standpoint, building a Web Filter is a much easier proposition than creating a Traffic Shaper.  This is not to demean the value or effort that goes into creating a good Web Filter.  When I say “easier”, I mean this from a core technology point of view.  Building a good Web Filter product is not so much a technology challenge, but more of a data management issue. A Web Filter worth its salt must be aware of potentially millions of various websites that are ever-changing. To manage these sites, a Web Filter product must be constantly getting updated. The product company supporting the Web Filter must search the Web, constantly indexing new web sites and their contents, and then passing this information into the Web Filter product. The work is ongoing, but not necessarily daunting in terms of technology prowess.  The actual blocking of a Web site is simply a matter of comparing a requested URL against the list of forbidden web sites and blocking the request (dropping the packets).
A Traffic Shaper, on the other hand, has a more daunting task than the Web Filter. This is due to the fact that unlike the Web Filter, a Traffic Shaper kicks in after the base URL has been loaded.  I’ll walk through a generic scenario to illustrate this point.  When a user logs into their Facebook account, the first URL they hit is a well-known Facebook home page.  Their initial query request coming from their computer to the Facebook home page is easy to spot by the Web Filter, and if you block it at the first step, that is the end of the Facebook session.  Now, if you say to your Traffic Shaper “I want you to limit Facebook Traffic to 1 megabit”, then the task gets a bit trickier.  This is because once you are logged into a Facebook  page subsequent requests are not that obvious. Suppose a user downloads an image or plays a shared video from their Facebook screen. There is likely no context for the Traffic Shaper to know the URL of the video is actually coming from Facebook.  Yes, to the user it is coming from their Facebook page, but when they click the link to play the video, the Traffic Shaper only sees the video link – it is not a Facebook URL any longer. On top of that, often times the Facebook page and it’s contents are encrypted for privacy.
For these reasons a traditional Traffic Shaper inspects the packets to see what is inside.  The traditional Traffic Shaper uses Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to look into the data packet to see if it looks like Facebook data. This is not an exact science, and with the widespread use of encryption, the ability to identify traffic with accuracy is becoming all but impossible.
The good news is that there are other heuristic ways to shape traffic that are gaining traction in the industry.  The bad news is that many end customers continue to struggle with diminishing accuracy of traditional Traffic Shapers.
For more in depth information on this subject, feel free to e-mail me at art@apconnections.net.
By Art Reisman, CTO APconnections
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