Internet Enemies
Fig. 1. Internet Enemies Map. Courtesy of Reporters Sans Frontieres, 2011.

Reporters Without Borders published a new report on online freedom of expression and cyber censorship, the report is titled Internet Enemies. Countries labeled as "Internet Enemies" in 2011 are Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Tunisia and Egypt have been dropped from the “Internet Enemies” list and added to the “Under Surveillance” list. Other countries in this category are (for various reasons) Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Eritrea, France, Libya, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. The 100-page report gives detailed information on the current situation in these countries. For World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, marked on 12 March, Reporters Without Borders has created a dedicated website.

From the introduction to the Internet Enemies report:

As of this writing, 119 netizens are behind bars, as compared to 120 in 2009.

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In this “Control 2.0” era, several tested methods are used simultaneously by the authorities to prevent dissidents from ruling the web and to maintain better control over the regime’s disinformation.

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First, the use of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyberattacks has become commonplace, as has phishing, which involves stealing user passwords. One of the episodes which received the most media coverage is undoubtedly the pirating of Google’s website and those of some 20 other companies in China in late 2009 and early 2010.

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In 2010, authoritarian regimes sought to control their country’s Internet connection speeds by slowing down bandwidth during elections or periods of social unrest. Connection speed became the barometer of a country’s political and social situation. Iran has become an expert in this technique, and used it just before and during every demonstration organised by the opposition. Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s divested regimes also resorted to it. Often such disruptions are accompanied by jamming or shutting down cell phone networks in the areas concerned, such as Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Another Iranian strategy which proved successful in Belarus during the demonstrations over the re-election of President Lukashenko was redirecting users of opposition websites (or those critical of the regime) to pseudo-sites with similar, yet more pro-government, content.

In addition, every government seeking to control the net has vested itself with a cyberpolice force equal to its ambitions and which, particularly on social networks, closely monitors dissident activities. It has also deployed groups of “sponsored” bloggers paid to post online pro-regime comments, thereby eclipsing critical opinions. Russian brigade and “50-cent party” bloggers are experts at this. Initially, the authorities had used repression to counteract their opponents’ use of the Internet, but now they are displaying their own content.

Read the full report online here or download it here.