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March 18, 2008 9:35 AM   Subscribe

Relaying potentially 'subversive' information to a friend in China via email. How can I best go about it? Would IM be better?

Youtube is one of the new sites that are blocked. Can I somehow embed vids in email? How can I tell him about getting around the filters (in public cafes) without arousing suspicion? It's not like I'd be denied another visa or he'd be hauled off to jail, but it is a touchy situation, and I've found it's not cool for an outsider to speak disparagingly of governmental policy, even if the native Chinese does.
Bonus: if you are currently in China and can offer solutions. I have always been able to get around the filters there, but, only by using my own machine and downloaded software.
It occurs to me I probably shouldn't use china as a tag?
posted by dawson to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Global Voices Online has a guide for anonymous blogging which may be of use.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:38 AM on March 18, 2008

There are various means (for you) to download and save videos from Youtube—Firefox has a slew of extensions to do it, and I think there are sites that do it, too. So you could always download a video and attach it to an e-mail.

I can't imagine that they're reading every single e-mail, as much as doing some keyword-scanning. You might be fine if you just avoid the obvious keywords? (e.g., "Evade the Chinese government firewall censorship!" might be bad, but "Here's how to surf without errors" might not be a problem.)

I should disclaim, though it's probably obvious, that I don't know how their filters actually operate.
posted by fogster at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2008

Golden Shield is smarter then you think. Also you need to keep in mind that while it is very very unlikely you could get your friend into trouble with this, especially if he starts passing it along over there. I dont have anything specific to add as to how you can do it, but i would suggest for the text portion of your message you write it out and save it as a .pdf first so it wont be searchable by keyword.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2008

I just always used anonymouse when I had issues.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:54 AM on March 18, 2008

Try downloading it and mail it to them on a flash drive. Maybe encrypted* if you want to be safe. The decryption key can be a comment to a completely benign post that spells it out, such as:

My kid says "I love my light brite!"

And then send your friend an email around the time they get the package pointing to that post and asking if they have lite brite's over there.

* can steganography be done with a video?
posted by jwells at 9:57 AM on March 18, 2008

Create gmail account.

Write email, with attachment, save it to pending folder.

Have friend log in to the same gmail account from his location via https, and read email.

Does anyone know whether the great firewall will

a) allow gmail access?
b) allow gmail access via https?
c) perform a man0in-the-middle attack?
posted by Leon at 10:03 AM on March 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

PDFs can be searched, as can images (via OCR). The only place I've seen it done is in spam filtering, but I wouldn't take too much comfort in the security of using those formats.

Leon's idea is novel, although it does require that you send him the login information, which might be intercepted. Although as long as he's using HTTPS webmail, you could just send e-mail to that address: if it's not in China, they'll never seen an SMTP transaction to snoop on! (This assumes that the mail service you use doesn't have any servers in China.) It looks like non-China Google is blocked, although maybe still reachable sometimes. But whether this extends to other mail services, I don't know.
posted by fogster at 10:27 AM on March 18, 2008

You could easily just encrypt the video before sending it over as an attachment. You can use axcrypt, or even a small truecrypt volume, or imbed the video into a keepass database. Then, just attach the file into a regular email and off you go. All of these methods allow you to embed text as well, and you could easily just put the potentially subversive text in the encrypted file as well. The firewall may of course strip out the attachments, but I don't seem to have any problems with pdf or zip or other "regular" attachments to/from China. It also may be a pain to encrypt everything before sending, but that's the price you pay for security.

I also remember setting up GPG to encrypt emails, but it's been along time since i was paranoid like that. It seems there are some solutions which make the process fairly easy (1, 2, google "gpg encrypt email" for more).
posted by escher at 10:39 AM on March 18, 2008

Skype has excellent cryptography out of the box. The bonus is, using it is unlikely to arose suspicious. Skype is a useful program on its own, with or without the cryptography. If somebody comes knocking, your friend will have plausible deniability.

Tom Berson did an independant evaluation of Skype usage of crytography in 2005.
posted by gmarceau at 10:50 AM on March 18, 2008

Honestly, I never found it to be all that bad. No worse than a strict workplace filter. Using anonymouse was the simpleset way to just surf or to check out blocked sites. My friends, those assholes, used to send me emails with subject lines like "Free Tibet" or "Mao Sucks" but I never, ever, ever had anything turned around or had any unusual knocks on the door from a "maintainance man" wanting to check my plumbing suddenly or anything like that. Typically a foreigner is going to find themselves immune from "prying" if they are generally on the level and not actually sending/receiving subversive material as it would be far too embarrasing for this "face" centric culture to arrest or deport a laowai for checking out YouTube.

If you are talking about the specs to a Chinses spy satellite or something, well that is one thing, but a monkey smelling his finger is a whole other thing. Even my Chinese coworkers were pulling up Tiananmen videos that I'd never seen to show me, so I don't think I'm undercautious about this.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:54 AM on March 18, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all these excellent answers, this is some good stuff. I'm not abandoning this post, but work calls, and I'll be sans internet for the next 8 hours, so I'll check back in about 10 PM EST.
Thanks again, all advice here is very helpful.
posted by dawson at 11:00 AM on March 18, 2008

If it's about Tibet, be extra cautious. Saying "Free Tibet" is innocuous and will do little to sway opinion. so of course that gets through. If you're sending video that sways from the current PRC line of Tibetans rioting, destroying businesses, and beating up motorcyclists in the cities, and the intent is to disseminate that video to a large-ish audience, I would be careful.

gmail works, i forget if https works.
posted by sleslie at 9:35 PM on March 18, 2008

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