U-M researchers win Applied Networking Research Prize in partnership with Citizen Lab and Princeton CITP

The ANRP recognizes the most groundbreaking results in applied networking, research in Internet standards, and upcoming figures in the field.
Ramakrishnan Sundara Raman

U-M PhD candidate Ram Sundara Raman and co-authors including Morris Wellman Faculty Development Assistant Professor Roya Ensafi has been awarded an Applied Networking Research Prize (ANRP) by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). In “Network Measurement Methods for Locating and Examining Censorship Devices,” published at ACM CoNEXT 2022, Sundara Raman and Ensafi, along with their collaborators from the Citizen Lab and Princeton CITP, present novel network measurement methods that democratize technical in-depth investigation of censorship devices deployed across the world.

Recent years have witnessed a number of large-scale censorship events, enabled by the parallel advances of authoritarianism in multiple countries and the continuing rise of technologies enabling Internet censorship. While a long line of research has focused on the victims and impact of Internet censorship, longstanding gaps remain in how to track and measure the network devices that enable Internet censorship. However, this knowledge is crucial – combined with advocacy for better standards and policies from network device vendors and actors deploying censorship – to bring more transparency into censorship policies, prevent overblocking, and inform circumvention efforts.

Roya Ensafi
Prof. Roya Ensafi

In the paper, the researchers build novel methods to identify the network location, manufacturers, and rules and triggers of censorship devices, and apply them to perform measurements in four countries of interest.The researchers find that censorship devices are often deployed by ISPs close to users but find some deployed upstream of residential ISPs. Additionally, the paper explores censorship devices deployed in one country blocking traffic to or from another. The authors also identify 19 network devices manufactured by commercial vendors which block access to information.

The paper’s results show that there is a significant need for continued monitoring of these devices and improvements to network protocols that make them resilient to blocking. “We have open sourced all of our tools and data, which we hope advances mainstream censorship research and aids in-depth investigation of the technology that enables censorship,” says Ram. 

The ANRP is awarded to recognize the best recent results in applied networking, interesting new research ideas of potential relevance to the Internet standards community, and upcoming people that are likely to have an impact on Internet standards and technologies. With this award, Ram will have an opportunity to present the work to a wide variety of audiences at the IETF, including engineers, network operators, and policymakers. “It is a great opportunity to extend the reach of our research, and encourage further investigation and action regarding the proliferation of censorship devices,” remarks Ram.