Use a VPN to bypass ISP issues and restrictions

So apparently Dhiraagu has been under some sort of attack since day before yesterday and that is the reason Dhiraagu Internet subscribers are getting patchy Internet connectivity. I am not sure what kind of attack it is under but I presume it is of the DoS variety aimed at driving down their QoS levels. From the looks of it, the attack seems to be being targetted at, or atleast affecting, the Internet proxy/filters and DNS servers at Dhiraagu. Anyway, if you are as frustrated as me with patchy Internet then here's a quick fix solution: install and use a VPN.

A Virtual Private Network working over the Internet connects one computer to another via a private virtual "tunnel" and routes data between the computers. A VPN will allow you to browse the Internet via the remote computer's Internet connection so you aren't affected by (some) issues affecting your ISP and bypasses restrictions imposed by your ISP. As opposed to using a remote proxy server, a VPN can route all your Internet traffic via the virtual tunnel allowing you to bypass all local restrictions entirely. Use of a VPN, on laptops and mobile phones, is highly recommended if you frequently connect to Wifi hotspots at restaurants, airports etc to keep your data secure from being snooped.

Free VPN Services


There are many VPN service providers, including those that offer free services. A list of VPN providers is available at start-vpn.com. Here are a few I've used and tried.

Ivacy
Ivacy has both free and paid services. I quite like their volume-based paid plan which currently gives 1 GB for 0.67$ and a wide range of geographical locations for an end-point. The geographical location allows you to access services such as BBC iPlayer and Hulu which are region restricted. They even have a Ivacy Firefox extension that integrates into Firefox, which is handy if you use the browser.

Ultrasurf
Ultrasurf is extremely easy to use and their client, a 1.1 MB download, runs straight without requiring any installation.

UltraVPN
UltraVPN offers OpenVPN-based VPN access with a free registration process. They have a cross-platform open-source client allowing you to use it on Windows and Mac OS.

PacketiX VPN
PacketiX VPN is free and offers several nifty featues. Their Secure Internet Test Service gives access to a secure VPN for web usage and, for the more geek minded, their VPN Online Test Environment allows you to create a virtual VPN hub that connects together several of your devices.

ProjectLoki
ProjectLoki offers a public VPN server, connected through their free 1.1 MB client software, which you can use as a guest. Their paid services include more data transfer. They also offer special VPN server software that you can run and have your computer(s) connect to.

Happy New Year btw :-)

Dhiraagu e-Directory data for download (2009-04-12)

It's been a while since I posted an update of the Dhiraagu e-Directory data. So here is one from today...

Statistics

The Dhiraagu e-Directory now lists 421,407 entries, with a number distribution across the various prefixes as follows:

Dhiraagu number distribution according to the e-Directory


I must note that a comparison of this data set with the last one I had posted indicates an increase of a mere 209 numbers during the two months that separate the two data sets and hence is very likely a sign that something is amiss with this new listing. It may very well have something to do with the fact that Dhiraagu had recently made some changes, most visibly in the addition of a CAPTCHA verification stage, to the e-Directory service. It may also have something to do with the fact that I had to use a slightly different method to grab the e-Directory data because of the changes to the service.

Unlike my old method of grabbing the data, the new method does not limit itself to the 3, 6, 7 prefixes only and so it was a small surprise when the new data set listed two entries under the prefix "9". These two numbers almost certainly belong to ex-customers of Wataniya who had switched providers and chosen to retain their old numbers as facilitated by Mobile Number Portability (MNP). MNP allows customers of Dhiraagu, which hand out mobile numbers with the prefix "7", and the customers of Wataniya, which hand out mobile numbers with the prefix "9", to switch between the two mobile telephony providers without having to give up their number.

Download

Here's the data as the usual Tab-Separated Values (a.k.a CSV) format file that can be opened in Excel, OpenOffice or imported into Access or any other database.

- Download edirectory_2009-04-12.zip (6,431 KB)

Enjoy!

Dhiraagu e-Directory data for download (2009-02-04)

The Dhiraagu e-Directory service as of today lists 421,198 entries (made up of 370,880 mobile numbers, 35,403 landline numbers and 14,915 island/resort numbers). Compare that with the 338,371 entries (made up of 305,198 mobile numbers, 24,423 landline numbers and 8,750 island/resort numbers) from October 2008. That works out to what seems a very impressive growth (mobiles 22%, landline 40%, island/resort: 70%) in the past 3 month period, especially given there is an economic crisis underway!

Anyway, here's the data as a Tab-Separated Values (a.k.a CSV) format file that can be opened in Excel, OpenOffice or imported into Access or any other database.

- Download edirectory_2009-02-04.zip (6,397 KB)

Enjoy!

Dhiraagu e-Directory data for download (2008-10-06)

Here is the data from Dhiraagu e-Directory that I had mentioned in my previous post "Phone usage (Maumoon, Political Parties, Government and Businesses)". The data was acquired yesterday and contains all of 338,371 entries (made up of 305,198 mobile numbers, 24423 landline numbers and 8750 island/resort numbers) that was listed on the e-Directory service. It is interesting to note that the total entries now is 114,018 more than the March 2007 data I published earlier. This increase comes from an almost doubling of mobile numbers registered (the March 2007 showed 194,025 mobile numbers)!

Anyway, here's the data. As before, it's presented as a Tab-Separated Values (a.k.a CSV) format file racking up 16.8MB uncompressed. I've Zipped down the file to 5.1MB for easier downloading. The file can be opened in Excel, OpenOffice or imported into Access or any other database.

- Download edirectory-2008-10-06.zip

Enjoy!

Phone usage (Maumoon, Political Parties, Government and Businesses)

I got curious today after reading Hilath's amusing post about an unsolicited SMS message he had received from a mobile phone number registered to DRP's presidential candidate Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Now, this is a time of intense political competition between the various candidates camps and an originating number on a SMS is pretty easy to spoof, so I'm not sure if it really did originate from the said number (though with the desperation reeking from DRP it seems very likely that it did :-P). But that's not what really struck me...

What got my attention was the fact that there now was a publicly listed mobile phone number registered to Maumoon. I've never before seen a mobile number registered to him listed on the Dhiraagu e-Directory and a quick search through various old snapshots of e-Directory data that I had confirmed that there indeed had been none - atleast none up until early June which was the last e-Directory snapshot I had. Anyway, I grabbed a fresh snapshot of the e-Directory and spent a little while running some interesting queries on the data.

Here is some of what I found:

Numbers listed on e-Directory:
Mobile305198
Landline (Male')24423
Landline (Islands/Resorts)8750
Phones/Customer on Avg2.9


Political parties:
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party92
Maldivian Democratic Party11
Social Liberal Party6
Adhaalath Party6
Islamic Democratic Party6
Jumhooree Party2
Peoples Party2


Registrants (Top 5):
Dhivehi Raajjeyge Gulhun Pvt. Ltd.833
Maldives Police Services200
State Electric Company Ltd.191
Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital167
Maldives Customs Service164


Most common names (Top 5):
Mohamed Rasheed1273
Ibrahim Rasheed1250
Ahmed Rasheed1089
Ahmed Mohamed1088
Mohamed Ali1087


Government (Top 5):
Maldives Police Services200
Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital167
Maldives Customs Service164
Min. of Defence & National Security141
President's Office139


Ministries (Top 5):
Min. of Defence & National Security141
Min. of Atolls Development114
Min. of Health76
Min. of Finance & Treasury76
Min. of Environment Energy and Water67


Businesses (Top 5):
Villa Shipping & Trading Co. Pvt. Ltd.163
Universal Entp. Pvt. Ltd.156
One And Only Reethirah149
One & Only Kanuhura125
Kurumba Village124


And finally...

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Mobile16
Landlines3


Note: The information presented was obtained using the entries on the Dhiraagu e-Directory (as available today).

Dhiraagu ends porn censorship :P

The title of the post says it all: Dhiraagu has ended their brief stint with censorship of pornographic websites. I raised alarm in a previous blog post (refer to it for more details) at the possible onset of filtering and censorship of the internet in Maldives after a friend reported being redirected to the Dhivehinet website upon access to his favourite "wank-off" sites.

The sudden enforcement and removal of the censorship does support the suggestion mentioned in my original post that it might have been the result of a temporary technical arrangement during some maintenance works. But then again, one might wonder if it had anything to do with the efforts by the Islamic Democratic Party, who has declared of its intention to get Maldivian ISPs to block all access to ????????(nude) websites. Their campaign could prove successful soon since porn sites are generally seen to be inexplicably despicable by many and tend to be the first to fall prey to censoring upon pressure from people who find the material offensive.

Whatever the cause of the Dhiraagu porn censorship for the past few days, my concerns remain over the possible application and extension of such censorship to entire classes of other material (specially academic material) which certain groups of people may find objectionable. Hopefully, our internet will remain free from intellectual censorship and each threat that attempt to undermine the sanctity of such freedom will be challenged and neutralised quickly...

Dhiraagu begins internet porn censorship?

It seems that Dhiraagu, the "largest" ISP in the Maldives, has begun to enforce censorship on pornographic websites. Random checks so far indicate that this is in effect for all forms of internet access via Dhiraagu. This block, which began a few days ago, is quite monumental given that so far no ISP in the Maldives has been known to enforce any form of content filtering or censorship other than site-specific access bans on a handful of political websites critical of the current government and its leaders.

Maldives, which officially lauds itself as a 100% Muslim country, has maintained strict bans on import of any sort of pornographic material into the country and enforces it through screening at the Male' International Airport, checks aboard marine vessels and via inspections at the Post Office. The ban does extend to the digital world and there has been atleast one person who has been prosecuted for the access and possession of digital porn. However, the enforcement component of this law does not seem to have been mandated to the ISPs operating in the country as such material has typically been freely accessible. Also, interestingly, partial proxy logs has previously suggested that as high as 70% of internet data flowing in the country may constitute of such material at times.

To me, this is a sudden interesting twist in the story of the Internet in the Maldives and one that needs to be monitored and debated. Internet has been the last remaining oasis of freedom of speech and expression in the Maldives with users expressing themselves unbound, taking part in unhindered debates and engaging in other activities that would typically land serious jail time if done in the “real” world. Internet has also been the only avenue for people to get access to a wide variety of intellectual material - stuff that typically are beyond easy access because of the poor state of our libraries and bookshops and stuff that are beyond access due to strict import laws. If this porn censorship signals the beginning of a wider campaign to block particular content then the freedom that most internet lovers has enjoyed so far may about to be hurled into oblivion.

However, these might be purely paranoid postulations on my part (and I so hope they are!), especially given that Dhiraagu has made no statement about such actions added to the fact that the service from other ISP, Focus Infocom, seems to not have followed suit. A friend at Dhiraagu has suggested that this ban be not official but rather have to do with a mere (temporary) technical re-routing of data through proxies typically intended for use on special connections provided to educational institutions which do carry content filtering for "inappropriate" material.

I might not be arsed enough to object to porn filtering but any more filtering and censorship than that and I object to it entirely – an objection that includes the current access bans on select political sites. Censorship on intellectual material bothers me enough to voice concern even if there is just the mere possibility of it...

PS: Here is a non-exhaustive, extremely tiny list of some of the explicit sites being blocked by Dhiraagu. It was created by an automatic crawler that I wrote to check sites for proxy-based censorship. The list is not meant for anything other than your amusement :-)