Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Operational Security

11/21/2018
09:05 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
50%
50%

Geoblocking, Even at Low Levels, Restricts Internet Freedom – Study

A new research paper from the University of Michigan and Cloudflare finds that geoblocking or geofencing is not as extensive as some believe. However, even at low levels, this practice can restrict Internet freedom.

Geoblocking, or what some refer to as geofencing, occurs when websites block users who have an IP address from a certain geographic location. Once the block is in place, these users can't access the site.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, as well as the hosting service firm Cloudflare, examined the current specifics of this situation in a new paper, "403 Forbidden: A Global View of CDN Geoblocking."

The researchers point out that many sites may practice geoblocking due to legal requirements or other business reasons, but excessive blocking can needlessly deny content and services to entire national populations.

Not all geoblocking is directly due to politics.

After the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) became official law earlier this year, several major US-based news sites blocked access from Europe entirely, so as to avoid running afoul of the new regulations. Some companies will block all users from areas that produce large volumes of abuse, such as comment spam. (See European Union Braces for Liability Shift for Data Breaches.)

Legal restrictions are one reason that websites geoblock. US export controls, for example, limit both physical and intellectual property that US-based entities can transfer to some nationalities without explicit authorization from the government.

The researchers came up with methods to count only geoblocked sites, as opposed to sites that may have been blocked for other reasons.

In their study, they used automated tests run from vantage points in 177 countries. They looked to see if these points could access popular websites on the Alexa Top 10,000 and Top 1 Million sites. The points are operated by Luminati, a commercial platform that sells access to proxy servers that are operated by the Hola VPN service.

They found that the top four geoblocked countries are Syria, Iran, Sudan and Cuba, by a wide margin. These are notably all countries sanctioned by the US. Nigeria, China and Russia are also more commonly geoblocked as compared to other countries.

In total, they found 596 instances of geoblocking by 100 unique domains in 165 countries. They found that geoblocking in the Alexa Top 1 Million follows similar patterns to those in the Alexa Top 10,000.

Additionally, the researchers found that the categories of blocked sites followed certain patterns. Shopping, Travel and Business all appeared at the top of their list, which may indicate that consumer market segmentation may be a common motivation for geoblocking. They also found other categories to be more prevalent in blocking, such as Advertising and Job Search.

Content delivery networks (CDNs) were also examined for geoblocking.

For the providers that explicitly geoblock, specifically Cloudflare, Amazon Cloudfront and Google AppEngine, they found 1,565 instances of geoblocking across 176 countries -- all countries except for the African country of Seychelles. This accounts for 238 unique domains in 176 countries.

CDNs offer even the smallest websites the ability to enact fine-grained control over the ways in which their content is served, and to whom. This has led to a rise in their use for geoblocking.

An open and free Internet ecosystem implies equal access to information. Geoblocking -- even at the relatively low levels that the researchers found -- is one way that may be abused, intentionally or otherwise, to limit information flow.

Related posts:

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/14/2020
Lock-Pickers Face an Uncertain Future Online
Seth Rosenblatt, Contributing Writer,  8/10/2020
Hacking It as a CISO: Advice for Security Leadership
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  8/10/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
7 New Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities That Could Put Your Enterprise at Risk
In this Dark Reading Tech Digest, we look at the ways security researchers and ethical hackers find critical vulnerabilities and offer insights into how you can fix them before attackers can exploit them.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-17475
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
Lack of authentication in the network relays used in MEGVII Koala 2.9.1-c3s allows attackers to grant physical access to anyone by sending packet data to UDP port 5000.
CVE-2020-0255
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: CVE-2020-10751. Reason: This candidate is a duplicate of CVE-2020-10751. Notes: All CVE users should reference CVE-2020-10751 instead of this candidate. All references and descriptions in this candidate have been removed to prevent accidenta...
CVE-2020-14353
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: CVE-2017-18270. Reason: This candidate is a duplicate of CVE-2017-18270. Notes: All CVE users should reference CVE-2017-18270 instead of this candidate. All references and descriptions in this candidate have been removed to prevent accidenta...
CVE-2020-17464
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: none. Reason: This candidate was withdrawn by its CNA. Further investigation showed that it was not a security issue. Notes: none.
CVE-2020-17473
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-14
Lack of mutual authentication in ZKTeco FaceDepot 7B 1.0.213 and ZKBiosecurity Server 1.0.0_20190723 allows an attacker to obtain a long-lasting token by impersonating the server.