Operation Envoy: Defeating Censors

Operation background

Accessing the uncensored Internet in some countries has never been so difficult. Internet censorship is rising across the world, and content filtering is becoming more difficult to circumvent as technology and censors evolve. Even in countries you wouldn’t expect. However the worst offenders are the ones you would typically suspect, China, Russia and countries who rank low on the World Press Freedom Index.

The organization, OONI (Open Observatory of Network Interference) monitors internet censorship around the world and produces reports which show that censorship is on the rise. Government censors (governments who implement Internet censorship) are insatiable in their quest to restrict Internet access and keep their citizenry blind and oppressed, just how they like it.

The question is, what are we doing about it? That’s where Operation Envoy comes in. We want to help deliver messages (network packets) to and from the Tor network. For quite a while now, we’ve been running Tor exit relays which provide valuable bandwidth and processing power to the Tor network which helps people in heavily censored countries access services and information that people in the western world take for granted. While exit relays are an integral part of the Tor network, there’s another part that is critical for accessing it in many countries. Tor bridges and snowflake proxies are the first entry point into the Tor network for many people. What are they you might be wondering? Well, many countries block access to Tor and they’re very good at it, which makes Tor hard to access. That’s where Tor bridges and snowflake proxies step in, and so do we. Bridges and snowflake proxies allow Tor users to access the network via an obfuscated and seemingly normal-looking connection to the bridge or proxy. That bridge or proxy then acts as a literal bridge to the Tor network.

Censors have even gotten so audacious that they’ve identified specific signatures of user to snowflake proxy traffic and blocked it. Thanks to the anti-censorship team at Tor, they are hyperaware of these issues and always trying to be a step ahead of the censors.

Where the operation stands

So, that’s where we’ve been focusing most of our censorship evasion efforts. The Tor network has plenty of bandwidth, but it has problems with accessibility and bridges/snowflake proxies help with that. At the time of writing we’ve ramped up to 29 high-bandwidth servers around the world that run Tor snowflake proxies 24/7/365. We have 34 CPU cores and 58GB of RAM at our disposal. Some servers are in strategic locations that help users within censored countries access the proxies themselves.

Over the past 30 days, we’ve pushed over 93TB of symmetrical traffic on our bridges & proxies.

See our stats

The future of Operation Envoy

Our goal with this operation is to run as many high quality dedicated bridges and snowflake proxies as possible, and become one of the largest operators. We believe Operation Envoy is essential, as many of the snowflake proxies are run via home networks which typically do not provide high upload and download speeds.

To scale our growing bridge and snowflake proxy server infrastructure, we use automation software called Ansible and have started writing our own Ansible role to help with that. This allows us to update and maintain our Tor bridge and proxy fleet.

To succeed in our mission, we ask for your help via donation. With your help, we can deploy more and more censorship evasion servers around the world. In an effort to fund our operations, if you make a recurring donation of $5/mo or more (via Open Collective, Patreon or Liberapay) after reading this post, be sure to contact us and let us know – we will deploy a Tor bridge or snowflake proxy in your name and send you a custom link so that you can monitor the bandwidth, CPU & RAM usage of your sponsored censorship evasion server!

We plan to release updates on our operation as it expands, so stay tuned.

Thanks for your support,