New Tool Helps Users Control Which Countries Their Internet Traffic Goes Through

by Molly Sharlach,  Princeton University

Following the 2013 revelations of U.S. government surveillance, officials from several countries expressed a desire to reduce their dependence on U.S. communications infrastructure. Brazil has taken notable steps toward this goal, including beginning construction of an underwater cable to Portugal and developing a large ecosystem of internet exchange points to help in-country networks better connect.

Despite Brazil’s efforts, a large proportion of its internet traffic continues to traverse the United States. One explanation, the researchers suggested, may be that business considerations prevent internet service providers from using internet exchange points in Brazil.

Princeton University researchers have developed a tool that enables users to redirect their Internet traffic to avoid passing through a particular country by diverting traffic through intermediate points.

The team began by assessing several countries’ efforts to reduce their reliance on U.S. networks for routing their Internet traffic, looking at traffic to the 100 most popular websites in several nations. More than half of all routing paths originating in other countries passed through the U.S., with Brazil having the greatest dependence, with 84 percent of traffic traveling through the U.S.

To create the tool, called Region-Aware Networking (RAN), the researchers established a network of relays using machines in 10 countries and a mechanism to forward Internet traffic through the relays. RAN was found to be more effective in bypassing some countries than others, since many popular websites are hosted only on servers in the U.S. or Europe. By decreasing international routing, tools like RAN could help avoid surveillance and censorship, boost connection speeds, and reduce costs.

“The internet grew up without borders, but now people who care about privacy and freedom of expression are starting to be concerned about where their internet traffic goes,” said Jedidiah Crandall, a computer scientist at the University of New Mexico who was not involved in the research. “At the same time, nation-states are developing their own ideas about borders on the internet. Where the borders actually are today is an important scientific question that this paper makes impressive progress towards answering.”  Read the report.

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