Hacked Email Credentials for Top Business Execs Selling Online

Hackers have been discovered selling access to email accounts held by hundreds of senior corporate executives. [[post-object type=”divider” /]] The accounts are currently posted for sale on Exploit.in – a Russian hacking forum that provides closed access to listings for hacking tools and previously breached data. According to initial research…

Hackers have been discovered selling access to email accounts held by hundreds of senior corporate executives.

The accounts are currently posted for sale on Exploit.in – a Russian hacking forum that provides closed access to listings for hacking tools and previously breached data. According to initial research by cybersecurity experts, the email accounts belong to important C-Suite execs at a cross-section of well-known organizations.

The email accounts being sold by cybercriminals appear to consist only of email addresses and password combinations for Office 365 and Microsoft accounts. In the illicit listing, the hacker claims to provide access to email accounts held by high-level personnel:

  • CEO – Chief Executive Officer
  • COO – Chief Operating Officer
  • CFO – Chief Financial Officer/Chief Financial Fontroller
  • CMO – Chief Marketing Officer
  • CTOs – Chief Technical Officer/Chief Technology Officer
  • President
  • Vice president
  • Executive Assistant
  • Finance Manager
  • Accountant
  • Director
  • Finance Director
  • Financial Controller
  • Accounts Payables

This is a hugely sensitive list of email credentials that could allow hackers to target huge numbers of staff using social engineering techniques. These kinds of attacks trick victims into believing they are genuinely being messaged by senior members of staff at the company where they work.

Hackers understand that by posing as someone high-up in a business, they can easily trick employees into providing their sensitive personal information, corporate data such as intellectual property, consumer data, passwords and account data, and potentially even payment details. 

Business Email Compromise

In recent years there has been a spate of attacks in which hackers have fooled staff into believing a senior exec is asking them to transfer funds from a corporate account. This exploitative attack vector, known as Business Email Compromise (BEC) has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being wired from businesses to accounts held by scammers.

With such a large cache of corporate email addresses known to be circulating on criminal forums, it is vital for companies to raise the alarm and educate staff over the potential for legitimate-looking emails to trick them.

According to cybersecurity researchers who analyzed some Exploit.in listings, the hacked email accounts include the head of a mid-sized American software company, a high-up exec at a UK business management consulting agency, the president of a US clothing company, and the CFO of a European retailer. This sheds light on the international scope of the problem.

According to the researchers who worked on condition of anonymity, each listing is selling for between $100 and $1500 – depending on the importance of the individual and the company involved.

The samples acquired by the researchers have now been validated, and known victims have been contacted so they can secure their accounts and send out internal memos warning staff of potential threats.

Trojan horse

Cyber-intelligence and threat monitoring firm KELA has stated that the credentials may have been stolen from victims via the use of sophisticated malware called AzorUlt. According to KELA, the seller previously showed interest in the Trojan on the hacking forum.

AzoUlt is a trojan that permits hackers to steal data from infected machines – including browsing history, usernames and passwords, account information for FTP clients, and cryptocurrency accounts or wallet information. It can also communicate with a Command and Control (C&C) server to send back stolen information and download secondary exploits such as keyloggers. 

Companies must act

With so many people working from home due to lockdown, businesses must take the time to warn their employees of the potential risks caused by these kinds of data breaches and account takeovers.

In light of the current situation, employees should be warned to always double-check and verify any irregular requests that arrive via seemingly legitimate channels such as their boss’s email address.

Executive-level email accounts can be leveraged for the purposes of phishing, social engineering, and even blackmail, and these threats are known to be heightened when staff are working from home and are more susceptible to being hoodwinked. 

2020 has seen a rise in criminal activity with more businesses and individuals targeted by scams than ever before. Jay Clayton, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman has gone on record to warn of an increase in criminal activity noted in 2020.

Cyber risks have not gone away with the unfortunate, unforeseen risks we’ve faced with Covid and other uncertainties in our economy. They’re still there, and they’re there more than ever.

Cybersecurity incidents are on the rise, and it’s something we all need to continue to pay attention to.

With the pandemic still far from over, it is vital for companies to take these threats seriously because failure to spot fake emails and BEC fraud can result in extremely costly repercussions.

Internet censorship in South Korea and how to bypass blocks

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”southkorea” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/seouljpg-content_image-default.png” social=”true” news=”false” /]] South Korea is a technologically advanced and well developed Asian nation with a population of 51.5 million people. It is a large island country with poverty rates of around 15%. The average income is around $1200. Despite some problems with poverty, especially…

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South Korea is a technologically advanced and well developed Asian nation with a population of 51.5 million people. It is a large island country with poverty rates of around 15%. The average income is around $1200.

Despite some problems with poverty, especially among its aging population, South Korea is a country that enjoys a high rate of internet connection (95.1%). That means South Korea eclipses many other advanced economies around the globe. This is primarily due to investment in infrastructure and the cheap cost of an internet connection in the country, where around 88% of people have a mobile internet connection.

Political overview

South Korea is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. In this system, the president is the head of state and the prime minister the head of government; which wields executive power. The president is voted directly every five years for a single term, and the prime minister is chosen by the president and the national assembly.

Legislative power is split between the government and the National Assembly, meaning that it is a unicameral system. The judiciary is independent and is made up of a Supreme Court, appellate courts, and a Constitutional Court.

South Korea’s electoral process and political system are rated highly by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which rates it as the highest Asian nation, a testament to the country’s fair and open elections.

In South Korea, people are able to form new opposition parties with ease and dissenting political opinions can be expressed. Minority parties are represented in the National Assembly, though they are largely dominated by two main parties – the liberal Democratic party and the conservative Liberty Korea party.

However, international observers claim there still remains some corruption within both the political class and in business – involving bribery and extortion. Perhaps the biggest problem facing South Korean politics is a general lack of transparency, which permits certain levels of corruption to go unnoticed. This is one aspect of policy that Moon Jae has promised to reform.

Censorship

In South Korea there is an unrestricted and open media that are able to report on policies and to express dissenting political opinions. In addition, the competitive media often reports on government corruption and corporate wrongdoing.

However, news topics that are seen to be supportive or complementary of North Korea are subject to censorship throughout the country. The country also has pretty harsh defamation laws, which can cause journalists to be imprisoned for up to seven years.

Broadcasting and telecommunication in the country are regulated by the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) and the content and ethical standards of online content is monitored by the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC).

KCSC enforces technical filtering and takedowns of any website content that is deemed to benefit or support North Korea. In addition, any content that undermines the social and moral standards of the nation are blocked. This leads to restrictions on content related to gambling, drugs, obscenity/pornography, violation of laws and regulations. In 2017, it is thought that 66,659 websites or pages were blocked and another 15,499 deleted. New filtering techniques have been reported that allow the government to use SNI filtering to block HTTPS versions of websites that used to slip through the net. Finally, KCSC is known to close down accounts on social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube if they are found to support North Korea.

Surveillance

As recently as 2011, Reporters Without Borders named South Korea as one of the world’s countries that is “under surveillance”. This is due to the KCC’s constant tracking of cyberspace – carried out in order to ensure that citizens are not breaking the law or supporting North Korea.

Activists claim that the government has been involved in tapping their communications on the messenger KakaoTalk. This led to South Korean users migrating to foreign-owned messengers thought to be outside of the control of South Korean intelligence.

In 2015, leaked information revealed that the South Korean government had purchased sophisticated hacking tools from the Italian firm Hacking Team. Those hacking tools permit KCC to attack a citizen’s computer to perform key logging, to access data, to snoop on Skype conversations, and to turn on microphones and cameras (among other things).

Thus, it would appear that South Korea is actively engaging in considerable high-level surveillance practices. The government has denied using spyware to snoop on citizens and claims it was for use against North Korea.

An anti-terrorism law passed in 2016, further extended South Korean intelligence ability to invade citizens’ privacy. The law permits the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to access citizen’s travel records, financial records, private communications, location data, and any other personal information. Those records can be accessed without a warrant on suspicion alone. In order to comply with requests for data, local ISPs must retain records for one year.

In South Korea, copyright piracy is illegal and carries a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $2650.

Despite this, piracy is South Korea is pervasive and citizens’ access both international and local P2P file sharing and torrent repositories to download pirated content. ISPs do not block access to popular international torrent repositories such as uTorrent and the Pirate Bay.

On the whole, it is thought that pirating international content can be undertaken without too much concern, but the government takes a much harsher line on citizens that download pirated South Korean content.

Internet censorship in Turkey and staying secure online

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”turkey” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/ankarapng-content_image-default.png” social=”false” news=”false” /]] Turkey is a Middle Eastern country that has been vying for inclusion in the European Union since 1987. It is a relatively large country with a population of 79 million. It is a country that suffers from high levels of poverty and…

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Turkey is a Middle Eastern country that has been vying for inclusion in the European Union since 1987. It is a relatively large country with a population of 79 million. It is a country that suffers from high levels of poverty and a low average income for those on a minimum wage of just $477 per month.

Political troubles in the country have led to a decline in tourism in recent years. Surveillance is prevalent and censorship is strong. In Turkey, only 65% of people have an active internet connection, and those that do suffer from an inability to gain access to important privacy tools.

Political overview

Turkey is a presidential republic in which the president is the head of state and the head of government. The president holds executive power and can issue executive decrees, appoint judges, and is the head of all state institutions.

The nation’s political landscape is categorized as a hybrid regime. It suffers from high levels of corruption, has a failed judicial system, and is a nation in which elections are regularly prevented from being fair and free.

The current leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is viewed as a quasi-dictator, especially due to his harsh treatment towards military officials, and civil society followed the failed military coup of 2016. 

Erdoğan is the head of the Development Party (AKP) which has been in power since 2002. During that time, Erdoğan’s government has grown incrementally more radical. This has led to an erosion of political rights and civil liberties within the country.

This includes harsh discrimination against minorities, a severe crackdown on freedom of speech, strong oppression of dissenting opinions – and a marked increase in political corruption – as well as impunity for police forces acting at the AKP’s behest.

Censorship

Erdoğan’s government has engaged in the arbitrary prosecution of human rights activists and other perceived enemies of the state. This includes the arrest and imprisonment of state employees, including military personnel, police officers, and members of civil society that are accused of having aided the failed military coup.

The independent media is very sparse, and those outlets that do exist are heavily censored by the government. Journalists are routinely targeted for prosecution using libel laws or the accusation of defaming the president. In 2017, 73 journalists were in prison according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. This makes Turkey the worst place to be a journalist in the world.

Mainstream media is completely controlled by the government and often carries identical headlines across its various outlets.

An Internet censorship law passed in 2007 allows the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) to block websites and online services. The government has begun blocking any news websites that criticize the Turkish government or president Erdoğan. Websites incompatible with local customs and beliefs are also blocked – this includes gambling, dating, and pornography websites.

The government also periodically blocks access to social media sites. During the attempted military coup, Facebook and Twitter suffered blocks in order to prevent people from mobilizing and organizing further unrest. 

In addition, encrypted messengers such as WhatsApp and Signal – as well as websites for privacy tools such as VPNs and Tor are also blocked in an attempt to stop people from communicating in private. 

It is thought that in total around 115,000 websites are blocked in Turkey. This includes websites belonging to religious minorities, such as pro-Kurdish content and blogs. In addition, any websites that criticize Islam or that are pro-atheist are blocked.

In March 2018, a new law was passed that allows the blocking of streaming services, including Netflix. This allows the government to pressure those streaming services to censor video content that it does not agree with.

Individuals in Turkey are not permitted to start their own website with a.tr URL ending. These are reserved for people who own a business.

Surveillance

Since the failed military coup in 2016, turkey has been under an official state of emergency that allows the government to impose new decrees. Many of these have allowed Erdoğan to pass laws to enforce heightened levels of surveillance in the name of national security.

That surveillance has been used to weed out over 50,000 people with alleged links to the coup – some of which were imprisoned for having criticized or defamed the president. Another 140,000 individuals were fired from their jobs for alleged links to the coup. Many of these people were arrested simply for having used the app ByLock, an encrypted messenger that was allegedly used by supporters of the Gülen movement.

Turkey is also among the list of nations who are said to have purchased elite hacking tools from the Italian firm Hacking Team. Those tools allow the government to intercept messages and take control over victims’ machines in order to install keyloggers or take over the camera or microphones.

In addition, the government enforces bulk retention programs that force ISPs, tech firms, and telecoms firms to retain citizens’ data on file. In addition, all public WiFi hotspots must maintain all connection logs for everybody that connects.

Any company served an information request must be ready to act on a request within two hours of a request being filed, or they can face large fines. According to official figures around 70,000 social media were under surveillance in 2017.

The anonymous purchase of mobile phones is not allowed and regulations force people to register phones they import from abroad. This limits people’s ability to communicate online privately and anonymously.

Turkey joined the Berne Convention in 1951, which means that it agrees to impose international copyright rules. Despite this, there is little evidence of people getting into trouble with the law for torrenting.

In order to stop people accessing torrents, the Pirate Bay is restricted by ISPs and the government has begun forcing ISPs to give BitTorrent users a warning. If consumers fail to heed that warning – their internet is slowed down for six months using bandwidth throttling.

For this reason, citizens in Turkey must use a VPN to access repositories. Unfortunately, this is tricky because ISPs also block VPNs and using a VPN to unblock content is illegal and can get users in trouble if they are discovered. For this reason, it is important to only use a high-quality VPN with strong privacy features such as a kill-switch and obfuscation.

A guide to internet privacy in Cuba – Stay secure with a VPN for Cuba

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”cuba” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/istock-927077190jpg-content_image-default.png?1606493483186″ social=”true” news=”false” /]] Cubans have to endure some of the most limited internet access in the world. Until recently most people had to rely on a network prohibitively expensive internet cafes and government-run WiFi hotspots to communicate with the wider world, although ingenious and highly…

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Cubans have to endure some of the most limited internet access in the world. Until recently most people had to rely on a network prohibitively expensive internet cafes and government-run WiFi hotspots to communicate with the wider world, although ingenious and highly unofficial offline solutions have helped to plug the gaps.

Things are changing, though. In 2017 Cuba’s only internet service provider (ISP), ETECSA, began offering a limited number of home broadband connections, and in December 2018 it launched a 3G mobile network.

Despite being very expensive for Cubans, who must also tolerate continued stability problems, uptake of 3G internet has been high. Out of a population of 11.2 million, some 5.3 million use mobile phones, and three months after its launch around two million of these have subscribed to ETECSA 3G service.

Internet penetration is likely to further increase following a deal between Google and ETECSA announced in March 2019. Cuba broadband capabilities are currently limited to a single fiber-optic cable to Venezuela, which is often overloaded and slow.

Google and ETECSA have pledged to work together to improve this situation, with talk of new submarine fiber-optic cables linking the island directly to the US and Latin America.

Political Overview

Cuba is a one-party socialist republic, opposition parties are illegal, and all news media outlets are owned and controlled by the state. Selected by a closed party vote in April 2018, President Miguel Diaz-Canel appears largely determined to continue the Castro legacy of political oppression.

A defining feature of Cuban history for the last 60 years or so has been its poor relationship with neighboring superpower the United States. An ongoing policy of political isolation and harsh economic sanctions has left Cuba desperately poor, but also proudly defiant.

Relations between the two countries looked set to thaw somewhat under the Obama administration, raising hopes of foreign investment in Cuba infrastructure. Diplomacy turned frosty again under the Trump administration, however, and this investment never materialized.

Censorship

Under Fidel Castro, those who criticized the government were routinely subjected to torture, arbitrary imprisonment, unfair trials, and extrajudicial execution. In 2008, on the date of his resignation as President, Human Rights Watch reported that Castro’s abusive machinery remained intact.

Over the last ten years, however, this situation appears to have mellowed somewhat. During the run-up to the 2017 elections, many independent journalists were accused of spreading enemy propaganda and arrested on trumped-up charges. But far as we can determine, they were all released once the elections were over.

Indeed, although illegal, there has been a growth in independent news websites, although bloggers critical of the government are routinely blocked. And fines, confiscation of equipment, and arbitrary detentions remain common.

International news and social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the like, however, are not actively blocked.

The largest barrier to uncensored news and opinions, though, is the simple lack of internet penetration. The cost of using WiFi at an internet cafe or government-sponsored hotspot has dropped from $5 an hour in 2015 to $1 an hour, but this is still very expensive in a country where the average wage daily wage is just $1.

That internet use is largely confined to outdoor public spaces which are often subject to sweltering heat and a complete lack of privacy are also issues. As is the fact that large numbers of users sharing a single connection makes internet access incredibly slow.

The result is that most Cubans who use the internet at all do so only for essential matters such as keeping in contact with relatives. What is fascinating, however, are the ways in which Cubans have adapted to this situation and found frankly ingenious ways to enjoy many of the benefits of the internet without access to the actual internet.

The offline internet

A cottage off-line data brokering industry has emerged in Cuba, where semi-legal data mules sell hard drives full of internet content. Known as the Paquete Semanal, or Weekly Packet, this content provides the latest TV shows, movies, programs, games, and magazines to a data-hungry public.

Built along the same lines by tech-savvy enthusiasts who cannot afford real internet access, an ad hoc street net (also dubbed SNet) has also developed, composed of expensive but powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city.

This semi-legal (technically illegal, but the authorities seem happy to exercise discretion and turn a blind eye) home-spun intranet allows many Cubans to chat, play Warcraft, share data, and otherwise participate in an online community of the kind that has long been denied to them.

Government Surveillance

The state-controlled ISP, ETECSA, has a monopoly on internet access in Cuba. When purchasing WiFi access to the internet citizens must show their ID cards, and to log in, they must enter their national ID numbers.

There is evidence that the government installs Avila Link surveillance software on public, university, and cyber cafe computers. Indeed, a fairly recent report from the Austrian Red Cross notes that:

The government routes most connections through proxy servers and is able to obtain all usernames and passwords through special monitoring software called Avila Link, which is installed at most ETECSA and public access points. In addition, delivery of email messages is consistently delayed, and it is not unusual for a message to arrive censored or without its attachments.

All anonymity and encryption systems are illegal, including VPNs and Tor. And when users email attachments, they are warned that other people may see what you are sending – before being asked if they wish to continue.

It is worth noting that internet access at international tourist hotels does not appear to be so limited.

Given the prohibitive cost and sheer impractically of such frivolities, direct copyright piracy over the internet is all but non-existent in Cuba. As already noted, there is a thriving market in data which is distributed offline. The vast majority of which is very much pirated from the internet. Where the data comes from in the first place is not clear, but corrupt government officials with privileged access to fast internet connections are the most likely source.

A guide to internet privacy in Sweden – how to bypass it with a Swedish VPN

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”sweden” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/swedenjpg-featured_image-default.png” social=”true” news=”true” /]] With 94 percent of the population with access to the internet, connection prices far below the European average and the second fastest internet speeds in the world, Sweden is a haven for internet users. Sweden has almost no censorship. It also has…

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With 94 percent of the population with access to the internet, connection prices far below the European average and the second fastest internet speeds in the world, Sweden is a haven for internet users. Sweden has almost no censorship. It also has a fairly relaxed attitude to copyright infringement, although this is changing.

When it comes to surveillance, however, all communications in and out of the country are monitored by the Swedish Defence Radio Authority (FRA), which has a close working relationship with the NSA.

Political Overview

Sweden is a parliamentary monarchy with a healthy multi-party political system. Its elections are free and fair, and Sweden is a world leader in terms of political rights and civil liberties.

In recent years, however, there has been a disturbing growth of anti-immigrant sentiment and support for right-wing; populist politics.

There have been a number of terrorist incidences, the worst of which was by a self-described ISIS recruit who in 2017 drove a truck into a crowd of shoppers killing five. ISIS never claimed responsibility for the attack, however, and most terrorist incidents have been carried out by Neo-Nazis groups.

Government Surveillance

Even before Sweden passed the FRA law in 2009, Privacy International ranked Sweden’s privacy protection second worst in the EU.

The FRA law, however, gave the National Defence Radio Authority (Försvarets radioanstalt) powers to wiretap all telephone and Internet traffic that crossed Sweden’s borders in order to combat foreign threats. It should be noted that this is something which it has been suspected of doing long beforehand.

Following the public outcry over the legislation being too far-reaching, the FRA law was quickly amended to require a court order on a case-by-case basis.

In a 2018 ruling that surprised many observers, the European Court of Human Rights found that

Although there were some areas for improvement, overall the Swedish system of bulk interception provided adequate and sufficient guarantees against arbitrariness and the risk of abuse.

European Court of Human Rights

The EU Data Retention Directive

Sweden was always very reluctant about implementing the 2006 EU Data Retention Directive, which required telecoms providers to store data such as websites visited, a phone call made, emails sent for at least 12 months.

When it had still not been implemented in 2010, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was forced to make a ruling demanding it be actioned. Even when it eventually implemented the law in 2012, Sweden reduced the minimum retention time to 6 months.

In 2013, the ECJ imposed a €3 million penalty on Sweden for failing to fulfill its obligations under European Law by delaying local implementation of the DRD for so long. However, in April 2014 Sweden declared the DRD invalid quoting:

interfere(ing) in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.

As the reason. In 2019, things remain uncertain, as with most EU countries, and despite the very clear ECJ ruling, Sweden has made no move to remove local implantation of the DRD from its statute books.

Unlike in other EU countries, however, Swedish ISPs have taken matters into their own hands. Following the ruling, Bahnhof, Talia, Tele2, and Three, on their own initiative not only stopped collecting customers’ data but also permanently deleted all old records.

As far as we can determine these ISPs continue to not log their customers’ data, and neither the Swedish Prosecution Authority or the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) have shown any interest in pursuing the matter further.

It is also worth noting that when the DRD was transposed into national law, Sweden never applied it to VPN providers. This means that Swedish VPN services are not required in any way by law to keep logs.

For more information about VPN services and for a list of the best VPNs to use when you’re in Sweden, check out our best VPN for Sweden page.

Unsurprisingly, copyright piracy is popular in Sweden, and in the past, the laws have been fairly relaxed in regard to it. In 2009, however, Sweden transposed the EU directive on intellectual property rights enforcement (IPRED) into local law (a legal challenge on human rights grounds was quashed by the European Court of Justice in 2012).

Local implementation of the law allows heavy file sharers to be jailed and compels ISPs to hand over suspects’ details upon a court order. Swedish implementation of IPRED does not, however, cut off offenders’ internet access and Swedish courts have ruled that the right to privacy of suspected occasional file sharers trumps the interests of copyright holders. This has limited the scope of the law to serious cases.

Many Swedish users have started to adopt VPNs in order to carry on P2P downloading as before, and with many Swedish ISPs now refusing to keep logs, enforcement of IPRED is difficult.

This could soon change, responding to a 2018 report which found that penalties in Sweden appear to be low compared to those in other countries, Sweden’s Minister for Justice has proposed tough new laws designed to tackle large-scale copyright infringement and serious trademark infringement. This includes a six months minimal jail sentence. These changes are set to come into force on 1 July 2019.

Censorship

Sweden is a very free country, and internet censorship is minimal. However, service providers must remove information relating to things such as the instigation of rebellion, racial agitation, child pornography, and illegal description of violence.

Other than these obvious exceptions, there are few limits. As an EU member, though, search engines operating in Sweden must comply with valid requests made under the ECJ’s right to be forgotten ruling to remove content about individuals which is no longer deemed to be in the public interest.

Unlike many other European countries, no blocking of websites that promote copyright infringement is performed in Sweden.

Sri Lanka privacy guide 2020 – how to bypass censorship with a VPN for Sri Lanka

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”sri lanka” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/sri-lanka-land-markjpg-featured_image-default.png” social=”false” news=”false” /]] Sri Lanka is a relatively small Asian island nation with a population of around 21.4 million people. It is considered to have low poverty levels compared to neighboring nations. Access to the internet is pretty good with around 32.1% of people…

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Sri Lanka is a relatively small Asian island nation with a population of around 21.4 million people. It is considered to have low poverty levels compared to neighboring nations. Access to the internet is pretty good with around 32.1% of people able to connect to the web. A monthly connection to the internet costs around $14.50, which puts Sri Lanka among the cheapest retail tariffs worldwide.

Sri Lanka has traditionally enforced severe censorship levels – stretching back to the 1980s when the government suppressed the JVP insurrection using media censorship, criminal defamation, and assassinations.

Political Overview

Sri Lanka is considered a semi-presidential representative democratic republic. In such a system, the president is both the head of state and the head of government. Executive power is held by the government, and legislative power is split between the government and parliament.

The nation is still recovering from a brutal civil war that spanned from 1983 until 2009. During that time, two parties dominated the South Asian country’s politics – the socialist Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the conservative United National Party.

Although the nation has been relatively stable since the end of the Civil War, it is still rated poorly on the world bank’s political stability index with an average score of -0.98 for the period stretching from 1996 to 2017.

In the last two years, the country has experienced renewed political turmoil. Most notably, in 2018 President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.

A month later parliament held a vote of no confidence against Rajapaksa, and in November Sirisena’s attempts to dissolve parliament – with calls for a snap election – were deemed unconstitutional. Seven weeks later, in December, Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Party was reinstated as prime minister by the president following two votes in parliament.

Despite the relatively quick turnaround to the political crisis, the situation in the region remains fragile. Trust in President Sirisena is low following the attempted power grab. On the other hand, the seven-week crisis proved that the nation’s parliamentary institutions work better than expected.

Despite this, the unstable political situation could cause a depreciation in the value of the rupee against the US dollar. This problematic economic footing could lead to a deterioration of Sri Lanka’s political environment.

Censorship

In March 2018, a state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka following severe clashes between local Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim populations. The Sri Lankan anti-Muslim riots started in the town of Ampara and spread to the city of Kandy in the center of the island nation. Properties were burned down in Muslim districts after a Sinhalese truck driver was killed by four Muslim youths. A 27-year-old imam called Abdul Basith burned to death in those fires.

During and following the riots, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were restricted by ISPs. In addition, messengers such as WhatsApp and Viber were blocked. According to the government, those blocks were enforced in an attempt to quell rampant hate speech. According to the government, false reports of ethnically motivated attacks spread via social media were used to inflame the situation.

In October, another severe crackdown on internet access occurred. Following president Sirisena’s sacking of PM Wickremesinghe in October, human rights activists and citizens took to the street in protest. Social media and messengers were again targeted in an attempt to stop protesters from communicating and organizing themselves. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission was also ordered to force mobile operators to restrict 3G and 4G connectivity in the Kandy district.

The temporary blackouts are in addition to ongoing censorship of any internet content considered politically or religiously incompatible in the nation. According to a local report, 14 websites were added to the block list since 2015. Websites and news sources critical of the presidency are restricted.

Websites containing pornography are also restricted within the nation, and the Cyber Crimes Division has the power to investigate and issue blocks on websites found to contain illegal or defamatory content or political news.

In June 2018, Facebook met with Sri Lankan authorities and agreed to work harder to improve its language capabilities for moderation of Sri Lankan content. It is hoped that this will lower the frequency of hate speech on the platform and lower the chances of future social media blackouts.

Surveillance

In 2018, a new electronic national identity card was introduced. The e-NIC Project has massively raised privacy concern within the nation. Privacy experts in the nation have complained that a central database containing sensitive private information and biometric data is at huge risk of hacking. The database is also criticized for holding family tree data.

Access to public WiFi in the nation requires the input of citizens’ national identity card number. This allows the government to track people’s internet habits.

News websites are also heavily regulated, with all content providers forced to give the name of the server IP addresses, and location from which their content is uploaded. This stops journalists and bloggers from uploading content anonymously and successfully silences dissenting political opinions in a country where violent oppression already severely hampers freedom of speech.

All telecommunications companies in Sri Lanka must adhere to requests from the government. Records can be accessed without warrants, and the legislature does not require for targets to be informed. The result is that there are no records of the number of requests made.

During 2018, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace interviewed 27 individuals in the north of Sri Lanka. In the report, details about excessive surveillance, harassment, and intimidation by state security agencies are included.

Sri Lanka’s copyright laws are largely governed by the policy of fair use. It permits for works to be disseminated and used for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Computer programs, as well as original intellectual creation in the literary, artistic and scientific domains, are all protected under Sri Lankan laws.

It is worth noting that while torrenting is legal in the country, piracy is not. However, it would appear that ISPs and the authorities do not spend time or effort policing copyright restrictions, meaning that there are very little in the way of deterrents for piracy. It would appear that software piracy is more closely monitored. With reports of both fines and imprisonment for large-scale copyright infringements reported in 2008.

A guide to internet censorship in Bangladesh | Unblock websites and stay secure online with the best VPN for Bangladesh

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”bangladesh” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/shutterstock-667548661jpg-content_image-default.png?1606489731910″ social=”false” news=”true” /]] Thanks to the rapid growth of mobile internet, 53.2% of Bangladeshis now have at least some access to the internet. Although evidence is lacking, it is reasonable to suppose this is heavily concentrated in urban areas, which are increasingly able to access…

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Thanks to the rapid growth of mobile internet, 53.2% of Bangladeshis now have at least some access to the internet. Although evidence is lacking, it is reasonable to suppose this is heavily concentrated in urban areas, which are increasingly able to access 4G connections.

Despite falling prices, the high cost of an internet connection relative to average wages in Bangladesh remains a constant source of complaint. This belies the fact, however, that even as far back as 2015 the Alliance for Affordable Internet reported that 80% of Bangladeshis could afford a 500 MB mobile data plan, which is a very high percentage for a developing country.  And in the four years since, this situation has no doubt improved.

The result is a very active online community, but one that practices a high level of self-censorship following a history of violent attacks on bloggers and independent digital journalists.

Political overview

Bangladesh is ruled using a two-party system under a largely ceremonial President. Although elections are nominally democratic, the internal structures of each party are not. These are each led by a hereditary family, which has alternated in power since Bangladesh achieved independence in 1972.

This balance of power has been thrown into doubt, however. During the 2018 elections, the ruling Awami League (AL) under President Abdul Hamid cracked down on the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Its leader (and former prime minister) Khaleda Zia, was convicted on corruption charges and jailed amid reports that his party campaign materials were being suppressed.

Numerous cases of bias by the overseeing Election Commission in favor of the AL, plus repeated instances of threats, allegations of fraud, and violence towards opposition candidates, means that few observers consider the election results to be free or fair.

Bangladesh is a nominally secular country, although Islam is recognized as the official religion. State harassment of religious minorities, which include Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and Shiite and Ahmadiyya Muslims, is minimal, but societal discrimination, which includes mob violence against places of worship, is common.

Expressions of secularism are not illegal, but can meet with strong public disapproval.

Although 50 of the 350 seats in the National Parliament are reserved for women, some of whom also hold considerable political power, the situation for most women in Bangladesh is not so rosy. Women enjoy fewer marriage, divorce, and inheritance rights than men, with 59 percent of girls married by the time they are 18.

Cases of rape, acid attacks, and other forms of violence (including dowry-related violence) against women occur on an almost daily basis, a situation not helped by a legal system that makes it very hard for women to achieve justice. In reality, most are discouraged from even trying.

Tens of thousands of Bangladeshi women and children (and to a lesser extent men) disappear each year, victims of the country’s burgeoning human trafficking trade.

Gay sex is illegal, although this law is rarely enforced. Day-to-day discrimination and the occasional attack on LGBT individuals, however, is the norm.

Government surveillance

Over the last five years or so, the Bangladesh government has invested heavily in network surveillance infrastructure. The most recent initiative formally started in October 2018 and is due for completion in May 2019 at the cost of around $19 million (US).

Dubbed the Cyber Threat Detection and Response, it is claimed the aim of this project to block pornography and monitor terrorism. Its ability to perform a granular analysis of network traffic using deep packet inspection (DPI), however, is concerning. This includes the ability to detect use of VPNs, although these are not blocked at the present time.

In 2018 the government ordered security agencies to intensify their surveillance of social media platforms, including a paramilitary special forces unit accused of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Citizens are required to register SIM cards using both National ID numbers and biometric data, and online news portals must undergo mandatory registration. Individual bloggers are not required to register, however.

In 2017 they banned the sale of mobile phone connections to Rohingya refugees from neighboring Myanmar.

Censorship

Over the last few years, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has blocked numerous websites and news outlets that criticize the government or security forces. In 2016, the Threema and Wickr messaging apps were blocked amid security concerns, but are available now.

Facebook has experienced periodic interruptions in Bangladesh, and in 2017 refused to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) requiring that it demand Bangladeshi users provide additional identification, including National ID numbers.

Journalists are occasionally arrested, and amid violent protests in August 2018, which started over calls for better road safety, the BTRC ordered ISPs to reduce mobile phone network signals so that only 2G was available. It seems the reason for this was to prevent live streaming and sharing of video content showing the protests.

The Information and Communication Technology Act extends laws relating to print to digital content. Pornography, blasphemy, and gambling (except on horses) is illegal, although it is not clear to what extent such content is blocked online.

Indeed, online gambling is so popular that the Bangladesh Cricket Board has introduced mobile courts during matches, stating that:

Betting will be treated as a public nuisance. Anyone found involved will be convicted and punished instantly in the stadium.

More than government blocking, however, it is Bangladesh culture of vigilante violence that creates an online atmosphere in which most people chose to self-censor. Over the last few years numerous bloggers have been attacked and even murdered, with many choosing to seek asylum abroad.

In 2019 the minority Hindu community in Rangpur was attacked by a rioting mob over false claims that an illiterate Hindu youth who was not even present in the area at the time, had posted anti-Islamic content to Facebook. One protester was fatally shot by police and 25 people were injured (including seven police officers).

This occurred as part of a disturbing trend for posts on Facebook and other social media platforms aimed at inciting people to violence against minorities.

The relatively high cost of internet access in Bangladesh no doubt serves to limit online copyright piracy somewhat. ISPs make no effort to prevent it, however, and we have heard of no cases in which Bangladeshi citizens have run afoul of legal action from copyright holders.

Indeed, as of 2017, The Software Alliance listed Bangladesh as having among the top five piracy rates outside Africa.

Staying secure online in Norway | Internet censorship and what you need to know

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”norway” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/oslo-norwayjpg-content_image-default.png” social=”true” news=”true” /]] Norway is a European country with a population of 5.3 million. It is a wealthy country where people earn approximately 3500 USD month, one of the highest average salaries in the EU. Unsurprisingly 97% of the population have access to the internet….

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Norway is a European country with a population of 5.3 million. It is a wealthy country where people earn approximately 3500 USD month, one of the highest average salaries in the EU. Unsurprisingly 97% of the population have access to the internet.

Norway is rated at 100 out of 100 in Freedom House 2019 freedom in the world report, making it one of the most free countries in the world.

Political Overview

Norway is a country that enjoys a vibrant multi-party system in which it is very hard for any one party to gain a majority of the 169 legislative seats. This often results in parties forming coalitions. Elections occur every second year, alternating between parliamentary elections and local elections. Norway enjoys a free political system devoid of any substantive corruption.

The judiciary is considered independent and members of the Supreme Court are decided by the King with the help of the Judicial Appointments Board made up of legal and judicial professionals as well as members of the public.

Parliamentary elections are decided by voting that occurs in 19 constituencies, with each country gaining an agreed number of seats in parliament depending on the size and population of that specific constituency. The last parliamentary election occurred in 2017. However, the head of the conservative party, Erna Solberg, has been serving as prime minister since 2013.

In 2017 and 2018, the #metoo movement gained a lot of support in Norway, and certain members of civil society were ousted as well as members of parliament for allegedly engaging in sexual discrimination and sexual misconduct.

Censorship

Norway is a country that has a free and open media that is able to express itself freely without obstacles. Religious minorities and other minority communities such as LGBTQ are free to express themselves and are protected with robust anti-discrimination laws. Women are represented fairly in government, with more than 40% of parliament seats currently filled by women.

The indigenous Sami population of Norway keeps its own legislature as well as being represented in parliament. This allows for active participation in the decision-making process in order to uphold cultural values and to influence national policy.

In 2017, the media won a case in which it was ruled that journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources, even if it involves cases involving government institutions, national security, or public bodies. The media are free to print news and protect its sources.

Despite its robust anti-discrimination laws, police reported that in 2017 and 2018 the nation saw an uptick in religiously motivated hate crimes. The majority of those crimes were targeted at Muslim minority member of society, including migrants and refugees.

Online, Norway enjoys a high degree of freedom with little in the way of censorship. Citizens are also free to use privacy enabling services such as VPNs and Tor.

In addition, they are free to communicate freely online using both blogs and social media, as long as they do not break any laws in regard to discrimination or hate speech. Those laws that are considered positive by human rights activists and do not encroach on people\u2019s freedom of speech in any negative way.

However, since 2015, ISPs have begun blocking certain streaming and torrenting sites that break copyright holders’ rights and permit citizens to perform illegal piracy. Those sites include The Pirate Bay, Extratorrent, Viooz, Primewire, Swefilmer, DreamfilmHD and Movie4k.

Although activists, including the Norway Pirate Party, have claimed that this encroaches on people\u2019s freedom to information, the courts ruled that this was a false claim because the content is still available to all citizens via legal means.

Individuals have been targeted for piracy and have been singled out using IP addresses by ISPs on behalf of copyright holders. This has resulted in convictions for file sharing as well as prospective invoicing letters.

Surveillance

Norway enforces strict privacy laws, knows as the Personal Data Act. Those laws define a lot of personal data as sensitive information. This includes IP addresses and other digital markers within its definition of sensitive personal information.

Norway can be understood to impose certain levels of covert national and international surveillance on citizens. This includes surveillance by the police, the military, and the Norwegian Intelligence Service. This is enforced using mandatory data retention laws that force all ISPs and telecoms companies to store records of metadata and web browsing histories for six months. These records are accessible only with a warrant that is granted by a court as long as reasonable suspicion is demonstrated.

As is the case elsewhere, privacy advocates have expressed concerns about what those data retention directives mean for human rights and privacy in Norway.

Saudi Arabian Internet censorship & How to bypass blocks

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”saudi arabia” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/riyadhjpg-content_image-default.png” social=”false” news=”false” /]] Saudi Arabia is the Middle Eastern Kingdom with a population of 32.9 million. It is a wealthy nation in which 20 percent of citizens live in acute poverty. Despite this relatively high level of critical poverty, Internet penetration rates are excellent…

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Saudi Arabia is the Middle Eastern Kingdom with a population of 32.9 million. It is a wealthy nation in which 20 percent of citizens live in acute poverty. Despite this relatively high level of critical poverty, Internet penetration rates are excellent – with around 80% of people enjoying an active internet connection. The vast majority of those internet users (88%) use mobile connections and the nation is experiencing a decline in the use of fixed line telecoms.

Political Overview

Saudi Arabia is a highly religious kingdom in which laws are executed by the absolutist monarchy. The King, who is head of state and government, holds complete control over the judicial and executive arm of the country’s political system. The King is chosen from a male line of descendants who are directly related to the country founder. A council of important princes must approve the decision.

The Saudi royal family is of an Islamist line and the country uses The Qur’an as its constitution, which is governed on the basis of Islamic Sharia law. The cabinet which is appointed by the king passes all the nation legislation, which becomes law once ratified by the king.

Under such a system, the government can easily control the media and the online landscape to ensure that any content critical of the royal family or Islam – or that is in opposition to Sharia law – is quickly thwarted.

Although election for local municipal councils do exist, those elections are completely manipulated, with few people able to participate in the elections. Only 30 women serve on government councils, making up less than 1% of the total. However, a woman was appointed as deputy minister for labor and social development in February 2018. Her role is to improve and promote women’s working opportunities within the nation.

For the people of Saudi Arabia, the results in an extreme political environment where it is possible to be accused of Blasphemy and given a life sentence, without much in the way of a fair trial. The monarchy restricts almost all political and social rights, and both women and religious minorities face extreme levels of discrimination both in law and in practice.

In June 2018, a long-standing ban on women holding driving licenses was lifted. However, in the run-up to that change in the law, many female activists campaigning for the right to drive were arrested, accused of conspiring with foreign governments, and, allegedly, tortured. Even when reform does occur, the government makes every effort to discredit the role of civil society in that process.

Finally, it is worth noting that the government produces huge amounts of wealth from the sale of oil, some of which is passed onto the people in Saudi Arabia in the form of social welfare systems. However, there is little to no public knowledge of state accounts or how much public money eventually benefits the royal family and its chosen associates.

In 2017, the crown arrested 200 people and coerced them into handing over billions of dollars’ worth of assets to the government. According to the government, those citizens had engaged in direct support for anti-government dissident groups.

Censorship

In Saudi Arabia, the government maintains strict control over what is printed in the media. Huge numbers of websites are also blocked in the country on religious and moral grounds. This includes website content containing nudity or content of a sexual nature, content relating to gambling or drugs, content relating to minority religions, content critical of Islam or in support of divergent forms of Islam (anything but Wahhabism is prohibited). All takedown requests are handled by the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC).

Websites and social media pages of human rights or political organizations, including websites that express views of women’s rights, are blocked. However, access to foreign language news websites are generally available (though certain pages may also be subjected to backouts if they are critical of Islam or the Saudi government).

Political opposition is also banned in Saudi Arabia and anybody found to be promulgating anti-government sentiment online or otherwise can be imprisoned and face the death sentence.

In September 2018, a dissident cleric was given the death sentence for criticizing the government on religious grounds. And, in October the government admitted that Saudi security forces had killed Jamal Khashoggi, a famous Saudi journalist after he traveled to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to seek the necessary papers to marry a Turkish woman.

That assassination was met with a severe backlash from the international community who strongly criticized the government treatment of the dissident writer. Many journalists and political dissidents continue to face long jail sentences under brutal conditions in Saudi prisons.

Gender segregation, as well as discrimination against minorities such as LGBTQ or religious minorities (anybody who deviates from strict Wahhabism), is also common. This often forces censorship onto those minorities by excluding them from access to information and involvement in participation in civil society.

A new anti-terrorism law passed in November 2017 allows the government to arrest anybody who uses digital means such as social media to bring the royal family into disrepute. The act of using social status or media influence to promote terrorism is also criminalized.

Since then large numbers of people including intellectuals, academics, religious clerics, and even members of the ruling family, have been arrested for promoting illegal views on social media. Reports have also surfaced that some of those arrests led to torture and even death. For this reason, it is becoming more dangerous to use the internet and social media to express dissenting opinions.

Websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and messengers such as Telegram, WhatsApp, Skype, Signal, Viber, and Facebook Messenger – as well as technologies for gaining privacy online – have all suffered blackouts from time to time. At the time of writing, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Telegram remain blocked, and can only be accessed using a virtual private network (VPN).

To conclude, while the internet is still the most free avenue for expressing opinions from within Saudi Arabia, access to website content and freedom of expression is severely restricted. In addition, fear, intimidation, and violence are successfully being used to enforce high levels of self-censorship. As a result of which, there is little room for freedom of speech.

Surveillance

In Saudi Arabia, surveillance is widespread. All of Saudi Arabia internet users are connected to the world wide web via two country-level data service providers. By bottlenecking all traffic through these servers, the government is able to perform high levels of data interception as it comes both in and out of the country.

In addition, because of the vast wealth held by the royal family – as well as the country links to the UK and the US and their highly invasive surveillance programs – it seems likely that the government has invested in highly sophisticated methods for intercepting data to perform surveillance.

A leak from the Italian firm, Hacking Team, in 2015, revealed that the Saudi government had purchased elite hacking tools that et them perform high levels of surveillance on citizens. Reportedly the government used these to snoop on political opponents and dissidents.

However, the lack of privacy protections and legislation in the country makes it entirely plausible that the government used those tools to intercept communications, access phone contacts, images, and to perform key logging and to take screenshots on any citizen device that it wishes. Reports have also surfaced that the UK defense contractor BAE Systems sold Saudi Arabia sophisticated surveillance systems.

The authorities also regularly monitor websites, blogs, chat rooms, social media sites, emails, and text messages. The Ministry of Culture and Information requires all blogs, forums, and chat rooms to obtain a license from the ministry. This ensures that all users are being monitored and that high levels of self-censorship ensue.

To similar ends, new requirements passed in 2015 forcing all mobile phone users to register using their fingerprints in order to obtain a service. This includes purchasing a new SIM card. Thus, there is no way to gain telecoms technology anonymously within the country.

Piracy

All websites that provide access to pirated content – both via streaming and downloading via BitTorrent (the Pirate Bay, for example) – are blocked by Saudi ISPs. However, the government does not appear to hunt down and prosecute copyright pirates.

On the other hand, the use of privacy tools (if detected) could be enough to raise suspicions from the Saudi authorities, which could lead to arrest, torture, false accusations of blasphemy, and possibly death. For this reason, the use of VPN technology and other forms of privacy and location spoofing tools should be approached with caution.

Websites for major VPNs and Tor are blocked by the government in an attempt to stop people using privacy and location spoofing tools.

A guide to internet censorship in France and how to bypass surveillance and blocks with a French VPN

[[post-object type=”article-stats” country=”france” provider=”expressvpn” image=”https://cdn.proprivacy.com/storage/images/proprivacy/2020/11/shutterstock-667548661jpg-content_image-default.png?1606487509452″ social=”true” news=”true” /]] France is a country with a population of 67 million people. It is a relatively well-off country with an average income of $2594 per month. However, the poverty rate stands at about 10 percent of the population – and is higher in…

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France is a country with a population of 67 million people. It is a relatively well-off country with an average income of $2594 per month. However, the poverty rate stands at about 10 percent of the population – and is higher in the city of Paris, where it is 14% – and jumps up to 40% in certain neighborhoods. Thus, France can be understood to be an extremely polarized nation where the top 20% of earners take home five times more than the bottom 20%.

This disparity between the richest and the poorest members of society, and a general belief that not enough is being done to protect the poorer classes, has been the driving force for the yellow vest protests that have marred France since November 2018. Those protests are ongoing.

Despite the high rates of poverty in urban areas of France, Internet penetration rates are 1% higher than the EU average – with 86% of people able to access the internet. This is primarily due to intense competition between Internet service providers in metropolitan France, which has led to moderately priced high-speed internet access.

However, France is a country that maintains high levels of digital surveillance, and works closely with international actors to monitor and track citizens for intelligence purposes.

Political Overview

France is a representative democracy officially recognized as a semi-presidential republic. In such a system, governing is split into an executive, legislative, and judicial branch. The country has a bicameral parliament existing of the National Assembly and the Senate. These are charged with the legislative. Executive power is held by both the President of the Republic and the government.

The government in run by a Prime Minister and ministers. The Prime Minister is decided via elections every four years. At that time he is appointed by the President and becomes responsible to parliament.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron of the On The Move! (OTM) party became President. OTM is a centrist, social-liberal political party which also won a clear majority in legislative elections held later that year. Macron has promised reforms of the tax system, social welfare, education, and immigration policies.

Overall, France is a country that enforces strong democratic processes. Elections happen in a free and open manner, and there are robust protections for both civil and political rights. However, due to a rise in terrorist attacks, France has undergone a shift in which constitutional protections have been curbed in order to provide extra power to law enforcement.

A state of emergency which lasted from November 2015 until October 2017, was only finally de-escalated due to the introduction of an anti-terrorism bill that gave the police the ability to continue enjoying the increased powers for surveillance imposed during the state of emergency.

During this period of upheaval, anti-Muslim sentiment has grown within the nation and minorities have reported feeling excluded from France’s political sphere. However, on the whole women, religious minorities, and minorities such as the LGBTQ community enjoy the freedom to participate openly in civil society and politics.

The ability to form new opposition groups is available, and there are opportunities for emerging political parties or NGOs to express themselves openly and gain exposure.

Censorship

Although France does have an open and fair media, it is also true that journalists can be forced to reveal their sources if it is deemed of public interest. This is problematic, because it can discourage people from coming forward to impart knowledge about events, or to complain about government or police abuses.

Despite this slight drawback, it is generally agreed that the press have the freedom to express dissenting opinions and to report openly. One significant exception to this occurred in the run up to the 2017 Presidential elections. At that time, important documents stolen by hackers from Macron campaign were leaked online.

Those insider documents, which were allegedly hacked by Russian government operatives, were instantly subjected to a national media blackout – in order to restrict the negative impact that those documents might have on the election.

According to insiders at the electoral commission, who issued the nationwide blackout, information contained within the leaks had been fabricated and its reporting by the media could have led to election bias.

Online, there is a slightly higher level of censorship. Since the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, websites that contain terrorist information or that condone terrorism in any way are subjected to a blackout.

In France, the Central Office for the Fight against Crime related to Information and Communication Technology (OCLCTIC) is charged with creating a blacklist of sites that French ISPs must block. That list is reviewed every four months. OCLCTIC begins by asking the website to remove offending content, and if it fails to do so, ISP blocks are ordered.

Complaints have been made that the ability to block websites is done without proper judicial oversight. However, content removal is generally accepted to be fair and to only occur in response to website content that incites hatred, racism, Holocaust denial, that contains child pornography, copyright infringement, or content that is defamatory.

It is worth noting that while the interior minister has never resorted to using the power, anti-terrorism laws passed in 2017 do permit social media websites to be blocked if they are found to contain content that incites or glorifies acts of terrorism.

Draft laws proposed by Macron government also sought to permit blocking of websites during elections. According to the government, those blocks would be used to ensure disinformation does not color the electoral process. The law was eventually rejected by the Senate.

Surveillance

Since 2014, France has experienced numerous terrorist attacks. Those terrifying incidents have been used by police to justify the passage of laws that permit for an extension to surveillance capabilities within the Nation.

An intelligence bill passed in July 2015 permits intelligence agencies to perform digital surveillance without the need of a warrant. In addition, ISPs must install algorithms that analyze users’ metadata for suspicious behavior.

An addendum to that law tacked on in 2016, permits police to snoop not only on people suspected of terrorism or criminal activities – but also people who are likely to be related or part of an entourage with a person of interest.

A law passed in November 2015 allows for all electronic communications coming in and out of France to be intercepted for national security reasons. And another law passed in 2016, allows judges and other investigative forces to perform surveillance, including by bugging private locations and using phone eavesdropping devices.

An anti-terrorism bill passed in 2017 made temporary police powers that had been enforced during the nation State of Emergency permanent. It includes provision for monitoring wireless communications, except for WiFi.

An addendum to a military spending bill passed in 2018 permits France internal and external intelligence agencies to share data. This is concerning considering that France is part for the 9 Eyes surveillance cooperative with the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Germany among others.

Finally, French authorities are permitted to install malwareu2014such as keystroke logging software, spyware, or Trojans on a suspect computer. A warrant must be obtained first. However, this law combined with the ability to snoop on people believed to be in a terrorist’s entourage – open the door for just about anybody in France to be legally hacked. 

In France copyright piracy is enforced with legislation protecting all forms of original creative work and intellectual property. ISPs enforce blocks on a large number of websites, including all sites that provide either direct or indirect access to streams or downloads of pirated content. Thus BitTorrent sites such as the Pirate Bay and illegal streaming websites are blocked.

In addition, a new law expected to be passed in the summer of 2019 will allow ISPs to begin blocking proxy websites and services used in to bypass ISP blocks of streaming, BitTorrent, and other websites involved in disseminating copyrighted works. In addition, French legislators have promised that they will begin enforcing article 13 with no delay.

France currently has a three strikes and you are out law that allows ISPs to cut off people who are repeatedly found to have accessed pirated material has been dismantled. However, the national assembly has voted to kill that law (but it is likely to pass through the Senate). ISPs are known to have worked with copyright holders in order to help them engage in lawsuits and to send out prospecting invoicing letters.

For this reason, it can be understood to be dangerous to engage in any online piracy without the use of a VPN to conceal those activities. Failure to do could result in your internet connection being cut off.