CovertCast: Using Live Streaming to Evade Internet Censorship

Richard McPherson 1 , Amir Houmansadr 2  and Vitaly Shmatikov 3
  • 1 The University of Texas at Austin
  • 2 University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • 3 Cornell Tech


We design, implement, and evaluate CovertCast, a censorship circumvention system that broadcasts the content of popular websites in real-time, encrypted video streams on common live-streaming services such as YouTube. CovertCast does not require any modifications to the streaming service and employs the same protocols, servers, and streaming software as any other user of the service. Therefore, CovertCast cannot be distinguished from other live streams by IP address filtering or protocol fingerprinting, raising the bar for censors.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • [1] Anonymizer.

  • [2] BRUBAKER, C., HOUMANSADR, A., AND SHMATIKOV, V. CloudTransport: Using Cloud Storage for Censorship- Resistant Networking. In PETS (2014).

  • [3] BURNETT, S., FEAMSTER, N., AND VEMPALA, S. Chipping Away at Censorship Firewalls with User-Generated Content. In USENIX Security (2010).

  • [4] Collateral Freedom: A Snapshot of Chinese Internet Users Circumventing Censorship., 2013.

  • [5] DINGLEDINE, R., AND MATHEWSON, N. Design of a Blocking- Resistant Anonymity System.

  • [6] DINGLEDINE, R., MATHEWSON, N., AND SYVERSON, P. Tor: The Second-generation Onion Router. In USENIX Security (2004).

  • [7] FEAMSTER, N., BALAZINSKA, M., HARFST, G., BALAKRISHNAN, H., AND KARGER, D. Infranet: Circumventing Web Censorship and Surveillance. In USENIX Security (2002).

  • [8] FIFIELD, D., LAN, C., HYNES, R., WEGMANN, P., AND PAXSON, V. Blocking-resistant Communication through Domain Fronting. In PETS (2015).

  • [9] GEDDES, J., SCHUCHARD, M., AND HOPPER, N. Cover Your ACKs: Pitfalls of Covert Channel Censorship Circumvention. In CCS (2013).

  • [10] HOLOWCZAK, J., AND HOUMANSADR, A. CacheBrowser: Bypassing Chinese Censorship without Proxies Using Cached Content. In CCS (2015).

  • [11] HOUMANSADR, A., BRUBAKER, C., AND SHMATIKOV, V. The Parrot Is Dead: Observing Unobservable Network Communications. In S&P (2013).

  • [12] HOUMANSADR, A., NGUYEN, G., CAESAR, M., AND BORISOV, N. Cirripede: Circumvention Infrastructure Using Router Redirection with Plausible Deniability. In CCS (2011).

  • [13] HOUMANSADR, A., RIEDL, T., BORISOV, N., AND SINGER, A. I Want My Voice to Be Heard: IP over Voice-over-IP for Unobservable Censorship Circumvention. In NDSS (2013).

  • [14] HOUMANSADR, A., WONG, E. L., AND SHMATIKOV, V. No Direction Home: The True Cost of Routing Around Decoys. In NDSS (2014).

  • [15] HOUMANSADR, A., ZHOU, W., CAESAR, M., AND BORISOV, N. SWEET: Serving the Web by Exploiting Email Tunnels. In PETS (2013).

  • [16] KARLIN, J., ELLARD, D., JACKSON, A., JONES, C., LAUER, G., MANKINS, D., AND STRAYER, W. Decoy Routing: Toward Unblockable Internet Communication. In FOCI (2011).

  • [17] KULLBACK, S., AND LEIBLER, R. A. On information and sufficiency. The Annals of Mathematical Statistics (1951), 79-86.

  • [18] LI, S., SCHLIEP, M., AND HOPPER, N. Facet: Streaming over Videoconferencing for Censorship Circumvention. In WPES (2014).

  • [19] MAHDIAN, M. Fighting Censorship with Algorithms. In Fun with Algorithms (2010).

  • [20] MCCOY, D., MORALES, J. A., AND LEVCHENKO, K. Proximax: A Measurement Based System for Proxies Dissemination. In FC (2011).

  • [21] MCLACHLAN, J., AND HOPPER, N. On the Risks of Serving Whenever You Surf: Vulnerabilities in Tor’s Blocking Resistance Design. In WPES (2009).

  • [22] meek Pluggable Transport.

  • [23] MOGHADDAM, H., LI, B., DERAKHSHANI, M., AND GOLDBERG, I. SkypeMorph: Protocol Obfuscation for Tor Bridges In CCS (2012).

  • [24] Tor: Pluggable Transports.

  • [25] Psiphon.

  • [26] SCHUCHARD, M., GEDDES, J., THOMPSON, C., AND HOPPER, N. Routing Around Decoys. In CCS (2012).

  • [27] SOVRAN, Y., LIBONATI, A., AND LI, J. Pass It On: Social Networks Stymie Censors. In IPTPS (2008).

  • [28] Ten Ways to Discover Tor Bridges.

  • [29] Ultrasurf.

  • [30] WANG, L., DYER, K. P., AKELLA, A., RISTENPART, T., AND SHRIMPTON, T. Seeing Through Network-Protocol Obfuscation. In CCS (2015).

  • [31] WANG, Q., GONG, X., NGUYEN, G., HOUMANSADR, A., AND BORISOV, N. CensorSpoofer: Asymmetric Communication Using IP Spoofing for Censorship-Resistant Web Browsing. In CCS (2012).

  • [32] WANG, Q., LIN, Z., BORISOV, N., AND HOPPER, N. rBridge: User Reputation Based Tor Bridge Distribution with Privacy Preservation. In NDSS (2013).

  • [33] WEINBERG, Z., WANG, J., YEGNESWARAN, V., BRIESEMEISTER, L., CHEUNG, S., WANG, F., AND BONEH, D. StegoTorus: A Camouflage Proxy for the Tor Anonymity System. In CCS (2012).

  • [34] WILDE, T. Knock Knock Knockin’ on Bridges’ Doors., 2012.

  • [35] WINTER, P., AND LINDSKOG, S. How the Great Firewall of China Is Blocking Tor. In FOCI (2012).

  • [36] WRIGHT, C., BALLARD, L., MONROSE, F., AND MASSON, G. Language Identification of Encrypted VoIP Traffic: Alejandra y Roberto or Alice and Bob? In USENIX Security (2007).

  • [37] WUSTROW, E., WOLCHOK, S., GOLDBERG, I., AND HALDERMAN, J. Telex: Anticensorship in the Network Infrastructure. In USENIX Security (2011).


Journal + Issues