An Israeli Internet filtering start-up called GreenTeam has been drafted to help Turkish citizens who are trying to get around their government’s bans on Twitter and YouTube — and the call came from Turkish citizens themselves. “On Tuesday we noticed there was a lot of traffic on our servers, more than usual,” GreenTeam CEO David Allouch told The Times of Israel. “A check of the IP addresses connecting to us showed that most of them originated in Turkey — with about 100,000 connections from Turkish users over a 24-hour period.”
Over the past several weeks, Turkish government officials, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have railed against Twitter and YouTube, accusing them of undermining his rule, and calling them “society’s worst menace” and “threats to national security.” The bans came after Twitter users sent links to conversations of alleged wiretaps in which Erdogan instructed his sons to move millions of dollars in cash out of their homes to evade a government corruption investigation. Those conversations were also posted on YouTube.
Allouch didn’t set out to foster Internet unrest in Turkey, he said; it’s just that the filtering service GreenTeam offers happens to be free, and by using the service’s DNS addresses, users can outfox Turkish Internet service providers (ISPs) and get to Twitter, YouTube, or any other sites the Turkish authorities try to ban.
A DNS (Domain Name Service) server converts website names into the numerical IP addresses that make up the Internet. Web addresses can be hard to pin down; in order to maximize efficiency, service providers dole them out dynamically, providing extra servers for sites that are popular, and taking those servers down when traffic is slow. Technically, a user needs to have a numerical IP address — like 126.96.36.199 — to connect to a website’s server. But since the numbers are constantly changing, ISPs use a domain server, which includes tables that indicate which web address (www.websitename.com) is connected to what IP address at any given time.
GreenTeam’s domain server does this, but with a twist: it deletes from its tables any websites and IP addresses that are associated with malware, phishing, and other Internet dangers. Users who replace their computer or router DNS address (usually provided by the ISP) with GreenTeam’s are unable to reach sites that have a history of phishing or transferring viruses to users who connect; since they are not on the GreenTeam DNS server, it’s as if they don’t exist.
The Turkish users, said Allouch, weren’t interested in the filtering service offered by GreenTech, but rather in the fact that the service was offering a free, alternative DNS service that they could use that did not ban YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and the other social media sites they wanted to use. That the mass connection occurred Wednesday morning was also no accident; the day before, Turkish ISPs banned connections to an open DNS server run by Google.
With that outlet closed to them, Allouch said, word of GreenTeam’s alternative spread like wildfire within Turkey’s apparently very large base of users dissatisfied with the restrictions their government has imposed on them.
Allouch has a soft spot for his new Turkish friends; he himself is former “black hat” hacker who attacked business and government sites in his native France, and — as part of his penance – served in the French army’s cyber-security unit, protecting the country’s defense infrastructure from cyber-attacks, which were not uncommon even back in the mid-1990s, when he served. After coming to Israel in 2003, Allouch started Applicure, a cyber-security company, that’s now publicly traded.
There’s no reason the Turkish authorities can’t clamp down on GreenTeam’s connection to the country by banning the IP addresses associated with its DNS server, just like they did with Google’s. In fact, said Allouch, on Wednesday night, “someone registered to our website and start sending a very high load of requests to slow down or block our DNS servers, also with a Turkish IP address. It is hard to imagine that this is not related to the use of our servers by Turks seeking to get around the government ban. We have blocked that user, but I have a feeling this isn’t the end of it.”
A hacker at heart, Allouch is all for the free and open exchange of information and opinions on the Internet, and attempts as censorship, such as that of the Turkish government, get his goat. “We’ve decided to do what we can to help Turkish users out,” said Allouch. “Starting Thursday we will set up an alternative DNS server without filtering restrictions, specifically for use by Turkish Internet users.”
And if Turkey tries to ban that server, Allouch is ready. “We are going to change the DNS IP address as often as necessary, and get the word out to the Turkish Internet community that we are here to help them,” said Allouch. “If they are turning to us, we have an obligation to help them out.”