The State of Internet Censorship in Egypt
The report uncovers anomalies on Egyptian networks, including
censorship and the hijacking of unencrypted HTTP connections for
advertising and cryptocurrency mining.Read full report in English
Read full report in Arabic
Read the summary of the report in Arabic
Last year, Egypt ordered the blocking of 21 news websites.
OONI, a censorship measurement project
under the Tor Project, responded by publishing a
report on the
blocking of (at least) 10 media websites, including Mada Masr
and Al Jazeera.
In an attempt to identify the remaining blocked sites, Egypt’s
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) ran OONI Probe across multiple networks
in Egypt. They subsequently published two research reports,
uncovering the blocking of hundreds of URLs (which expand beyond media
OONI and AFTE joined forces. Today, we publish a joint research report
on internet censorship in Egypt, based on our analysis of OONI network measurements collected
between January 2017 to May 2018.
Our research report is available
Below we share some of the key findings.
More than 1,000 URLs
presented network anomalies throughout the testing period,
of which consistently presented a high ratio of HTTP failures, strongly
suggesting that they were blocked. Rather than serving block pages
(which would have provided a notification of the blocking), Egyptian
ISPs appear to primarily block sites through the use of Deep Packet
Inspection (DPI) technology that resets connections.
In some cases, instead of RST injection, ISPs drop packets, suggesting a
variance in filtering rules. In other cases, ISPs interfere with the SSL encrypted traffic
between Cloudflare’s Point-of-Presence in Cairo and the backend servers
hosted outside of Egypt. Latency measurements over the last year and a
half also suggest that Egyptian ISPs may have changed their filtering
equipment and/or techniques, since the latency-based detection of
middleboxes has become more challenging.
The chart below illustrates the types of sites that presented the
highest amount of network anomalies and are therefore considered to more
likely have been blocked.
More than 100 URLs
that belong to media organizations appear to have been blocked, even
though Egyptian authorities only ordered the blocking of 21 news websites
last year. These include Egyptian news outlets (such as Mada Masr,
Masr Al Arabia
and Daily News Egypt),
as well as international media sites (such as Al Jazeera
and Huffington Post Arabic).
Various Turkish and Iranian news websites were blocked (such as
suggesting that politics and security concerns may have influenced
censorship decisions. In an attempt to circumvent censorship, some
Egyptian media organizations set up alternative domains,
but (in a few cases) they got
To examine the impact of these censorship events, AFTE interviewed
staff members working with some of the Egyptian media organizations
whose websites got blocked. They reported that the censorship has had a
severe impact on their work. In addition to not being able to publish
and losing part of their audience, the censorship has also had a
financial impact on their operations and deterred sources from reaching
out to their journalists. A number of Egyptian media organizations have
their work entirely, as a result of persisting internet censorship.
Many other websites, beyond media, appear to have been blocked as well.
These include human rights websites (such as Human Rights Watch,
Reporters without Borders,
the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information,
the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms,
and the Journalists Observatory against Torture)
and sites expressing political criticism (such as the April 6 Youth Movement),
raising the question of whether censorship decisions were politically
“Defense in depth” tactics for network filtering
Security experts are probably familiar with the “defense in depth”
concept in which multiple layers of security controls (defense) are
placed throughout an IT system, providing redundancy in the event that a
security control fails. In Egypt, ISPs seem to apply “defense in depth”
tactics for network filtering by creating multiple layers of
censorship that make circumvention harder.
This is particularly evident when looking at the
of Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) site. Our testing shows that
different versions of this site (http://www.fj-p.com and
http://fj-p.com) were blocked by two different middleboxes. In doing
so, Egyptian ISPs added extra layers of censorship, ensuring that
circumvention requires extra effort.
Not only were numerous circumvention tool sites (including
blocked, but access to the Tor network appears to be blocked as well.
Measurements collected from Link Egypt (AS24863)
and Telecom Egypt (AS8452)
suggest that the Tor network is inaccessible, since the tests weren’t
able to bootstrap connections to the Tor network within 300 seconds. In
recent months, more than 460 measurements show connections to the Tor
network failing consistently. Similarly, measurements collected from
Etisalat Misr (AS36992),
and Vodafone (AS36935)
indicate that access to the Tor network is blocked. The Tor bootstrap
process is likely being disrupted via the blocking of requests to directory authorities.
“Defense in depth” tactics also seem to be applied in relation to the
blocking of Tor bridges, which
enable Tor censorship circumvention. Vodafone appears to be blocking obfs4
(shipped as part of Tor Browser), since all attempted connections were
unsuccessful (though it remains unclear if private bridges work). All
measurements collected from Telecom Egypt show that obfs4works.
Given that bridges.torproject.org is
users can alternatively get Tor bridges by sending an email to
email@example.com (from a
Riseup, Gmail, or
Back in 2016, OONI
that state-owned Telecom Egypt was using DPI (or similar networking
equipment) to hijack users’ unencrypted HTTP connections and inject
redirects to revenue-generating content, such as affiliate ads. The
Citizen Lab expanded upon this research,
the use of Sandvine PacketLogic devices and redirects being injected by
(at least) 17 Egyptian ISPs.
Over the last year, hundreds of OONI Probe network measurements (collected from
the hijacking of unencrypted HTTP connections and the injection of
redirects to affiliate ads and cryptocurrency mining scripts. A wide
range of different types of URLs were affected, including the sites of
the Palestinian Prisoner Society
and the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice,
as well as
sites. Even the sites of the United Nations, such as
were among those affected by redirects to ads.
Expand upon our research
This study is part of an ongoing effort to monitor internet censorship
in Egypt and around the world. Since this research was carried out
through the use of free and open source software, open methodologies and open data, it can be reproduced and expanded upon.
Anyone can run OONI Probe on
Android, iOS, macOS, Linux, and on Raspberry Pis. Tens of thousands of
OONI Probe users from more than 200 countries do so every month. Thanks to
their testing, millions of network measurements have been
light on information controls worldwide.
But censorship findings are only as interesting as the types of sites
and services that are tested. We therefore encourage you to contribute to the review and creation of test lists,
to help advance future research in Egypt and beyond.
To learn more about this study, read the full report here.