The State of Internet Censorship in Malaysia
Block page in Malaysia
A research study by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and
Table of contents
Probed ISPs: TM Net (AS4788), TM-VADS DC Hosting (AS17971)
Censorship method: DNS injection (block pages)
OONI tests: Web Connectivity, Vanilla Tor, HTTP invalid request
line, HTTP header field manipulation, Meek Fronted Requests test
New OONI data
published in this report reveals that 39 different websites were
blocked in Malaysia by ISPs through the DNS injection of block
pages. These sites include:
News outlets, blogs and medium.com for covering the 1MDB scandal.
A site that expresses heavy
criticism towards Islam.
Popular torrenting sites (such as thepiratebay.org).
A popular online dating site.
While the blocking of some sites (such as pornography and online
gambling) can be legally justified under Malaysia’s laws and
regulations, the blocking of sites covering the 1MDB scandal
illustrates that such censorship was politically motivated.
On a positive note, some previously blocked sites
(Bersih rally websites) were found to be
when tested between September to November 2016. No signs of censorship
were detected when examining the accessibility of social media,
censorship circumvention tools and LGBTI websites in the country during
the testing period.
View the data collected as part of this study:
Malaysia is a Federal Constitutional Elective country with Westminster
Parliamentary System. Malaysia has a population of around 30.9 million,
with broadband penetration 72.2% for households and 91.7% for individual
users, while the figures surpass the population figures for access to
the internet on mobile phones. More than 80 percent of Internet users
live in urban areas, and penetration remains low in less populated
states in East Malaysia.
Malaysia’s constitution provides citizens with “the right to freedom of
speech and expression,” and MSC Malaysia has guaranteed in the Bill of
Guarantees No.71 that it will ensure there is no censorship on the
internet. However, as of November 2015, 37 incidents
have occurred involving the investigation, arrest, charge and/or
punishment of individuals under the Communication and Multimedia Act
(CMA) documented by SUARAM. Various websites have also been
over the last year, especially following the 1MDB scandal and
subsequent retaliation against sites covering the
In light of recent censorship events in
Malaysia, the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), in collaboration with Sinar Project, conducted a study to examine
whether internet censorship events were persisting in the country and,
if so, to collect data that can serve as evidence of them. This study
was carried out through the collection of network measurements from two
local vantage points in Malaysia, based on OONI software tests designed to examine
whether a set of websites were blocked, and whether systems that could
be responsible for internet censorship and surveillance were present in
the tested networks (AS4788 and AS17971).
The aim of this study is to increase transparency about internet
controls in Malaysia and to collect data that can potentially
corroborate rumours and reports of internet censorship events. The
following sections of this report provide information about Malaysia’s
legal environment with respect to freedom of expression, access to
information, and privacy, as well as about cases of censorship and
surveillance that have previously been reported in the country. The
remainder of the report documents the methodology and key findings of
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multicultural country with a population
of around 30 million
as of 2016, situated in the middle of Southeast Asia. Geographically,
Malaysia consists of two parts: Peninsular Malaysia bordering with
Thailand in the north and Singapore in the south, and East Malaysia on
the northern part of the island of Borneo bordering with Indonesia in
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy, consisting of 13 states
and 3 federal territories. Malaysia is also multiracial, consisting of
Bumiputras and Muslim Malays that make up the majority
of the population. Bumiputera status is also accorded to certain
non-Malay indigenous people of East Malaysia. 22.6% of Malaysia’s
population is Chinese, while 6.7% is Indian. Ethnicity plays a major
role in Malaysia, as there are a number of rights and privileges
accorded to bumiputeras due to racial economic policies in place in
Statistics from the 2010 census
show a religious makeup of the population at 61% Muslims, 19.8%
Buddhist, 9.3% Christians and 6.3% Hindu. Religious beliefs mostly
follow ethnic lines. Article 11 of the
provides for freedom of religion, but it restricts propagation of any
religious doctrine or belief among Muslims. All Malays however are
Muslim by law, and apostasy is not legally allowed. Islam is a state
religion, and state governments can impose Islamic law on Muslims. The
government only accepts Sunni Islamic beliefs and any other Islamic
beliefs, such as Shia, are not recognized and considered as deviant. The
distribution in peninsular Malaysia of Malay-language translations of
the Bible, Christian tapes, and other printed materials.
Politically Malaysia has been governed by single coalition government at
the federal level by the Barisan Nasional (National Front) since independence in 1957.
The National Front is made up of several race based parties dominated by
the Malay ethnic party United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). The
Barisan Nasional Coalition has been in power in all the state
governments since independence, with a few brief periods where it lost
in Eastern States of Kelantan and Sabah. This has resulted in a
government and population that often does not differentiate between the
roles of the elected executive and government. In 2008 however the
political landscape changed when the opposition parties won elections in two of the largest states
by economy in Penang and Selangor. Over a third of the federal
parliamentary seats were also won by the opposition in this election. In
the last elections in 2013, the opposition gained more seats in both
federal and states, while winning the popular vote. This has resulted in
a current parliament that has demanded more accountability from the
Economically Malaysia has been one of the fastest developing countries in Asia for the past few
decades with a GDP growing on average 6.5 per cent annually from 1957 to
2005. Malaysia is a highly open and competitive, upper-middle income
In relation to its ASEAN neighbours, with the exception of Singapore,
Malaysia ranks much higher when it comes to the measurement of
corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Malaysia
ranked 50th in 2015. On 2nd July 2015, the Wall Street Journal released
a bombshell by disclosing documents that showed that USD 680 million was transferred to the personal accounts of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
possibly from the 1MDB state-owned investment company. Eventual leaks
and stories over the course of several months finally led to a detailed
public US Department of Justice Kleptocracy department case which traced
how public money totalling USD 3.5 billion was stolen from the Malaysian
The implications of 1MDB for governance are far reaching in Malaysia. It
led to the
of the Attorney General and transfers of senior investigating staff of
MACC. The Auditor General report from PAC investigation on 1MDB was also
classified under the Official Secrets Act.
During the October-November 2016 parliamentary sessions, discussions on
1MDB and the Department of Justice case have been censored. Despite
parliamentary privilege, MPs discussing 1MDB are called up by police for
sharing information on it.
Network landscape and internet penetration
All internet and mobile services providers in Malaysia are
privately-owned. Overall, Malaysia has 10 different Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) with 4 major mobile operators: DiGi, Maxis, Celcom and
|Packet One Networks (P1)
|Telekom Malaysia (TMnet)
Internet penetration in Malaysia is currently
households and 91.7% for individual users, while the figures surpass the
population figures for access to the internet on mobile phones. More
than 80% of internet users live in urban areas, and penetration remains
low in less populated states in East Malaysia.
Indicators and internet penetration rates per 100 inhabitants and
households from 2011 to 2016 are illustrated below.
|Direct Exchange Line
|Per 100 Inhabitants
|Per 100 Households
|Per 100 Households
|Per 100 Inhabitants
Source: Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commision
Malaysia’s constitution and Bill of Guarantees provides citizens with
“the right to freedom of speech and expression,” but allows for
limitations to this right. The government exercises tight control over
online media, print, and broadcast media through laws like the
Official Secrets Act
and the Sedition Act.
Under Section 211 of the Communication and Multimedia Act (CMA),
Malaysian authorities can ban content deemed “indecent, obscene, false,
threatening, or offensive,” and the same, under Section 233 of the CMA,
applies to such content shared over the internet.
In 2012, Malaysia’s parliament passed an
to the 1950 Evidence Act
that holds intermediaries liable for seditious content posted
anonymously on their networks or websites. This would include hosts of
online forums, news outlets, and blogging services, as well as
businesses providing Wi-Fi services. The amendment also holds someone
liable if their name is attributed to the content or if the computer it
was sent from belongs to them, whether or not they were the author. In
2015 the parliament passed an
to the Sedition Act that added a new section which empowers the court to
issue an order to an authorised officer under the Communications and Multimedia Act
to prevent access to such publications if the perpetrator is not
Freedom of expression
Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under Article 10 of the
Federal Constitution of Malaysia.
In practice, however, this right can be limited by the vague
interpretations of laws that restrict expression in the interest of
national security, safety and public order.
Sedition Act 1948
Malaysia’s Sedition Act can
potentially be used to restrict freedom of expression online. Sections
3(1) and 4(1) of the Act can be used against any form of statement that
contents seditious tendency - to bring hatred, or to excite disaffection
against any Ruler and Government; to promote feelings of ill will and
hostility between different races or classes of the population of
Malaysia; to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege,
Communication & Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998
Section 211 of the CMA
bans content deemed “indecent, obscene, false, threatening, or
offensive,” and, under Section 233, the same applies to content shared
over the internet.
Evidence Act 1950
to Malaysia’s Evidence Act
hold intermediaries liable for seditious content posted anonymously on
their networks or websites. This includes hosts of online forums, news
outlets, and blogging services, as well as businesses providing Wi-Fi
services. The amendment also holds someone liable if their name is
attributed to the content or if the computer it was sent from belongs to
them, whether or not they were the author.
Printing, Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984
in 2012 expanded its scope and includes ‘publications’ (anything which
by its form, shape or in any manner is capable of suggesting words or
ideas) posted online and plug loopholes.
Access to information
Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972
Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act
is a broadly-worded law which carries a maximum penalty of life
imprisonment for actions associated with the wrongful collection,
possession or communication of official information. Any public officer
can declare any material an official secret: a certification which
cannot be questioned in court. The act allows for arrest and detention
without a warrant, and substantially reverses the burden of proof. It
states that “until the contrary is proven,” any of the activities
proscribed under the Act will be presumed to have been undertaken “for a
purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of Malaysia.”
Personal Data Protection Act 2010
Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act protects
any personal data collected in Malaysia from being misused. According to
the Act, one must obtain the consent of data subjects before collecting
their personal data or sharing it with third parties. In order for their
consent to be valid, data collectors must provide data subjects with a
written notice of the purpose for the data collection, their rights to
request or correct their data, what class of third parties will have
access to their data, and whether or not they are required to share
their data, and the consequences if they don’t.
Censorship and surveillance
Communications & Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998
Section 211 of the CMA
bans content deemed “indecent, obscene, false, threatening, or
offensive,” and, under Section 233, the same applies to content shared
over the internet.
Prevention of Crime Act (PoCA) 1959
allows for detention without trial for a period of two years. This order
can be extended to another two years by the Board. A supervision order
allows for a registered person to be attached with an electronic
monitoring device and imposes conditions such as restriction on internet
use or meeting with other registered persons.
Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act (SOSMA) 2012
has replaced the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960,
which allowed for infinitely renewable detentions without trial. SOSMA
authorizes phone-tapping and communications powers to the government, as
well as an electronic anklet to track the freed detainees of the
Prevention of Terrorism Act (PoTA). More recently, SOSMA has been used
to raid the offices
of human rights defenders.
Prevention of Terrorism Act (PoTA) 2015
enables the Malaysian authorities to detain terror suspects without
trial for a period of two years, without judicial reviews of detentions.
Instead, detentions will be reviewed by a special Prevention of
Terrorism Board. Suspected militants will be fitted with electronic
monitoring devices (EMD or electronic anklets) upon their release from
Previous cases of internet censorship and surveillance
In 2013, Citizen Lab research found evidence of a FinFisher server
running in Malaysia, and later found evidence of Finfisher software
embedded in an election related document. The Malaysian government
neither confirmed nor denied the use of Finfisher.
Hacking Team Surveillance Software
Leaked Hacking Team emails in 2015 revealed
that at least three government agencies, including the Prime Minister’s
Hacking Team’s Remote Control System (RCS): spyware designed to evade
encryption and to remotely collect information from a target’s computer.
The same emails, however, also revealed that the procuring agencies
seemed to lack the technical capacity to use the software.
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to timeout HTTP requests
Before the 2013 general elections, users were reporting that some
Youtube videos with politically sensitive content were not viewable.
Sinar Project and other researchers independently
that unencrypted HTTP requests on two ISPs (Maxis and TMNet) that
matched some URL strings were timing out. Several other URLs with
political content were also found to be affected by a similar block
by running a test that would split the HTTP headers into smaller packets. As it was only
affecting two ISPs and there does not seem to be any specific pattern to
the urls being blocked, it was not conclusive that this was sanctioned
by any government agency.
This same method of censorship was repeated on 16th February 2016, when
users in Malaysia reported that a BBC article covering an
embarrassing meme of a quote from then Prime Minister Najib Razak was
blocked. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) however
any government involvement.
News outlets blocked
Access to the Sarawak Report website
by the Malaysian Communications And Multimedia Commission (MCMC) since
July 2015 on the grounds that it may undermine the stability of the
country, as announced on the MCMC’s official Facebook page.
This marks the first official confirmation of blocking of political
websites in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government has blocked at least ten websites, including
online news portals (Sarawak Report,
Malaysia Chronicle, The Malaysian Insider, Asia Sentinel,
Medium) and private blogs, for reporting about
the scandal surrounding Malaysian Prime Minister Najib tun Razak over
his mysterious private dealings with RM2.6 billions.
The suspension of the publishing permit
of the Edge Weekly and the Edge Financial Daily for three months over
the reports on 1MDB and the arrests of Lionel Morais, Amin Iskandar,
Zulkifli Sulong, Ho Kay Tat and Jahabar Sadiq were blatant punishment
and harassment of the mass media and journalists by the Malaysian
Last year, Malaysiakini’s office was
raided over the report
that a deputy public prosecutor was transferred out of the Malaysian
Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) special operations division. On the
same day, the Royal Malaysian Police, aided by the Malaysian
Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), also
The Star headquarters over a similar
Blocking of websites promoting Bersih 4
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
blocked four websites for
spreading information on Bersih in August 2015. These websites include
http://bersih.org, http://globalbersih.org, http://www.bersih.org and
marked the second confirmation of directive to censor political websites
after Sarawak Report. After the Bersih 4 protests
on 29th and 30th August, the blocking of these sites was lifted soon
Official announcements of blocked sites by MCMC
Over the last year, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia
Commission (MCMC) has officially announced the blocking of numerous
sites. These include sites involved in the propagation of the Islamic State (IS) ideology in the Malay language,
more than 1,000 porn websites,
and hundreds of online gambling sites.
Examining internet censorship in Malaysia
The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), in collaboration with Sinar Project, performed a study of internet
censorship in Malaysia. The aim of this study was to understand whether
and to what extent censorship events occurred in Malaysia during the
testing period (between September to November 2016).
The sections below document the methodology and key findings of this
The methodology of this study, in an attempt to identify potential
internet censorship events in Malaysia, included the following:
A list of URLs
that are relevant and commonly accessed in Malaysia was created, and
such URLs - along with other URLs
that are commonly accessed around the world - were tested for blocking
based on OONI’s free software tests. Such tests were
run from two local vantage points in Malaysia (AS4788 and AS17971), and
they also examined whether systems that are responsible for censorship,
surveillance and traffic manipulation were present in the tested
network. Once network measurement data was collected from these tests,
the data was subsequently processed and analyzed based on a set of
heuristics for detecting internet censorship and traffic manipulation.
The analysis period started on 24th September 2016 and concluded on 13th
Creation of a Malaysian test list
An important part of identifying censorship is determining which
websites to examine for blocking.
OONI’s software (called
OONI Probe) is designed to examine URLs contained in specific lists
(“test lists”) for censorship. By default, OONI Probe examines the
“global test list”,
which includes a wide range of internationally relevant websites, most
of which are in English. These websites fall under 30 categories,
ranging from news media, file sharing and culture, to provocative or
objectionable categories, like pornography, political criticism, and
These categories help ensure that a wide range of different types of
websites are tested, and they enable the examination of the impact of
censorship events (for example, if the majority of the websites found to
be blocked in a country fall under the “human rights” category, that may
have a bigger impact than other types of websites being blocked
elsewhere). The main reason why objectionable categories (such as
“pornography” and “hate speech”) are included for testing is because
they are more likely to be blocked due to their nature, enabling the
development of heuristics for detecting censorship elsewhere within a
In addition to testing the URLs included in the global test list,
OONI Probe is also designed to examine a test list which is specifically
created for the country that the user is running OONI Probe from, if such
a list exists. Unlike the global test list, country-specific test lists
include websites that are relevant and commonly accessed within specific
countries, and such websites are often in local languages. Similarly to
the global test list, country-specific test lists include websites that
fall under the same set of 30 categories,
as explained previously.
All test lists are hosted by the Citizen Lab on
GitHub, supporting OONI
and other network measurement projects in the creation and maintenance
of lists of URLs to test for censorship. Some criteria for adding URLs
to test lists include the following:
The URLs cover topics of socio-political interest within
The URLs are likely to be blocked because they include sensitive
content (i.e. they touch upon sensitive issues or express political criticism).
The URLs have been blocked in the past.
Users have faced difficulty connecting to those URLs.
The above criteria indicate that such URLs are more likely to be
blocked, enabling the development of heuristics for detecting censorship
within a country. Furthermore, other criteria for adding URLs are
reflected in the 30 categories
that URLs can fall under. Such categories, for example, can include
file-sharing, human rights, and news media, under which the websites of
file-sharing projects, human rights NGOs and media organizations can be
As part of this study, OONI and Sinar Project reviewed the Citizen Lab’s
test list for Malaysia
by adding more URLs to be tested for censorship. The recently added URLs
are specific to the Malaysian context and fall under the following
categories: human rights issues, political criticism, LGBTI, public
health, religion, social networking, and culture. Overall, 400 different URLs
that are relevant to Malaysia were tested as part of this study. In
addition, the URLs included in the Citizen Lab’s global list
(including 1,218 different URLs) were also tested. As such, a total of
1,618 different URLs were tested for censorship in Malaysia as part
of this research.
A core limitation to the study is the bias in terms of the URLs that
were selected for testing. The URL selection criteria included the
Websites that were more likely to be blocked, because their content expressed
Websites of organizations that were known to have previously been blocked and
were thus likely to be blocked again.
Websites reporting on human rights restrictions and violations.
The above criteria reflect bias in terms of which URLs were selected for
testing, as one of the core aims of this study was to examine whether
and to what extent websites reflecting criticism were blocked, limiting
open dialogue and and access to information across the country. As a
result of this bias, it is important to acknowledge that the findings of
this study are only limited to the websites that were tested, and do not
necessarily provide a complete view of other censorship events that may
have occurred during the testing period.
OONI network measurements
The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) is a free software project that
aims to increase transparency about internet censorship and traffic
manipulation around the world. Since 2011, OONI has developed multiple
free and open source software tests designed to
examine the following:
Blocking of websites.
Detection of systems responsible for censorship and traffic manipulation.
Reachability of circumvention tools (such as Tor, Psiphon, and Lantern) and
As part of this study, the following OONI software tests were run from two
local vantage points (AS4788 and AS17971) in Malaysia:
The web connectivity test was run with the aim of examining whether a
set of URLs (included in both the “global test list”,
and the recently updated “Malaysian test list”)
were blocked during the testing period and if so, how. The Vanilla Tor
test was run to examine the reachability of the Tor network, while the Meek Fronted Requests
test was run to examine whether the domains used by Meek (a type of
Tor bridge) work in tested
The HTTP invalid request line and HTTP header field manipulation tests
were run with the aim of examining whether “middle boxes” (systems
placed in the network between the user and a control server) that could
potentially be responsible for censorship and/or surveillance were
present in the tested network.
The sections below document how each of these tests are designed for the
purpose of detecting cases of internet censorship and traffic
whether websites are reachable and if they are not, it attempts to
determine whether access to them is blocked through DNS tampering, TCP
connection RST/IP blocking or by a transparent HTTP proxy. Specifically,
this test is designed to perform the following:
HTTP GET request
By default, this test performs the above (excluding the first step,
which is performed only over the network of the user) both over a
control server and over the network of the user. If the results from
both networks match, then there is no clear sign of network
interference; but if the results are different, the websites that the
user is testing are likely censored.
Further information is provided below, explaining how each step
performed under the web connectivity test works.
1. Resolver identification
The domain name system (DNS) is what is responsible for transforming a
host name (e.g. torproject.org) into an IP address (e.g. 184.108.40.206).
Internet Service Providers (ISPs), amongst others, run DNS resolvers
which map IP addresses to hostnames. In some circumstances though, ISPs
map the requested host names to the wrong IP addresses, which is a form
As a first step, the web connectivity test attempts to identify which
DNS resolver is being used by the user. It does so by performing a DNS
query to special domains (such as whoami.akamai.com) which will disclose
the IP address of the resolver.
2. DNS lookup
Once the web connectivity test
has identified the DNS resolver of the user, it then attempts to
identify which addresses are mapped to the tested host names by the
resolver. It does so by performing a DNS lookup, which asks the resolver
to disclose which IP addresses are mapped to the tested host names, as
well as which other host names are linked to the tested host names under
3. TCP connect
The web connectivity test will then try to connect to the tested
websites by attempting to establish a TCP session on port 80 (or port
443 for URLs that begin with HTTPS) for the list of IP addresses that
were identified in the previous step (DNS lookup).
4. HTTP GET request
As the web connectivity test
connects to tested websites (through the previous step), it sends
requests through the HTTP protocol to the servers which are hosting
those websites. A server normally responds to an HTTP GET request with
the content of the webpage that is requested.
Comparison of results: Identifying censorship
Once the above steps of the web connectivity test are performed both
over a control server and over the network of the user, the collected
results are then compared with the aim of identifying whether and how
tested websites are tampered with. If the compared results do not
match, then there is a sign of network interference.
Below are the conditions under which the following types of blocking are
DNS blocking: If the DNS responses (such as the IP addresses mapped to host
names) do not match.
TCP/IP blocking: If a TCP session to connect to websites was not established
over the network of the user.
HTTP blocking: If the HTTP request over the user’s network failed, or the HTTP
status codes don’t match, or all of the following apply:
The body length of compared websites (over the control server and the network of
the user) differs by some percentage
The HTTP headers names do not match
The HTML title tags do not match
It’s important to note, however, that DNS resolvers, such as Google or a
local ISP, often provide users with IP addresses that are closest to
them geographically. Often this is not done with the intent of network
tampering, but merely for the purpose of providing users with localized
content or faster access to websites. As a result, some false positives
might arise in OONI measurements. Other false positives might occur when
tested websites serve different content depending on the country that
the user is connecting from, or in the cases when websites return
failures even though they are not tampered with.
HTTP invalid request line
tries to detect the presence of network components (“middle box”) which
could be responsible for censorship and/or traffic manipulation.
Instead of sending a normal HTTP request, this test sends an invalid
HTTP request line - containing an invalid HTTP version number, an
invalid field count and a huge request method – to an echo service
listening on the standard HTTP port. An echo service is a very useful
debugging and measurement tool, which simply sends back to the
originating source any data it receives. If a middle box is not present
in the network between the user and an echo service, then the echo
service will send the invalid HTTP request line back to the user,
exactly as it received it. In such cases, there is no visible traffic
manipulation in the tested network.
If, however, a middle box is present in the tested network, the invalid
HTTP request line will be intercepted by the middle box and this may
trigger an error and that will subsequently be sent back to OONI’s
server. Such errors indicate that software for traffic manipulation is
likely placed in the tested network, though it’s not always clear what
that software is. In some cases though, censorship and/or surveillance
vendors can be identified through the error messages in the received
HTTP response. Based on this technique, OONI has previously
detected the use
of BlueCoat, Squid and Privoxy proxy technologies in networks across
multiple countries around the world.
It’s important though to note that a false negative could potentially
occur in the hypothetical instance that ISPs are using highly
sophisticated censorship and/or surveillance software that is
specifically designed to not trigger errors when receiving invalid HTTP
request lines like the ones of this test. Furthermore, the presence of a
middle box is not necessarily indicative of traffic manipulation, as
they are often used in networks for caching purposes.
also tries to detect the presence of network components (“middle box”)
which could be responsible for censorship and/or traffic manipulation.
HTTP is a protocol which transfers or exchanges data across the
internet. It does so by handling a client’s request to connect to a
server, and a server’s response to a client’s request. Every time a user
connects to a server, the user (client) sends a request through the HTTP
protocol to that server. Such requests include “HTTP headers”, which
transmit various types of information, including the user’s device
operating system and the type of browser that is being used. If Firefox
is used on Windows, for example, the “user agent header” in the HTTP
request will tell the server that a Firefox browser is being used on a
Windows operating system.
This test emulates an HTTP request towards a server, but sends HTTP
headers that have variations in capitalization. In other words, this
test sends HTTP requests which include valid, but non-canonical HTTP
headers. Such requests are sent to a backend control server which sends
back any data it receives. If OONI receives the HTTP headers exactly as
they were sent, then there is no visible presence of a “middle box” in
the network that could be responsible for censorship, surveillance
and/or traffic manipulation. If, however, such software is present in
the tested network, it will likely normalize the invalid headers that
are sent or add extra headers.
Depending on whether the HTTP headers that are sent and received from a
backend control server are the same or not, OONI is able to evaluate
whether software – which could be responsible for traffic manipulation –
is present in the tested network.
False negatives, however, could potentially occur in the hypothetical
instance that ISPs are using highly sophisticated software that is
specifically designed to not interfere with HTTP headers when it
receives them. Furthermore, the presence of a middle box is not
necessarily indicative of traffic manipulation, as they are often used
in networks for caching purposes.
This test examines
the reachability of the Tor network,
which is designed for online anonymity and censorship circumvention.
The Vanilla Tor test attempts to start a connection to the Tor network.
If the test successfully bootstraps a connection within a predefined
amount of seconds (300 by default), then Tor is considered to be
reachable from the vantage point of the user. But if the test does not
manage to establish a connection, then the Tor network is likely blocked
within the tested network.
Meek Fronted Requests
This test examines whether the domains used by Meek (a type of Tor bridge) work in tested networks.
Meek is a pluggable transport which uses non-blocked domains, such as
google.com, awsstatic.com (Amazon cloud infrastructure), and
ajax.aspnetcdn.com (Microsoft azure cloud infrastructure) to proxy its
users over Tor to blocked websites,
while hiding both the fact that they are connecting to such websites and
how they are connecting to them. As such, Meek is useful for not only
connecting to websites that are blocked, but for also hiding which
websites you are connecting to.
Below is a simplified explanation of how this works:
[user] → [https://www.google.com] → [Meek hosted on the cloud] → [Tor]
The user will receive a response (access to a blocked website, for
example) from cloud-fronted domains, such as google.com, through the
[blocked-website] → [Tor] → [Meek hosted on the cloud]
→ [https://www.google.com] → [user]
In short, this test does an encrypted connection to cloud-fronted
domains over HTTPS and examines whether it can connect to them or not.
As such, this test enables users to check whether Meek enables the
circumvention of censorship in an automated way.
Through its data pipeline, OONI
processes all network measurements that it collects, including the
following types of data:
OONI by default collects the code which corresponds to the country from
which the user is running OONI Probe tests from, by automatically
searching for it based on the user’s IP address through the MaxMind GeoIP database. The collection of
country codes is an important part of OONI’s research, as it enables
OONI to map out global network measurements and to identify where
network interferences take place.
Autonomous System Number (ASN)
OONI by default collects the Autonomous System Number (ASN) which
corresponds to the network that a user is running OONI Probe tests from.
The collection of the ASN is useful to OONI’s research because it
reveals the specific network provider (such as Vodafone) of a user. Such
information can increase transparency in regards to which network
providers are implementing censorship or other forms of network
Date and time of measurements
OONI by default collects the time and date of when tests were run. This
information helps OONI evaluate when network interferences occur and to
compare them across time.
IP addresses and other information
OONI does not deliberately collect or store users’ IP addresses. In
fact, OONI takes measures to remove users’ IP addresses from the
collected measurements, to protect its users from potential risks.
However, OONI might unintentionally collect users’ IP addresses and
other potentially personally-identifiable information, if such
information is included in the HTTP headers or other metadata of
measurements. This, for example, can occur if the tested websites
include tracking technologies or custom content based on a user’s
The types of network measurements that OONI collects depend on the types
of tests that are run. Specifications about each OONI test can be viewed
through its git repository,
and details about what collected network measurements entail can be
viewed through OONI Explorer or through
OONI’s public list of measurements.
OONI processes the above types of data with the aim of deriving meaning
from the collected measurements and, specifically, in an attempt to
answer the following types of questions:
Which types of OONI tests were run?
In which countries were those tests run?
In which networks were those tests run?
When were tests run?
What types of network interference occurred?
In which countries did network interference occur?
In which networks did network interference occur?
When did network interference occur?
How did network interference occur?
To answer such questions, OONI’s pipeline is designed to process data
which is automatically sent to OONI’s measurement collector by default.
The initial processing of network measurements enables the following:
Attributing measurements to a specific country.
Attributing measurements to a specific network within a country.
Distinguishing measurements based on the specific tests that were run for their
Distinguishing between “normal” and “anomalous” measurements (the latter
indicating that a form of network tampering is likely present).
Identifying the type of network interference based on a set of heuristics for
DNS tampering, TCP/IP blocking, and HTTP blocking.
Identifying block pages based on a set of heuristics for HTTP blocking.
Identifying the presence of “middle boxes” (such as Blue Coat) within tested
However, false positives and false negatives emerge within the processed
data due to a number of reasons. As explained previously (section on
“OONI network measurements”),
DNS resolvers (operated by Google or a local ISP) often provide users
with IP addresses that are closest to them geographically. While this
may appear to be a case of DNS tampering, it is actually done with the
intention of providing users with faster access to websites. Similarly,
false positives may emerge when tested websites serve different content
depending on the country that the user is connecting from, or in the
cases when websites return failures even though they are not tampered
Furthermore, measurements indicating HTTP or TCP/IP blocking might
actually be due to temporary HTTP or TCP/IP failures, and may not
conclusively be a sign of network interference. It is therefore
important to test the same sets of websites across time and to
cross-correlate data, prior to reaching a conclusion on whether websites
are in fact being blocked.
Since block pages differ from country to country and sometimes even from
network to network, it is quite challenging to accurately identify them.
OONI uses a series of heuristics to try to guess if the page in question
differs from the expected control, but these heuristics can often result
in false positives. For this reason OONI only says that there is a
confirmed instance of blocking when a block page is detected.
OONI’s methodology for detecting the presence of “middle boxes” -
systems that could be responsible for censorship, surveillance and
traffic manipulation - can also present false negatives, if ISPs are
using highly sophisticated software that is specifically designed to
not interfere with HTTP headers when it receives them, or to not
trigger error messages when receiving invalid HTTP request lines. It
remains unclear though if such software is being used. Moreover, it’s
important to note that the presence of a middle box is not necessarily
indicative of censorship or traffic manipulation, as such systems are
often used in networks for caching purposes.
Upon collection of more network measurements, OONI continues to develop
its data analysis heuristics, based on which it attempts to accurately
identify censorship events.
As part of this study, hundreds of thousands of network measurements from two
local vantage points (AS4788 and AS17971) in Malaysia collected between
24th September 2016 and 13th November 2016 were analyzed.
Upon analysis of the collected data, the findings illustrate that 39
different websites were blocked based on DNS injections of block
pages during the testing period. These sites fall under the following
categories: news media, political criticism, file-sharing, hosting and
blogging platforms, online dating, religion, pornography, and gambling.
The table below includes all of the websites that were
found to be blocked
based on DNS injections of block pages.
|Hosting and Blogging platforms
The chart below illustrates that porn, gambling and news websites were
found to be blocked the most. Similarly, torrenting sites and websites
expressing political criticism also presented relatively high
of blocking from the sites that were found to be blocked.
Recently, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
the blocking of 5,044 websites for various offenses under the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998.
According to Malaysia’s Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister,
most of these websites include pornography, while others include
gambling, piracy, unregistered medicine, and counterfeit products. Some
of these sites might be included in the
findings of this
study, but the blocking of news outlets that covered the 1MDB scandal appears to be
In the following subsections we dive into each of these categories to
examine what was found to be blocked in Malaysia during the testing
A major political scandal erupted in
Malaysia in 2015 when the country’s Prime Minister was accused of
corruption and embezzlement, resulting in the blocking of independent news websites.
1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is a
strategic development company, wholly owned by the Government of
Malaysia, that was established to drive the country’s economic
development through global strategic partnerships and foreign direct
investment. The scandal
first broke out when the Wall Street Journal
that it had seen a paper trail that allegedly traced close to $700m to
the personal bank accounts of Malaysia’s Prime Minister. But negative
attention towards the 1MDB had already been drawn since early 2015,
after it missed payments that it owed to
banks and bondholders.
Two Malaysian news websites, the Malaysian
Insider and Sarawak
Report, were reportedly
blocked in February
2015 for covering the scandal. Sarawak Report mirrored its site, and
too. The government justified the
blocking on the grounds
of “maintaining peace, stability, and harmony in the country”. A month
later, the Malaysian Insider shut down
completely, despite having gained popularity in the country. And
according to our testing, both sites remain blocked in Malaysia to
Similarly, we also found the website of Asia Sentinel, another news
outlet that heavily
Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal, to be
Asia Sentinel is an independent media outlet that reports on news from
all across Asia. In 2014, Asia Sentinel won the 2014 SOPA Award for Excellence in Explanatory
Journalism. As part of our testing,
returned a block page.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has
the blocking of these sites on the grounds of national security under
Section 233 of the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).
Blocked news websites
Several political blogs were found to be blocked as part of our study. Amongst them, a satirical photo blog that specializes in Malaysian politics and which covered the 1MDB scandal
returned block pages every time we tested it. Similarly, a
blog that serves as a
publishing platform for short articles, information, and thoughts that
are “outside the box” was also found to be blocked based on the DNS
injection of a block page.
Interestingly, a blog which
published documents pertaining to the mismanagement of public funds in
relation to the 1MDB scandal was also found to be blocked. This blog
also expresses frustration with how funds of the Malaysian Pilgrims
Funds Board (Tabung Haji) were misappropriated when used to bail out the
1MDB. Malaysia’s Prime Minister has denied these allegations,
“Why would we use public money to bail out 1MDB? That is not a mark of
a responsible government.” Yet, this blog remains blocked according to
Malaysia Chronicle is a news
outlet that provides citizens with the opportunity to “speak up on
politics, business, and social”. Most of its articles express political
criticism and according to our findings, this site remained
throughout the testing period.
Blocked sites expressing political criticism
While Malaysia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Islam is
the country’s state religion. As part of this study, we found a
site expressing heavy criticism
towards Islam to be
This site keeps track of and enumerates the amount of terror attacks,
suicide blasts, and deaths and injuries worldwide. It also publishes
articles that document violence against non-Muslims in Bangladesh and
other countries around the world.
In the Malaysian context, this site can be viewed as inciting hatred
towards Islam and its blocking can therefore be justified under the
1948 Sedition Act,
which prohibits the incitement of hatred towards any religion.
Blocked site criticising Islam
Hosting and Blogging platforms
Once the Sarawak Report was blocked for covering the 1MDB scandal,
it subsequently attempted to have its articles published on medium.com,
one of the world’s most popular online publishing platforms. However,
this resulted in the blocking of medium.com
for hosting stories by Sarawak Report.
OONI data collected as part of this study shows that medium.com was
throughout the testing period.
Blocked blogging platform
Two different versions of The Pirate Bay, a site that facilitates
peer-to-peer file-sharing amongst users of the BitTorrent protocol, was
found to be
as part of our study. Similarly, two other torrenting sites were also
found to be
These sites might be part of the thousands of websites that were
recently announced to be blocked by the MCMC
for enabling piracy, which is viewed as an offense under Malaysia’s 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).
Blocked torrenting sites
Adult Friend Finder, one of the world’s most popular online dating
sites, was found to be
as part of this study. It remains unclear though what the motivation was
behind the blocking of this particular site, and not other popular
Blocked online dating site
Pornography is strictly banned in
Malaysia and the censorship of pornographic websites can be
under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
As part of this study, the following pornographic websites were found to
Blocked porn websites
Malaysia strictly prohibits online gambling. The blocking of gambling
sites can be justified under the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953
(Act 289) and under the Pool Betting Act 1967.
Under Sharia Law, online gambling is considered a serious crime. As part
of this study, we found the following gambling sites to be blocked in
Blocked gambling sites
Acknowledgement of limitations
The findings of this study present various limitations, and do not
necessarily reflect a comprehensive view of internet censorship in
The first limitation is associated with the testing period, which
started on 24th September 2016 and concluded less than two months later,
on 13th November 2016. As such, censorship events which may have
occurred before and/or after the testing period are not examined as part
of this study.
Another limitation to this study is associated to the amount and types
of URLs that were tested for censorship. As mentioned in the methodology
section of this report (“Creating a Malaysian test list”), the criteria
for selecting URLs that are relevant to Malaysia were biased. The URL
selection bias was influenced by the core objective of this study, which
sought to examine whether sites expressing political criticism and
defending human rights were blocked. Furthermore, while a total of 1,618
different URLs were tested for censorship as part of this study, we did
not test all of the URLs on the internet, indicating the possibility
that other websites not included in test lists might have been blocked.
While network measurements were collected from two local vantage
points in Malaysia (AS4788 and AS17971), OONI’s software tests were not
run from all vantage points in the country where different censorship
events might have occurred.
This study provides data that serves as evidence of the DNS blocking of
39 different websites in Malaysia. Since block pages were detected for
all of these sites, their censorship is confirmed and undeniable.
The blocked websites include news outlets, blogs, and a popular
publishing platform (medium.com). These sites were reportedly first blocked in 2015 for
covering the 1MDB scandal and,
according to our
blocked throughout the testing period of this study (24th September 2016
to 13th November 2016). While the blocking of these sites has been
on the grounds of national security under Section 233 of the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA),
these censorship events appear to be politically motivated.
websites, we found a site that
expresses heavy criticism towards Islam. In the Malaysian context, this
site can be viewed as inciting hatred towards Islam and its censorship
can therefore be justified under Malaysia’s Sedition Act 1948
which prohibits the incitement of hatred towards any religion. We also
found a popular online dating site to
but the motivation and/or legal justification behind its blocking
As part of our study, we
multiple pornographic, gambling, and torrenting sites to be blocked,
which might fall under the thousands of websites that were announced to be blocked
by the MCMC. The censorship of pornography can be legally justified
under the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998,
while the blocking of gambling sites can be justified under the Common Gaming Houses Act
(Act 289) and under the Pool Betting Act 1967.
On a positive note, some previously blocked sites
(Bersih rally websites) were found to be
No signs of censorship were detected when examining the accessibility of
social media, censorship circumvention tools and LGBTI websites, and we
did not detect the presence of any “middle boxes” capable of performing
internet censorship. However, this does not mean that censorship
equipment is not present in the country, but just that these particular
tests were not able to highlight its presence.
OONI and Sinar Project encourage transparency around
internet controls to help enhance the safeguard of human rights and