Monday, September 29, 2008

Internet Filters, unblocking, and what you should know

Internet filtering. Its not just OmanHel who are doing it, naturally. Iran, China, the UAE, Saudi, Tunisia, heck, even America. Until I figured out how to get around Omantel it really used to piss me off. Especially when it was just a pretty harmless site like, home site of the funny Arabian comedian.

However, even if the blocking doesn't bother you, you should be aware - especially if you're a parent with teenage kids - that it's not difficult to circumvent these Omantel blocks. Especially with both the high level of IT savvy kids have today, and the supersonic rate at which information can and is shared. For example, a super common programme popular with the kids in Oman right now is called hotspot shield. Have a look and see if you can find it amongst the applications on your kids computer. Google will help you find it (although the home website is, of course, blocked by Omantel).

Most people don't actually have a problem with OmanTel blocking criminal, pornographic, or dangerous sites, or monitoring your every move on the internet. But I know almost everybody - except it seems the TRA and Omantel - gets really pissed off with the blocking of Skype and other VOIP providers just to protect their old world monopoly on international phone calls, and to assist the security services in listening in on those calls too (its notoriously difficult to listen in on skype calls). Same with blocking YouTube, or MySpace (neither yet blocked in Oman, BTW).

[One excellent VOIP that isn't blocked so far, BTW, is www.XXXXXXXXX.YYY .... no, I won't tell Omantel here (I get several readers from the countries IT monopoly). Email me and I'll send you the link if you're desperate.]

Omantel also, understandably, block pretty much every proxy site and proxy programe download site too. So, you may need to be persistent.

To assist you in getting access where you want, and to give my readers real, solid advice from someone who's an expert and really smart (rather than you trying to get advice from your little brother's IT savvy friend) - here's an excellent professional guide on the issue of filtering, site blocking, unblocking, and how to circumvent those controls by Ron Deibert, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto. They've produced a laymans guide that explains all you need to know to get around Internet censorship and filtering systems, and the serious considerations you should consider (for example, it may be illegal, and you may not be as anonymous as you think...).

So. here is all you need to know about Internet circumvention technologies:Everyone's Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship for Citizens Worldwide. Highly recommended.

You will be pleased to know (or maybe not?) that getting around the filters is straightforward, especially if you have a friend on the outside who can email you the applications discussed in detail in this article. But be aware that this may be dangerous and illegal.

Another WayA
nother way around if you don't have time, don't like messing with scary proxy programs, are on a shared computer, or just aren't very IT savvy at all, is to use good old as an effective proxy because Google is, of course, not likely to be blocked by Omantel. This works because the IP address will appear to Omantel as Google instead of you. Note that this is not always effective as it can easily be combated by the more sophisticated techniques, and it is NOT anonymous, but no harm trying!

There are 4 ways:
1/ After a normal Google search, select the "cached" version, which will download from Google's memory banks rather than the original site.

2/ Use google images - its not filtered, especially if you set safe mode off in the preferences (although following the links probably will be if you search naughty things).

3/ Even better, Use the fantastic Google translate utility to access to blocked sites. Here's the URL to use directly:|en|http%3A%2F%2Fwww.OMANTELBLOCKEDSITE.COM
(where OMANTELBLOCKEDSITE.COM is the site that you wish to visit)

If you want to see a blocked page thats already in English, set translate mode from "Chinese into Enlish", you'll get it unchanged and viewed through google. You may need to select the no frame option if you don't get the whole site (see top right).

4/ Use another great utility Google offers to convert any site into mobile friendly format.
If you want, you can see Muscat Confidential this way.
Just search for your blocked site with google mobile and click on the link it provides. Once again, this will often allow you to bypass any blocks because the IP request comes from Google. The only side effect of this method is that google formats the site for a mobile device.

So, enjoy your Eid folks. This should enable you to see anything you want on the internet anyhow. Drive safe.


  1. I remember when the internet first came to Oman, nothing was filtered. It took a few months for Omantel to wise up. No doubt they saw what sort of 'educational material' everyone was accessing and panicked.

    -Omani in US

  2. Careful, UD, or we'll have to start translating you from the Chinese!

  3. I am against censorship. But I do think it is one of the government's responsibilities to provide a wholesome environment to raise our families. The Omani government does a great job of this. So it does not bother me that porno sites are blocked. What bothers me, though, is the seemingly arbitrary practice of blocking sites that do not have any offensive material. Once I took the time to write Omantel an email requesting info on why they blocked a certain site. Their 'important notice' says they will answer within 72 hours, but (and this should not be a surprise to anyone) they never did answer. The internet is a wonderful and powerful tool. It is the sharing of information. And since it is a distributed system, it is impossible to block at any one point. So wise up Omantel, blocking sites only provides (a small) challenge for the young surfers. Thanks for the info UD, but most of it i have read before and tried some of it. It works.

  4. i was an active blogger in yahoo360..i think in dec 2007 the site was blocked...i was so addicted to yahoo360, afterwards i never found interest to blog in anyother website... now i found yahoo360 is not blocked...

    anyway i am not much interested to go thru all that to open a blocked site...

  5. Abdullah, it is your responsibilty as a parent, not the government's, to provide a wholesome environment for your children. If you are concerned about sites that they might try and access, the answer is very simple - keep the pc in a room where there are adults present. This is a very effective way of stopping children from browsing for porn. There is also plenty of software that you as a parent can install which will block sites that you don't want your children to see. Unfortunately, the moment a government department gets involved it starts swinging an axe that is rather indiscriminate in its effect.

  6. I heard that Omantel used to have Websense, and now seem to use somthing stonger!!!

  7. The best way is to download and use Operator which is actually a very lite browser bundled with TOR and Privoxy. This you can keep in your flash stick and there is no need to install it in hard disk. "Opera tor" automatically goes to free anonym sites and you can see all those photos of nude girls you want to see.

  8. Seems to me that Hotspot Shield no longer functions.Doesn't go beyond Authenticating status

  9. I am not able to open hotspotshield now.A messagw "Daemon start error" appears.

  10. hotspotsheid is working for me but will oman tell cach mee if i us it ...

  11. This is great UD.
    I was using Opera with Tor which all of a sudden stopped working. You have given me new life with google translate.
    Thanks a lot

  12. Thanks man.But no good.still blocked.

  13. You can also check out this site on how to unblock Skype in the Middle East:

    It has some great info.

  14. I used this successfully from Muscat last year to access blocked sites:

    Hotspot Shield did not work so well for me.


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