This article is really more a continuation from yesterdays piece about how unfair the Fair usage policies in Malaysia are. In my view telcos complaining about 15% of customers using 70% of their traffic is just ludicrous behaviour–it’s the cost of doing business. This is akin to a restaurant owner offering a buffet and then complaining that 15% of his customers are fat men who eat the expensive mutton curry. Really? Do you really think that if you offer a buffet all you’re going to get is skinny super models?
As ironic as it sounds, the more customers any telco has, the less the average consumption of data per user becomes. That’s because your grandmother down the road who uses Unifi for just Skype-ing with her grandchildren can essentially subsidize your torrent hungry consumption. At the end of the day, there are far more grandmothers in Malaysia than there are torrent hungry downloaders like yours truly.
Part of the cost of your broadband connection includes the cost that the telcos pay to route your transaction to the US. That’s really where the internet is, and while Google has a couple servers here and a youtube presence–the vast majority of traffic still flows to the US. This means on top of the price of getting the Fibre to your home, the local telcos also have to pay for routing your data to the US (and back). If most Malaysians started viewing local sites rather than pornhub, our broadband cost ‘could’ become cheaper, because the telcos don’t have to invest in those expensive undersea cables to setup the connection to the states. Contrast this with the situation in the US where only 10% of traffic from the US flows outside it’s borders, it means that even if a US ISP lost its undersea cables, it could still serve up 90% of the content its users were requesting. It also explains why Singapore has cheaper broadband than Malaysia–Singapore is the data-hub for the Asia Pacific Region, so a lot of it’s traffic is also local.
So how do we resolve this issue? One approach would be to make Malaysia a hub, but most experts conclude that it’s probably not going to happen (including Afzal Abdul Rahim in his 2011 TedXKL talk). The other option would probably be to start hosting more content in Malaysia, and that’s why a Youtube server within our borders is a great start. What would probably help better is Netflix availability and Netflix servers in Malaysia–until you realize that Netflix host their servers on Amazon Web Services, and Amazon chose Singapore as their Asia-Pac location–probably because Singapore is a data hub, which sends us into a round-about circular argument.
We can’t get cheaper broadband because we don’t have the cables coming into Malaysia, and we don’t have the cables because we don’t have the content, we don’t have the content because we don’t have the cloud servers and we don’t have the cloud servers because we don’t have the cables. I explored this before how cloud computing ties in closely with your data connectivity as a nation–and there really is nothing much we can do to address the gap with Singapore except spend more on undersea cables. Most of which require significant monetary investment–and take a lot of time to deploy.
Every six months, the great people over at Sandvine release their Global Internet Phenomenon report, which seeks to make sense of global internet traffic across the different regions of the world, and every six months I learn a lot from just gleaning through it. For instance most of the traffic in the US continues to point to just one website–Netflix, which also explains the drop in bitTorrent traffic in the US (why bother downloading anything when you can stream). However, in Malaysia, where it’s difficult (but not impossible) to get a Netflix account, most of the traffic for both upstream and downstream still uses the bitTorrent protocol–which mostly means there’s still a lot of illegal downloading going on in these here parts–but you can’t blame us, because the alternative isn’t legal downloading, it’s buying a DVD–if you can find the DVD you want in the first place.
You can view the report in it’s entirety here, but I just wanted to point out one cool fact.
The average monthly traffic in Asia-Pacific has dropped.
Just 12 months ago the average monthly consumption was 32.2GB, now it’s at 22.oGB. That’s a significant drop in traffic, that which really boggles the mind. This is the growth region of the world–why is our average monthly consumption of the ‘internet’ decreasing. Put another way, why are Asians using less internet?
I suspect the average monthly consumption has dropped because of the growth in Asia Pacific, it’s quite counter-intuitive, but as Asia Pacific adds more users to the internet, the newer users in the more rural parts of the region aren’t downloading as much as their urban cousins. Therefore, while the overall traffic flow has increased, the average monthly consumption per account has reduced. It’s all conjecture at this point–but that’s what I think based on just this one data point. It makes sense to me, as a lot of people aren’t torrent-crazy-downloaders, which just means that they aren’t consuming anywhere near the full amount.
The Median monthly consumption is just 8.8GB, while the Mean monthly consumption was 22.0GB, and that tells me that the data is skewed–highly skewed. The statistician inside me is just crying to get out and shout–SKEWED!!
Skewed is just another way of saying that the distribution of internet consumption is un-evenly distributed across–or in more laymens terms–a few internet users are using the vast majority of the bandwidth.
Two days ago, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) lodge a report to the MCMC on an ‘internet blockade’ targeting DAP related political websites that was allegedly being carried out by Telekom Malaysia (TM). As you may know TM is the largest ISP in Malaysia, and if TM suddenly blocks a website–a large chunk of the Malaysian public are automatically denied access to it.
The DAP IT manager (didn’t know the DAP had an IT team now did ya?), in his press statement said that :
In investigating the DPI filtering equipment location, I have found 1032 suspicious network equipment using same IP address family as the the Arbor Network Peakflow SP with TM branding. Since the login page of this network equipment bears TM logo, undoubtedly MCMC should haul up TM and conduct IT forensic investigation on all 1032 equipments without delay. I am fully prepared to assist MCMC in its investigations.
In light of this new evidence, MCMC must re-examine its 2nd May statement. MCMC should be politically impartial and hold the standard of government regulatory body that it should be. It must put the interest of all Malaysians first.
Now this isn’t really news, to be fair the Arbor Network Peakflow SP solution is meant primarily as a DDoS protection security suite with a slight tinge of DPI functionality added on the side. TM in their defence haven’t really denied they own the Arbor Network solution–there’s even a joint press release from 2004 to announce their purchase of it.
Unless TM operates like the government, in which they announce the purchase of something in 2004, but only start to using it in 2013–I’m guessing they were using Arbor for other purposes before they decided to unleash its DPI functionality.
I’m not a usual fearmonger, or a person who panics easily–yet you friendly local tech evangelist has a warning for Malaysian users out there. Unifi is censoring the internet in the run up to the hotly contested GE1–and that’s what the data suggest.
You heard that right folks, some of you suspected all along, and I apologize for not believing you earlier. I was initially skeptical that Unifi and Telekom Malaysia would go to such extents to censor our right to information, and I’m deeply upset that this is happening in my own country.
Usually most Internet Service Providers (ISP) don’t censor the internet, not because they don’t want to–it’s simply because censoring the vast amount of online traffic is a monumental technical challenge. In the past we’ve seen Malaysia ISPs do this, for instance when they blocked Malaysia-Today in the run-up to the 2008 General elections, but censoring one entire website is a fairly straightforward thing to do–an bypassing that censorship is equally straightforward.
However, what Telekom Malaysia have done in this case, is not just censor one website–but rather parts of a website. Telekom Malaysia has gone leaps and bounds ahead in terms of censoring capabilities–now they’re able to censor ‘parts’ of a website including specific videos on youtube, and pages on Facebook.
Any government that blocks Facebook completely, isn’t going to get re-elected in Malaysia, the enormous public backlash we can expect would be enough to unseat even the great Barisan Nasional. Can you imagine how upset my aunty would be when she can’t play Candy crush???
It was in this premise that caused me to be skeptical that a government would be able to censor the internet, blocking only certain pages of Facebook (like the DAP Malaysia Facebook page) is far more technically challenging, than blocking and entire website like Malaysia Today.
Unfortunately, I can almost 100% confirm at this point that Telekom Malaysia now have this capability. A capability once only used by countries like China and Iran, have now reached our borders–and it is being used.
What is Deep Packet Inspection
Just to briefly explain what’s happening here.
1. The internet is this vast network running on something called the Internet Protocol or IP. This is what we mean by IP Address, it is literally your address on the internet.
2. The way the protocol works is routing data in packets. Essentially a packet is a small amount of data.
3. An analogy would be that if you used IP to send a long letter to your mother, instead of writing a 100 word letter and then sealing it in one envelope and sending it your mother. Your computer breaks that 100 word letter into 10 packets of 10 words each(for example) and sends those along in 10 different envelopes. So your mother would receive your message in increments.
4. This is why webpages don’t load instantly. Instead they take time, because your browser just displays your web page for packets you’ve already received and what you get is an incremental load.
5. It’s also why on slower internet connections you’d see a image load in stages, rather than instantly see the entire image.
6. Just like envelopes sent via mail, packets also contain addressing information, so that the Postman knows where your letter needs to go to.
7. In all cases, the postman looks at the OUTSIDE of the envelope and sends your letter to the address you’ve written on it–without OPENING the letter.
8. So if the Postman wants to block you from sending letters to your mother, he’d just discard all the envelopes going from your home to your Mothers home. He can do this easily without opening your letter.
9. That’s how TM can easily block MalaysiaToday. They can just cut-off all traffic to the MalaysiaToday IP address (although this is a bad analogy).
10. However, if the PostMan wanted to block only certain letters to your mother–let’s say all letters you sent to your mother to vote Pakatan Rakyat, but allow letters that had nothing to do with the election–he’d have to OPEN the letter and find out what information you’re sending.
11. Similarly if Telekom wanted to block only certain parts of Facebook from you, they’d have to OPEN your data packets, to see which Facebook pages you were visiting.
12. This is the technically challenging part. Opening up the Data Packets routed through Telekom is an enormous amount of work, and obviously slows down the entire process. The internet was built on speed and trust, and not for censorship at the packet level. How many postmen would you need if you wanted them to open each and every envelope sent??!
13. This process is called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and it is such an engineering challenge that very few countries even bother trying. The only country with the true audacity to do this is China (and possibly Iran).
14. Yet, from my analysis and my data–I can conclude that Telekom Malaysia at least have this capability. I could be wrong–but it’s unlikely.
What data do I have?
I made fun of Malaysiakini previously, when they claimed they were being blocked by Malaysian ISPs. The reason was that Malaysiakini had no data–but they did do something strange. They claimed that the encrypted website httpS://www.malaysiakini.com was fine, while the normal website had http://www.malaysiakini.com was being blocked. (the S at the end of http means the website is encrypted)
You see if all you’re doing is blocking all traffic to the portal (for instance blocking all traffic to MalaysiaToday), it would make no difference if the data was encrypted.
If you’re doing deep packet inspection–then encryption would basically bypass that censorship. The analogy here is that if you write to your mother in Cyrillic Russian and the Postman can’t read it. He can’t determine if this indeed was a letter asking your mother to vote pakatan or whether it’s just you asking for some money from mummy dearest. So in the end the postman has to make a decision to either throw the letter away or forward it onto your mother–but he doesn’t know.
In the same way, encrypting the line, means Telekom Malaysia doesn’t know which video on youtube you’re watching or which page on facebook you want to see, they still know you’re connected to Facebook or Youtube, but they don’t know if you’re watching a Pakatan ceramah or Psy-Gentlemen–it’s all encrypted to them.
And I proved this by trying to visit the DAP Facebook page on my Unifi connection, first without encryption–and it failed. And then with encryption–and it worked. (check out the video above–the DAP Facebook page on https loads instantly, but the DAP Facebook page without encryption is blocked!!)
This is no accident, I tried it plenty times–and it gave me the same result.
Is this accidental? Could be, but highly unlikely. Deep Packet Inspection is a technically sophisticated process, and a sophisticated process is usually purposeful and intentional. It’s VERY unlikely to be some sort of accident, and there is no other way for me to explain why an encrypted version of facebook page worked, but not the unencrypted version, although networking isn’t my strong suit and I’m open to opinions.
Beware ladies and Gentlemen, I’m convinced that Telekom Malaysia at least are beginning to censor the internet, Malaysiakini seems convinced as well. I can’t be 100% sure from my data (since it’s just from my connection), but I’d be looking forward to an explanation from Telekom.
Till then–happy voting from your local neighbourhood Tech Evangelist.
More information here and here. Sorry gotta go to work now folks, keep in touch.
A couple of days ago, a reader of the blog wrote a rather long comment on a post I wrote about writing to TM’s CEO to restore my Unifi service. The comment detailed out a long horrific story of a foreigner in Malaysia trying to get decent broadband. I felt the story was to compelling to leave in the comments section and requested permission from the author to post it formally on the blog un-edited and in it’s original form, she consented and so here’s a little bed-time reading from a rather unhappy customer of both Maxis and Unifi.
Many folks seem to be stuck with their Unifi Passwords. It’s actually quite simple.
For the most part, most Shops and Restaurants that provide Free Wi-Fi via Unifi don’t change their Router Password allowing easy access for a nefarious intruder to logon and gain access to the router. Once inside, they’ll be able to do lots and lots of damage, including opening up a permanent backdoor to the router for continuous malicious fun!
Don’t be afraid though, for the most part iPhones are pretty invulnerable to network attacks, ‘most’ Androids as well. However, a small select few who choose to roots their phones and install non-standard pieces of software may be susceptible to.
If you’re on Unifi and find yourself ‘locked’ out of your own router, try these password combinations:
Username : admin Password : <blank>
*<blank> means don’t enter anything and leave the field blank
Username : admin Password : telekom
Either of these should get you into your router. If you’re still unable to log onto your router, don’t despair. This is actually a good opportunity for you to practice your newly found skills. The guys over at Unifi Athena have actually come up with a way to find your router password through some very simple and easy steps, check out their tutorial here.
A Domain Name Server (DNS) is basically the address book of the world wide web. What it does in very simple terms is it converts a web address like www.keithrozario.com into an Internet Protocol address like 22.214.171.124 (this might look like garbage but it’s actually 4 numbers separated by a dot, and it’s these 4 numbers that uniquely define every machine on the internet).
It’s the Internet Protocol address that can actually get you to your destination. Think of it like the actual phone number of the person. It’s nice to know someone’s name, like Keith Rozario, but it means nothing in terms of contacting me if you don’t have my Phone Number. So if you wanted to contact me with just my name, you’d have to look for something called a ‘phone book’. In this case, the DNS is the phone book, that translates a name to a number, and the DNS is publicly available.So what is a Dynamic DNS? Well, that’s where the allocation from name to IP is dynamically allocated. For instance, the IP address of my website has remained static for the 1.5 years it’s been around. So the DNS allocation for my website is pretty much stable. Although I did recently change the web-host, but that’s another story.
However the IP address of my home Unifi connection changes everytime I restart my router, which is about once a week or so. If I wanted to add some sort of permanence to my connection, without splurging for expensive static IP packages, I could opt for a Dynamic DNS (or DDNS).
So let’s say I have a IP camera at home, that’s recording a video feed that I can view on my phone. If I connected my phone to the IP address directly, that wouldn’t be a good idea. If the connection dropped while I was away, or my house had an intermittent power cut, that forced the router to re-start (and hence change it’s IP), I would lose all connectivity to the IP camera, and my entire home network as well. This is because, I wouldn’t know what my home network IP address would be anymore, and hence have no way to contact it. It’s like changing my phone number, if you keep trying to call your old number you’d most probably get an error message, or wind up calling someone else.
Port Forwarding is a really simple concept, but a very important step you need to take if you want to remotely access the devices you have at home. For instance, if you have a Unifi connection connected to an always on desktop and you wanted to Remotely access your windows machine, you’d need to perform port forwarding on your router.
Similarly if you’ve just installed a new IP camera in your home, and want to access the camera while you’re on the road you’ll need to perform port forwarding on your router.
Port forwarding is a neccessary step in order to access your home devices from outside your home. If you want to access anything in your home remotely you’ll need to configure some sort of Port Forwarding, and here’s the why are how.
With the newly enacted Evidence Bill Amendment, you would have been deemed to have published everything that originates from your IP address. What that means is that if someone hacks your Wi-Fi and then uses it to publish malicious or seditious statements online, you will be deemed to have published it, and the onus is on YOU to prove you’re innocence rather than for the prosecution to prove your guilt.
So obviously with the new law floating around, Wi-Fi security should be at the top of every Unifi Subscribers agenda–if it isn’t already.
However, how secure is your Unifi Wi-Fi connection?
Now taking aside the fact, that I could probably call all Unifi customers to request the Wi-Fi password printed at the bottom of their router, and 50% would probably provide that to me with no issue, this also means that for those people smart enough to hide their passwords — I can still hack your Unifi Wi-Fi connection no matter what you do on your router. There’s literally nothing you can do, hiding SSIDs don’t work and neither will MAC address filtering. Of course this is all theory, and testing this theory took a lot more time than I had, so I’m not sure.
What I am sure is that Unifi have their own firmware for the DIR-615 router, and that’s a partially susceptible router, meaning some firmwares are susceptible some firmwares aren’t, and it’s a coin toss and whether your router at home is susceptible.