How do banned websites stay up?
#1
With all the recent news, I've become more interested in the concept of internet censorship, broadly speaking.

Someone more tech savvy than me, please explain:

How do sites like pirate Bay, 8chan, putlocker, and other sites with offensive content or pirated material stay up?

Do they use servers in Russia and Asia? Why doesn't the government block url access in country (like Australia does some sites)?

Basically, how do some sites avoid censorship and others not? (Not why, but more the more technical question of how).

I mean, companies must be losing billions on pirated content, why haven't they been able to shut it down? Will they be able to in the future with algorithms identifying and banning sites quickly?

Just some curious questions...
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#2
(01-17-2021, 06:29 PM)Blake2 Wrote: With all the recent news, I've become more interested in the concept of internet censorship,  broadly speaking.

Someone more tech savvy than me,  please explain:

[1] How do sites like pirate Bay, 8chan,  putlocker,  and other sites with offensive content or pirated material stay up?

Do they use servers in Russia and Asia?  [2] Why doesn't the government block url access in country (like Australia does some sites)?

[3] Basically,  how do some sites avoid censorship and others not? (Not why,  but more the more technical question of how).

A website is simply a set of files that exists on a computer.

When you 'visit' a website, your computer sends a request to the internet (using HTTP protocol) that gets routed to another computer to request those files.

The computer that is configured to listen for requests for those files and send them back is acting as a server.  

Managing and deployment of servers is a huge business — trillions of dollars. 

You can simply run a server computer in your room, or you can rent servers on remote computers (i.e. the cloud) on some 'smaller' independent provider (like Bluehost, Linode or Digital Ocean) 

Or, you can go do the same with Amazon (AWS), Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure who will provide numerous tools and interfaces to manage everything from website hosting to data storage, to image file storage + content delivery, to authentication, etc. depending on what you need your site to do.

So to answer your questions: 

Basically, the main 2 ways a website can get shut down is to: 
  • (a) block the servers 
  • (b) have the internet service provider (ISP) block access to the domain
[1] Pirate Bay, 4chan, et al. have servers distributed all over the place — likely from various remote locations in the USA, to countries in Asia and Russia, to small islands and various autonomous regions that don't care or are unable to prosecute. 

There is no single source or cluster of servers that could be shut down to stop them. If a Pirate Bay or 4chan server is found, someone can very easily spin up a new one at another location that is easily accessible.

[2] While it's trivially easy to create a new server, some governments do try to censor the internet by demanding that Internet Service Providers (ISP's) prevent their customers (i.e. us) from accessing certain domains by blacklisting them. The Pirate Bay has been blocked this way in several countries

On my understanding though, the Pirate Bay domain hasn't been blocked in the USA because they exist in a sort of gray area — they're non-profit and they don't actually distribute the files, they just provide download 'mirrors' of torrent files. It's like they don't provide you with the contraband, they just point you to the guys where you can obtain them.

4chan hasn't been blocked because they don't allow anything illegal (for example, users who post child porn get banned and the content gets deleted). 

[3] Neither Pirate Bay nor 4chan are using a major server provider, so they can't get blocked that way.

Parler was using Amazon (via AWS) to run all their servers, so AWS only had to pull the plug on Parler and deny them use of AWS's servers to shut them down.
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#3
i think you can nearly write a book for each of these questionsTongue

How do sites like pirate Bay, 8chan, putlocker, and other sites with offensive content or pirated material stay up?

I think the piratebay is hosted on servers all across the world, so if one is taken out another can take over the hosting immediately

Do they use servers in Russia and Asia? Why doesn't the government block url access in country (like Australia does some sites)?

all over the world i think,
the government does block access in some cases. some ISP called ziggo in the Netherlands is forced to block the piratebay

Basically, how do some sites avoid censorship and others not? (Not why, but more the more technical question of how).

i think some sites stay under the radar, if you catch the spotlight people with different outlooks will take you down.
also it depends how the person is tied to the website, if you operate a company and are selling stuff you are more vulnerable to takedowns because your identity is more tied to your site.
if your just hosting content and not making money, your only tie is the host basically, which i think some of them dont require KYC and accept crypto.


I mean, companies must be losing billions on pirated content, why haven't they been able to shut it down? Will they be able to in the future with algorithms identifying and banning sites quickly?

if a company wants to target the people that torrent, you need the legislation of the country to work, i can imagine in some countries like india there isn't adequate legislation regarding internet rights, and then it might not be worthwhile to pursue legal action for companies that make content.

also the channels for access are hard to shutdown (thepiratebay etc), as they can just be hosted from another server, i think also the content you download is aggregated from multiple seeders, so you basically collect 500 parts from 500 different users which is the data for your movie for example
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#4
There are several parts:

Domain registry (e.g., Verisign which runs .com)
Domain registrar (e.g., GoDaddy)
Web hosting
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

The .com registry is run by Verisign, which is based in Virginia.  If you are running a website which blatantly violates U.S. law, then it's pretty dumb to run it on .com, because there is a central place where they can shut the domain off or seize it.  This is why you often see sites that violate copyright law run on domains with registries based in more favorable jurisdictions (e.g., .se for Sweden).  It's not trivial for the government to shut a site down at the registry level, and you typically see it as part of high profile prosecutions, for example the Poker sites and Backpage.  But it's much easier for them to do it when the registry is in the U.S.

Sites getting shut down at the registrar level is more common.  Registrars can place a "hold" on the domain which means that it won't resolve when users try to access it.  Typically, the registrar will tell the customer to get lost and transfer their domain somewhere else.  What's interesting is that the domain registrar Epik announced a while ago that they were basically a safe harbor for a lot of these right wing sites, and a lot of them have moved there.  TheDonald.win, Rooshvforum.com, Gab.com, and Parler.com are now all at Epik.  But Epik is starting to feel the pressure too:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pro-trump-d...1610819176

The number of registrars, at least in the West, that are willing to do business with these types of sites is shrinking.  In short, you can get away with running questionable sites to some degree, but if you start generating enough heat, the U.S. government and others will start leaning on those who support you.

As others have pointed out, web hosting is part of it as well.  Like registrars, web hosts will kick unwanted customers off their platforms.  Many sites also use the web hosting services of their registrar.

If a site is fairly trivial, like a forum, it's relatively easy to move web hosts around if you have to.  If your site is a more complex application like Parler, then AWS dropping you is more of a pain in the ass because you have to update the code of the application to some degree.  It's possible in theory to host things yourself, but nowadays virtually everyone uses web hosting services in some capacity.

It's also possible for ISPs to block sites, but this varies more by country.  This seems to be happening mainly outside the U.S. from what I've seen.  In the U.S. it does happen, but it seems to be rare, and only used in extreme cases.  For example, child pornography and network attacks.
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#5
At the most basic level, the only way you can truly stop a website is through ISPs doing range banning, but you should be very happy that in the US, the ISPs still operate privately. Currently what the tech companies are doing are limit testing their social power. And like every foolish non-tech savvy person, they think a monopoly is easy to achieve on the internet. Believe me when I say that all of these guys in suits in power suck at tech stuff, and is why I get paid the money I do cause they do not have the patience or aptitude to learn it. The downside of this is that they do stupid stuff like you see now.
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#6
Note that the internet was initially created as a fail-safe network that could withstand nuclear attack.  Anything that wants to be on the internet is going to be there in some capacity regardless of what the powers that be like.  It's simply a matter of how easily accessible it is.  So deplatforming is sort of a misnomer as it only pushes things into the shadows rather than getting rid of it completely.
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#7
There's something called bulletproof hosting, and there are a number of hosting providers that are dedicated to keeping your thoughtcrime website up despite all external pressure.

My understanding is they host the website in locales dedicated to free expression on the internet, Sweden, Netherlands, etc as well as the usual suspects, like Russia for example.

They don't cave to pressure and some are even in bunkers.

What happened recently with right-wing leaning personalities and websites is many have shifted to Epik--Roosh is one example--who do the bare minimum as far as the legal requirements are concerned. They just remove illegal sites.

As far as torrents are concerned in parts of eastern europe everyone torrents and it's not profitable nor worth the time for some american content producer/distributor to go after Ivan who lives in a commie block apartment with his parents. You'll get laughs from these types about potential legal action from Western companies. Doesn't happen.
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