The researchers are scheduled to introduce Geneva
during a peer-reviewed talk at the Association for Computing
Machinery's 26th Conference on Computer and Communications Security in
London on Thursday.
"With Geneva, we are, for the first time, at a
major advantage in the censorship arms race," said Dave Levin, an
assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland in
the US and senior author of the paper.
"Geneva represents the
first step toward a whole new arms race in which artificial intelligence
systems of censors and evaders compete with one another. Ultimately,
winning this race means bringing free speech and open communication to
millions of users around the world who currently don't have them," Levin
To demonstrate that Geneva worked in the real world
against undiscovered censorship strategies, the team ran Geneva on a
computer in China with an unmodified Google Chrome browser installed.
By deploying strategies identified by Geneva, the user was able to browse free of keyword censorship.
researchers also successfully evaded censorship in India, which blocks
forbidden URLs, and Kazakhstan, which was eavesdropping on certain
social media sites at the time, said a statement from the University of
All information on the Internet is broken into data packets by the sender's computer and reassembled by the receiving computer.
One prevalent form of Internet censorship works by monitoring the data packets sent during an Internet search.
censor blocks requests that either contain flagged keywords (such as
"Tiananmen Square" in China) or prohibited domain names (such as
"Wikipedia" in many countries).
When Geneva is running on a
computer that is sending out web requests through a censor, it modifies
how data is broken up and sent, so that the censor does not recognise
forbidden content or is unable to censor the connection.
a genetic algorithm, Geneva is a biologically inspired type of AI that
Levin and his team developed to work in the background as a user browses
the web from a standard Internet browser.
systems, Geneva forms sets of instructions from genetic building blocks.
But rather than using DNA as building blocks, Geneva uses small pieces
Individually, the bits of code do very little, but when
composed into instructions, they can perform sophisticated evasion
strategies for breaking up, arranging or sending data packets.
tool evolves its genetic code through successive attempts (or
generations). With each generation, Geneva keeps the instructions that
work best at evading censorship and kicks out the rest.
mutates and cross breeds its strategies by randomly removing
instructions, adding new instructions, or combining successful
instructions and testing the strategy again.