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This high-traffic question from two days ago, many comments and answers:

How could a public DNS server return bad results?

The question comes in two parts:

  1. How is the ISP achieving this? Are they really stealing and MitM-ing the traffic of 8.8.8.8?
  2. How can I get around this without a VPN?

Some of the comments and answers focus on the first part, some on the second part, and some both.


The first part seems like a great question, but the second seems to flirt pretty close to this close reason:

Questions asking us to break the security of a specific system for you are off-topic unless they demonstrate an understanding of the concepts involved and clearly identify a specific problem.

So I guess my question boils down to: how do we as a community feel about hosting technical advice on circumventing government censorship?

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    It's also worth thinking about whether or not they "demonstrate an understanding of the concepts involved and clearly identify a specific problem". I think it's reasonable to say that they do, so that close reason wouldn't apply anyway. – AndrolGenhald Aug 16 '18 at 21:49
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    @AndrolGenhald It seems a little weird to say "We don't provide How-To guides for illegal activities, ... unless the question was asked nicely" – Mike Ounsworth Aug 16 '18 at 22:01
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    @MikeOunsworth We are fine with answering questions that may be used for illegal activities, since the answers can also be used by those who wish to do good. See this for example. – forest Aug 17 '18 at 7:56
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We currently allow discussions that involve bypassing government censorship, as well as avoiding government surveillance, and even attacking government systems, as long as they are legal to discuss and as long as the question is not off-topic for another reason. Below are a few example questions that are on-topic and still open which would need to be closed if we adopted a policy of not "supporting" questions that are intended to bypass government censorship:


We are under US jurisdiction, where this subject is legal.

The only times we ever disallow otherwise on-topic questions is if it is illegal to discuss in the US. Thankfully, the US has fairly strong laws for protecting the rights to discuss concepts in information security. Discussing censorship evasion is absolutely legal and thus can be discussed on the Stack Exchange network. If there is a realistic worry that the network could be blocked due to the questions asked here, we should bring the problem up on Meta.SE, where they would advise whether or not Sec.SE is breaking any network rules. We absolutely should not try to interpret and adjust the rules ourselves and play Stack Exchange, Inc. police.

We do not disallow discussions just because some government doesn't like it.

If the question is simple and clearly has had no research put into it, or if it's merely asking us to recommend some proxy server, it is clearly off-topic. Compare a question asking nothing more than what proxy should be used to go to Facebook in China with a question asking about the theory behind covert-communication, e.g. ICMPTX and how it can be used to avoid censorship. The former should be off-topic because it shows no understanding of the concepts and is just asking for us to hand them a solution on a silver platter, but the latter is fine. Do we really want this:

Questions asking us to break the security of a specific system for you are off-topic unless they demonstrate an understanding of the concepts involved and clearly identify a specific problem, unless the system was set up by a government, in which case it is always off-topic.

A government can be a valid adversary in someone's threat model.

Why can a government not be a valid adversary in information security? If the question was about bypassing censorship imposed by an attacker who had gained access to a company's infrastructure so one could retrieve server logs, no one would even think of closing it, anymore than they would think of closing a question on bypassing malware AV-evasion techniques because, after all, it involves trying to bypass the security of a piece of software. Would there be a worry if someone were asking about doing the same to state-sponsored malware? There are countries out there which disallow discussing many of the things we discuss, but we do not censor things just because they might not like the discussion.

Communications security involves the ability to send a message without it being intercepted and blocked. Censorship, whether done by a government or blackhat hacker is a type of counter-intelligence. As such, both blocking specific messages and getting around such blocks fits squarely within the realm of infosec. As long as the question is not specifically asking how to break a specific system without showing understanding of the concepts is a close reason we have. We do not, and should not, have a close reason for evading censorship.

What makes Sec.SE special?

If the idea is that we risk getting the network blocked by discussing things that are not permitted in other, foreign countries, then it should apply to the entire network. I constantly see questions on IPS which discuss homosexuality-related topics such as coming out to parents. Such discussions are not permitted online under Russian law, and Roskomnadzor is free to block any site which does discuss it. Should homosexuality be a bannable topic on IPS because we are afraid to get blocked by RKN? What about that Iranian atheist who asked on Law.SE how to leave his country so as not to be executed? Should we have flagged his question for explicitly trying to break a law? If not, then why is it on Sec.SE that we have to tiptoe around governments?


EDIT: I've opened a post on Meta.SE to ask what the official stance on topics that may not be legal in certain countries, and the general response seems to be that the corporation does not censor these discussions, and that it is up to an individual site to determine if it is considered topical.

  • +1 Hmm, that all makes sense from a pragmatic perspective, but does not make me (at a personal level) any more comfortable with questions where the OP is clearly trying to circumvent the laws of their country. Maybe I'm just too much of a sheltered law-abiding citizen. I guess I had assumed that close reason existed to keep blackhat content off our site; your explanation makes it sound like blackhat content is fine so long as it isn't a step-by-step how-to guide? – Mike Ounsworth Aug 17 '18 at 20:28
  • I suppose you would also draw a distinction between "defensive / personal privacy activities that happen to be illegal in your country" vs "offensive activities that are unambiguously criminal in intent" ? – Mike Ounsworth Aug 17 '18 at 20:32
  • @MikeOunsworth We actually do allow blackhat questions, as long as they show an understanding of the concepts (not a step-by-step how-to guide) since whitehats need to learn blackhat techniques to be most efficient. But if someone asks a trollish question (which is 99% of the time if they downright admit to breaking the law), we delete it for that reason. – forest Aug 17 '18 at 21:34
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    Fair enough. I'll need to re-adjust how I think about that close reason ... Thank you for the detailed answer! – Mike Ounsworth Aug 17 '18 at 21:48
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    @MikeOunsworth I've noticed that a lot of people think of the close reason that way, to the point where there's occasionally a close vote on a perfectly good question on, say, binary exploitation against no one specific system, and which shows good understanding of the concepts. – forest Aug 17 '18 at 21:51
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I'm pretty sure we have had a Meta question around "how do we as a community feel about hosting technical advice on circumventing government censorship?" and we would rather not do that if it meant StackExchange being blacklisted as "hacking" content or specifically targetting a certain country's censorship.

But I don't think we are there yet with this question.

This question is so technical in nature, to me, it comes across as wanting to understand the general concepts rather than "defeat this particular re-routing". General tips on DNS routing seem fine to me if general in nature.

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    Stack Exchange, Inc. runs under US jurisdiction. Unless we want to appoint ourselves the self-styled Protectors of the Network, we should leave it up to the company itself to make the rules. Unless they tell us that this is not allowed or it is otherwise off-topic, we should allow it. If someone shows an understanding of the concepts involved, it is on-topic. We should absolutely not make an exception for government-related questions! – forest Aug 17 '18 at 7:49

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