Guide: How to Defeat US DNS Censorship (Using MAFIAAFire)

We’ve been writing a series of guides on how to defeat US DNS censorship – mainly as suggested by the PROTECT IP Act. Those guides were using command prompt, using DNS web tools and using a hosts file. There is one form of DNS censorship that the United States has been known to do, and that’s simply seizing domains. So, in this guide, we’ll show you an easy way to circumvent the seizing of domains.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

We’ve covered MAFIAAFire before. When the MAFIAAFire redirector was released, we covered that development. When the feds attempted to remove the MAFIAAFire redirector from the Mozilla website and Mozilla refused, we covered this as well. So, for those who are less familiar with a plug-in like the MAFIAAFire redirector, we thought we’d show you how to install and use the MAFIAAFire redirector.

What is the MAFIAAFire Redirector?

The MAFIAAFire redirector is a web browser plug-in. If a websites domain is seized, the people maintaining the plug-in will try and find websites that are just like the domains that are seized – preferably another domain run by the same people of the original domain. By doing this, the only thing that is technically needed is a new domain once the original is seized. This is because there are two parts to a website – a domain (which points the users to the correct website server) and a server (which contains the website).

In this guide, we’ll show you how to install this plug-in using Mozilla FireFox (which means this guides assumes you are using FireFox – although there is a Google Chrome version plug-in available as well.

Step 1: Download MAFIAAFire Redirector

In FireFox, visit the MAFIAAFire Redirector plug-in. On this page, you can either download, donate to the developer or do both. To download it, click on “Continue to download”

On the next page, just click on “Continue to Download”. You’ll be brought to a screen that contains an end-user license agreement Read through and/or click on “Accept and Install”

Step 2: Install MAFIAAFire Redirector

Since this is a plug-in, Firefox will detect this and ask you if you want to install. When the install button allows it, click on “Install Now”:

When it’s finished installing, you’ll get a small pop-up window in FireFox that looks like this:

Click on “Restart Now”. This will restart your browser (you won’t lose any tabs doing this – and, if you’re like me, it will have to load the bajillion tabs you already have open)

That’s it! If a domain is seized and you try to access it, the plug-in should redirect you to the known domain that seems to b a replacement (it will let you know when you are being redirected.

If you would like to know what the plug-in is currently redirecting, you can view the site list, or take a look at the following page (note: in the XML page, the site between the “realdomain” tags is the actual domain that was seized. The links in the “FilterDomain” tags are the domains the plug-in redirects to)

Some Final Thoughts

While this is way more user friendly than maintaining a hosts file, it is, in some ways, less effective too given that maintaining a hosts file is getting direct server IPs. It also is no guarantee, by itself, to defeat any ISP-level filtering because, barring anything else the user has done to defeat any form of censorship, it will depend on the DNS server provided by the ISP. If a user lives in the US, then it can be subject to ISP-level censorship imposed by industry or government. Of course, this plug-in is still in early days in some respects and, no doubt, if it came to ISP-level censorship, something else can be programmed in to the plug-in. As it stands, the plug-in presumes that another website domain will pop up to take its predecessor’s place – not always a sure thing.

Also, while testing this plug-in, we noticed that it freezes FireFox for a couple minutes whenever FireFox is reset. This doesn’t have anything to do with multiple tabs running given that I personally restart FireFox irregularly by killing the task in the task manager (whenever it uses too much memory). This enables the browser to simply list all the previous tabs in one tab, rather than loading every single one of them on restart. It might have something to do with the message that says that the latest list was downloaded and installed. If you experience this as well, wait a few minutes for FireFox to “unfreeze” first as it will eventually start running smoothly again if you give it time. This was really the only hick-up we encountered with the plug-in.

For now, a good way to defeat some forms of DNS censorship – namely domain seizures.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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