Many Roads Lead To Rome: How Packet Headers Influence DNS Censorship Measurement


Abhishek Bhaskar and Paul Pearce, Georgia Institute of Technology


Internet censorship is widespread, impacting citizens of hundreds of countries around the world. Recent work has developed techniques that can perform widespread, longitudinal measurements of global Internet manipulation remotely and have focused largely on the scale of censorship measurements with minimal focus on reproducibility and consistency.

In this work we explore the role packet headers (e.g., source IP address and source port) have on DNS censorship. By performing a large-scale measurement study building on the techniques deployed by previous and current censorship measurement platforms, we find that choice of ephemeral source port and local source IP address (e.g., x.x.x.7 vs x.x.x.8) influence routing, which in turn influences DNS censorship. We show that 37% of IPs across 56% ASes measured show some change in censorship behavior depending on source port and local source IP. This behavior is frequently all-or-nothing, where choice of header can result in no observable censorship. Such behavior mimics and could be misattributed to geolocation error, packet loss, or network outages. The scale of censorship differences can more than double depending on the lowest 3 bits of the source IP address, consistent with known router load balancing techniques. We also observe smaller-scale censorship variation where only a few domains experience censorship differences based on packet parameters. We lastly find that these variations are persistent; packet retries do not control for observed variation. Our results point to the need for methodological changes in future DNS censorship measurement, which we discuss.

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@inproceedings {279954,
author = {Abhishek Bhaskar and Paul Pearce},
title = {Many Roads Lead To Rome: How Packet Headers Influence {DNS} Censorship Measurement},
booktitle = {31st USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 22)},
year = {2022},
isbn = {978-1-939133-31-1},
address = {Boston, MA},
pages = {449--464},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,