KARACHI, June 2: Internet users in Pakistan are increasingly turning to proxy servers, thousands of which are available on the world wide web, to access websites which have been banned and blocked by the government.

This was stated by well-placed sources in the Pakistan Telecommunication Company on Monday.

Internet access to proscribed websites are blocked by the Pakistan Internet Exchange (PIE), the Internet backbone provider for the country. In October last year, PIE placed a ban on Internet telephony or voice chat websites. PIE, which is a PTCL subsidiary, has been blocking sites offering pornographic and other objectionable content since Jan 2003.

But the practise, some fear, could be extended to news websites critical of the government.

The sources said that in technical parlance proxy servers employed a technique in which one host, usually a router, answered address resolution protocol requests intended for another machine. “By faking its identity, the router accepts responsibility for routing packets to the real destination. The Proxy ARP allows a site to use a single IP address with two physical networks,” they said.

They explained that a proxy was a server that would act as a “middle-man” between a user and whatever else the user connected to. “It is most commonly used as a ‘safety net’ for your connection. Using a proxy usually hides the true identity of the person using it,” they said.

The secretary of the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan, V.A. Abidi, said the blocking of websites by the PTCL had significantly slowed down the speed of the Internet in the country.

He said: “The addresses of those websites which have been banned have to be listed on the PTCL router. Whenever a user makes a request, the system looks up the list to determine whether it contains the request or not. This tedious process naturally takes up a lot of time.”

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