Session Research Campaign Against Messenger Censorship

MAGIC Grants is proud to support the Session and Oxen teams with an important anti-censorship research project.

Session Messenger Anti-Censorship Research Campaign

In September of 2022, the people of Iran organised widespread, mass protests. As the protests gained international attention, the Iranian government responded with internet blackouts, restrictions on social media use, and aggressive police presence at protests. Encrypted messaging apps, such as Signal and Session, remained one of the only places where people could safely communicate and organise. Realising this, the government took steps—such as DNS blocking and throttling—to ban popular apps. First, Signal was blocked. Then, people turned to Session. Eventually, it was also blocked.

The people of Iran—and of the rest of the world—need access to censorship-free encrypted messaging.

Many countries around the world, both democratic and authoritarian, are adopting measures to stifle the use of safe and encrypted messaging apps. These applications are the shield which protects our civil freedoms in the digital world — our right to protest, our freedom of expression, our right to privacy.

Blocking of messaging applications represents an existential threat to our freedoms in the modern world. Session’s anonymity features are important not just in popular protests around the world, but also for the growing privacy conscious population that wants to protect their metadata and their personal identity. However, government and corporate censorship can hamper its use and it’s urgent that we develop strategies to mitigate this.

Currently, all popular messaging apps are susceptible to being blocked or throttled. Using a VPN or other circumvention strategy alongside a messaging app is how most users access blocked services. However, requiring supplementary software to access the service is a requirement which either discourages or outright disqualifies some users, and can be an inconvenience and problematic for users who don’t possess the latest, high-end devices.

Research focus

This research project on anti-censorship approaches will focus on the following:

  • Research, identity and document censorship resistance strategies, including cost assessments.
  • Conduct testing and trials of identified strategies, with a focus on the following:
    • Domain fronting;
    • Different types of pluggable transport designs, such as Obfs4, Snowflake, and Meek-azure;
    • Protocol obfuscation techniques;
    • Refraction networking.
  • Present the findings in a final research report that is accessible by anyone.
  • An online webinar / community event to share the findings of the research.

We expect this project will result in a comprehensive and influential report on anti-censorship messaging mechanisms. It will make an important contribution to the understanding of anti-censorship techniques, arriving at a moment which is critical for both the secure messaging community as well as the broader public. The methods explicated therein will be useful to all applications, including but not limited to Session.

We need your help to make this project a reality. MAGIC Grants is running this campaign to raise costs needed to hire the expertise required to create the report.

MAGIC Grants is a 501(c)(3) public charity, so your donation is tax deductible to the extent allowable by law.


Please email with any questions.

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