A tech enthusiast recently discovered that Airtel is sniffing and censoring CloudFlare’s traffic in India with the knowledge of CloudFlare. Karthik Balakrishnan made a post on Medium explaining how he found what the telecom network has been up to.

Airtel

Karthik said that it all started when he saw The Pirate Bay – a peer-to-peer sharing website – was showing a blank page. An iframe to http://airtel.in/dot was attempting to load. It said that the site is blocked as per the Department of Telecom’s orders. This wasn’t surprising since there are many websites locked in India without any explanation. But the reason Karthik said he found the blockade interesting was that: “this was happening on an HTTPS page, with a valid certificate.”

On digging further, he found out that this wasn’t just happening in Airtel but on other networks across in India. So may be CloudFlare itself was blocking it which would explain why it was over a valid HTTPS connection. But dismissing the idea, Karthik explained that: “The most plausible explanation then was that CloudFlare was thinking it was talking to The Pirate Bay and was completely unaware that it was getting a response from Airtel saying the website was blocked.”

He posted some evidence to support his theory: The iframe’s URL had a ‘user’ parameter that (we assumed) referred to the client’s IP. And in this case, all the IPs were CloudFlare’s (Their IP range list includes 162.158.0.0/15). In conclusion, it seems likely that Airtel was serving this page between CloudFlare and The Pirate Bay.

Also read: Airtel Open Network, A Way out to Avoid Call Drop

Therefore, all Indian users, within or outside the Airtel’s network, who access any of over 2 million websites on CloudFlare can have their traffic inspected and sniffed by Airtel.

When the news got published on Gadget 360, Airtel promptly responded saying: “This is completely baseless and incorrect. As a policy, Airtel does not block/ sniff any content. Only in the case of instructions/ orders from the Government or the Courts, specified URLs are blocked. Blocking of any page [as per instructions from relevant authorities] is done at the URL level and not whether it is HTTP/ https. This also has nothing to do with the validity of any certificate.”

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