Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout bypass trick roils backers

Security firm Sophos takes heat for publishing Firefox-NoScript circumvention of site's protest

A security company's advice on how to circumvent today's Wikipedia blackout has roiled some users.

Earlier Wednesday U.K.-based Sophos told users they could access Wikipedia -- which blacked itself out as part of a Web-wide protest against pending anti-privacy legislation in the U.S. -- by running Mozilla's Firefox with the NoScript add-on installed.

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With the NoScript add-on installed in Firefox, users can circumvent Wikipedia's SOPA blackout by selecting 'Forbid wikipedia.org.' from the NoScript menu at the left of the address bar.

NoScript blocks JavaScript, which Wikipedia is using to replace its content with a page that prompts people to lodge their dissatisfaction with two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

SOPA and PIPA are being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively. Opponents of the bills, which are designed to make it easier for U.S. copyright holders to retaliate against foreign websites that distribute pirated movies, music and software, have argued that the legislation will give content owners too much power -- enough to censor domestic websites.

By running NoScript in Firefox, then disabling scripting on wikipedia.org, users can access the English-language version of the online encyclopedia.

Mozilla joined the protest as of 8 a.m. ET today by changing the default home page of Firefox from a white background to black.

Graham Cluley, a Sophos senior technology consultant, said he found the NoScript workaround when he browsed to Wikipedia earlier today and did not see its anti-SOPA pitch.

"I could see Wikipedia, and wondered, 'What's this?'" said Cluley in an interview Wednesday. "But then I realized it was NoScript that was preventing the blackout."

Some commenters, however, weren't happy that Sophos publicized an end-around.

"You must be very proud of yourself for posting a way to get around the protest," said someone identified only as "Andy" in a comment early today. "I hope you enjoy the Internet under your new SOPA overlords."

"I must say I am very unimpressed and deeply disappointed [about] the utter lack of support [from] a very reputable company like Sophos in presenting this workaround," said another reader, Simon Cousins. "The 'Going Dark' message is not meant to be a challenge for people to get around because it spoils their Internet experience. It is an important message that people NEED TO READ to understand the huge violation of free speech that is SOPA."

Others were more supportive.

"Mr. Cluley's post does not defeat, or deflate, or depreciate, or even effect an online protest at all," said someone labeled "Solenoid."

Wikipedia itself has offered ways to access its content today, Cluley noted.

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