As with any publicly accessible network, the City of Raleigh employs a firewall that blocks users from accessing certain websites or domains while logged in. This firewall applies to both City Employees using the internet at work and guests using the internal Wi-Fi network.
Although we had requested a full list of these sites, the City was only able to provide a list of the categories they block with examples for each type, hence the clickbait headline.
Eight Websites the City of Raleigh Doesn’t Want You to See (On Their Network)
- Friendsofcannabis.com: This website, which appears to have been down since February 2014, once promoted interviews with and stories focused on “Hemp Heroes, Pot Pioneers, Celebrity Stoners & Famous Friends of Cannabis.” The site falls under the City’s category of “Abused Drugs” [sic] which includes “Sites that promote the abuse of both legal and illegal drugs, use and sale of drug related paraphernalia, manufacturing and/or selling of drugs.”
- Furrytofurry.com: This website, which appears to have been redirecting to a spam/malware site since sometime in 2015, was once home to “an adult community for furs. We have lots to see and do, but only for those who are of legal age to view adult content.” Since The Raleigh Public Record is a family site, we won’t explain any further, but suffice to say, this page fell under the City’s “Adult” category, which includes “Sexually explicit material, media (including language), art, and/or products, online groups or forums that are sexually explicit in nature. Sites that promote adult services such as video/telephone conferencing, escort services, strip clubs, etc…” It’s also noted that “Anything containing adult content (even if it’s games or comics) will be categorized as adult.”
- OKCupid.com: This free online dating site has been matching users based on their responses to a series of increasingly trivial questions since 2004, but lonelyhearts working for the City are forced to find love in their free time. Not surprisingly, OKCupid falls under the category of “Dating,” which are “Websites offering online dating services, advice, and other personal ads.”
- Hackthissite.org: This site describes itself as a “free, safe and legal training ground for hackers to test and expand their hacking skills.” Honestly that sounds like a much better use of City employees’ time than sitting through countless departmental meetings, but we’re not here to judge. Hackthissite.org is surprisingly categorized under “Hacking,” which includes any websites “relating to the illegal or questionable access to or the use of communications equipment/software. Development and distribution of programs, how-to- advice and/or tips that may result in the compromise of networks and systems. Also includes sites that facilitate the bypass of licensing and digital rights systems.”
- Nudistbeaches.nl: This site offers maps and photographs of nudist beaches in the Netherlands, and somehow manages to be even creepier than 99% of the “Adult” websites out there. Oddly enough, Nudistbeaches.nl doesn’t fall under that “Adult” category, but rather the more specific “Nudity” classification. Sites in this category “contain nude or seminude depictions of the human body, regardless of context or intent, such as artwork. Includes nudist or naturist sites containing images of participants.”
- ThePirateBay.org: This peer-to-peer file sharing web site allows users to access everything from video games and e-books to the latest Hollywood blockbusters and hit TV shows, all for the low-low cost of $0. Unfortunately, this means City staffers are prevented from downloading the latest episode of Game of Thrones until they’re off-the-clock, which just seems cruel. ThePirateBay.org falls under the “Peer to Peer” category, described as “Sites that provide access to or clients for peer-to- peer sharing of torrents, download programs, media files, or other software applications.”
- Proxify.com: This website allows subscribers to do all kinds of cool things, from masking their location to encrypting their communications. Most significantly, it allows users to bypass firewall settings put in place by the network administrator. Proxify.com is categorized under “Proxy Avoidance and Anonymizers,” which includes “Proxy servers and other methods that bypass URL filtering or monitoring.” Essentially, if the City’s IT staff had forgotten to include this category, it would have been very easy for anyone on the network to bypass the City’s other filters and access sites like Nudistbeaches.nl or Hackthissite.org. Chaos.
- HolyTaco.com: A “humor” website that claims to “write funny things because we love you” offers up pieces ranging from “The 22 Greatest Ohio Mugshots of All Time” to “14 WTF Moments From the 2014 World Cup.” Tragically, they don’t appear to have posted any new content since 2014. HolyTaco falls under the City category of “Questionable,” described as “Sites containing tasteless humor, offensive content targeting specific demographics of individuals or groups of people, criminal activity, illegal activity, and get rich quick sites.”
Although there were a total of ten categories of blocked sites, only the eight above provided actual examples. The two other categories were “Malware,” defined as “Sites containing malicious content, executables, scripts, viruses, trojans, and code” and “Phishing,” described as “Seemingly reputable sites that harvest personal information from its users via phishing or pharming.” As merely visiting these kind of sites can be enough to do serious damage to your computer, we’ll follow the City’s example in not providing links.
As mentioned, we had originally requested a full list of every site blocked by the City, but this does not appear to be a request they are able to fulfill. Here’s the explanation, which makes sense:
“The firewall categorizes URLs based on their content at the domain, file and page level, and receives updates from a cloud-based malware analysis environment every 30 minutes to make sure that, when web content changes, so do categorizations. This continuous feedback loop enables us to keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of the web, automatically.”
Hard to send over a comprehensive list that gets updated every 30 minutes!