The Great Firewall of China is the figurative expression coined to describe the PRC’s efforts to restrict domestic access to various Internet content. For example, Facebook is banned as a platform in China as are pornography sites, some foreign news outlets, and sites seen to serve as communication hubs for dissident activity.
In 2016 Beijing began to clamp down on virtual private networks, or VPNs, in what is seen as a an attempt to patch the holes various companies and individuals created to break through the Great Firewall. VPNs are used primarily to send secure email and data transmissions but they also make it possible to access sites otherwise blocked inside China.
The PRC’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology served notice in 2017 that access to non-licensed VPNs will be blocked on March 31, 2018. Companies will now have to choose between a limited number of approved VPN providers, including ones run by China’s state-owned telecom companies—making it easier for the government to target and monitor VPN communications.
Forcing companies to use state-approved VPNs may serve to strengthen China’s state surveillance, which uses sophisticated technology such as facial recognition and cloud computing to monitor what people and companies say and do online. China may still be playing catch up to the U.S. military in doctrine and equipment, but it is not a second-rate player in the tech realm.
Internet access in China began last year in advance of the March 31 deadline. In 2017, Apple removed nearly 700 VPN applications from its App Store in China and recently Telecom providers began sending letters to foreign customers, advising them that data transmission ports will be blocked without a license.
PRC state-run China Telecom’s (also dubiously linked to Chinese Advanced Persistent Threat Actors) Shanghai office sent letters to customers asking them to register for access to certain ports used for email and file sharing. This only helps the Chinese government better monitor any unauthorized encrypted traffic.
It has long since been a rule of thumb when traveling in China that anything having an on/off switch can be accessed. This is just one more nail in the coffin of communication privacy while inside the PRC. Foreign embassies had both classified and unclassified ways around this issue. The clampdown is taking those less surreptitious methods off the table. Diplomats and companies alike are beginning to accept even greater levels of communications vulnerabilities.
Ex Pats and other foreigners working in China are complaining that internet access is becoming so restrictive as to impact their day-to-day lives. The Chinese are poised to be in near total control of information flow inside their own borders. They’ve not only patched holes in the Great Firewall — they’ve built an even taller one.
The featured image is the Chinese seal for the imaginary animal Caonima – literally “Grass Mud Horse” – it is used as a form of symbolic defiance of the widespread Internet censorship in China. It is a play on the Mandarin words cào nǐ mā (肏你妈), literally, “fuck your mother.” It is pronounced T’SAO NEE MAH