China Fortifies Internet Great Wall

Yuhao Yang, Asia and Pacific Section Analyst

26 January 2017

Executive Summary:

It is likely that Chinese government will continue to increase internet censorship through intensified regulations and increased technology. China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) launched a 14-month crackdown on virtual private networks (VPN). Non-state-owned companies help the state conduct censorship. However, disruption of essential access to the global network may hamper the country’s business attractiveness and slow government’s steps to upgrade the Great Firewall (GFW) techniques.

Discussion:

VPN services help mainland individual and business internet users bypass government censorship powered by the GFW and get access to blocked websites. On 22 January 2017, MIIT said in a notice that it would “clean up” and “regulate” internet connection services until 31 March 2018. The Ministry requires that VPN providers should set up users’ profiles and forbid them from connecting with data centers or platforms. They required this in order to conduct communication services, and declare other unauthorized VPN providers illegal.[1] Local telecom operators can block VPN usage by prohibiting access to servers and, in extreme cases, asking police to intervene. China’s censors also blocked websites, “ports,” and servers of overseas VPN providers. [2]

Chinese authorities have evolved internet censorship techniques.[3] Non-state-owned tech companies also help the government filter blacklisted keywords and censor citizens. Tencent’s WeChat blocks keywords by any user in China, or abroad with an account registered to a mainland phone number.[4] On 23 October 2016, Alibaba’s Chairman, Jack Ma advocated that the legal and security systems of the country use big data for monitoring citizens to “combat crimes”.[5]

However, tough control of the internet hampers those Chinese and international firms operations that rely on global standard online essentials, and hurts China’s attractiveness as a business destination.[6] In 2015, the GFW conducted a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against GitHub, which provided codes for programmers that circumvented censorship. The act damaged China’s main search engine, Baidu, and hijacked its advertising and analytics data.[7]

Analyst Confidence: Analytic confidence for this product is medium. The analyst did not use an analytic technique for this analysis. The sources for this product range from medium to high reliability and include open source government documents translated from Chinese[8]. The analyst’s expertise on information technology is medium.

[1] http://www.miit.gov.cn/n1146295/n1652858/n1652930/n3757020/c5471946/content.html (H)

[2] http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2065432/who-what-and-why-chinas-latest-vpn-crackdown (M)

[3] https://theinitium.com/article/20150904-mainland-greatfirewall/ (M)

[4] https://citizenlab.org/2016/11/wechat-china-censorship-one-app-two-systems/ (H)

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-24/alibaba-s-jack-ma-urges-china-to-use-online-data-to-fight-crime (H)

[6] http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2065432/who-what-and-why-chinas-latest-vpn-crackdown (M)

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/31/technology/china-appears-to-attack-github-by-diverting-web-traffic.html?_r=0 (M)

[8] MIIT’s “Notice on Cleaning Up and Regulating the Market of Internet Connection Service” http://www.miit.gov.cn/n1146295/n1652858/n1652930/n3757020/c5471946/content.html

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