Tools that help Chinese internet users bypass the Great Firewall appear to be facing another round of crackdowns ahead of the country’s five-year party congress. a reshuffle of top leadership. More censorship is not at all unusual during countries’ politically sensitive periods, but the stress that censorship evasion tools face in China seems to be on a whole new level.
“As of October 3, 2022 (Beijing Time), more than 100 users reported that at least one of their TLS-based servers was blocked for censorship bypassing,” GFW Report, a censorship monitoring platform focused on China, wrote in a statement. GitHub Post.
TLS, or Transport Layer Security, is a ubiquitous Internet security protocol used to encrypt data sent over the Internet. Because data shared over a TLS connection is encrypted and not easily readable, many censorship bypassing apps and services use TLS to keep people’s conversations private. A TLS-based virtual private network, or VPN, routes internet traffic over a TLS connection instead of sending that traffic to the ISP.
But Chinese censors seem to have found a way to compromise this strategy. “Blocking is done by blocking the specific port on which the bypass services are listening. When the user changes the blocked port to an unblocked port and continues to use the bypass tools, the entire IP address can be blocked,” GFW Report said in the post.
According to GFW Report estimates provided to londonbusinessblog.com, more than half of Chinese Internet users who circumvent online censorship use some sort of TLS-based tools.
Tech-savvy users can buy their own domains and set up services to bypass the so-called “Great Firewall (GFW)”, a comprehensive censorship system developed by the Chinese authorities to regulate the country’s Internet access, such as blocking certain foreign web services. or slowing down their traffic. But many Internet users instead opt for out-of-the-box subscription services from resellers, which rely heavily on TLS-based techniques, GFW Report says.
“The TLS-based tools have reportedly been blocked before, but we’ve never seen it” [sic] blocked on such a scale,” notes the organization. “At the same time, knowing that October will be the most politically sensitive time this year, we have spent months preparing backup plans with other developers that will be released soon to ease the lockdown.”
According to the GFW report, some of the TLS-based censorship circumvention tools that have allegedly been blocked include: Trojan, x-ray, V2Ray TLS+web socket, FLUSHand gRPCbut it hasn’t received any notifications yet that naive power of attorneyanother tool used to bypass censorship is blocked.
While some may continue to find new ways to play “catch-me-if-you-can” with the country’s censors, the less tech demographic is left with few options. Since China banned the unauthorized use of VPNs in 2017 — although unfettered internet access can be granted for certain use cases, such as university research or cross-border businesses — major VPN apps have been removed from domestic Android and App Stores.
Censorship bypass apps that face state blockades often don’t stay blocked for long. Merchants pulled from app stores may soon reappear as a reincarnation with a different name and appearance, then repeat that process indefinitely if removed again. Apple censorshipa group unaffiliated with Apple but tracking when the company agrees to censorship demands found that about 200 VPN services it surveyed last summer were unavailable in China’s app stores, while Belarus ranks second. came in with 21 of the VPN apps that weren’t available, Benjamin Ismail, project director at Apple Censorship, tells londonbusinessblog.com.
Bans on internet services can also be unpredictable. While the main services of Google, Twitter, Facebook and the like have long been unavailable in China, some of their lesser-known services are allowed to remain. Many services are not blocked until a certain event or increase in usage puts them on the radar of regulators. The voice-based social network Clubhouse, for example, experienced a short-lived boom in China, with netizens speaking freely and tuning in to politically sensitive topics before the app’s inevitable ban.
Until recently, a handful of less sensitive Google products existed in China. On September 30, my colleague Kyle reported that Google Translate was no longer available in China; the parent company later confirmed it has discontinued the service in mainland China “due to low usage,” meaning it’s a voluntary withdrawal rather than a ban.
But GFW Report’s findings suggest that the government has indeed imposed new restrictions on Google services. China has blocked google.com and all of its *.google.com subdomains affecting more than 1,100 domains and many popular services, including firebase.google.com, translate.google.com, maps.google.com, scholar. google.com, feedburner.google.com and ads.google.com, the censorship tracking platform said in a after on October 1. We’ve reached out to Google for comment.