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The Great Firewall of China - Piercing the Golden Shield

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Posted on May 31st, 2012 by Victoria Pal in Tech

Great Wall of ChinaSince we have already discussed the history of the Golden Shield project and how the Great Firewall of China works, it is time to see how the Chinese netizens can get around it. There are a number of ways to get through. Even those without skills can seek help from tech-savvy individuals and still get around the Great Firewall.

The different methods to bypass the Great Wall require different levels of dedication and resources. The Chinese government is always trying new techniques to prevent users from circumventing the shield. Controversially, internet censorship is helping smaller industries to develop. Let’s have a look at what’s currently available at hand.

Proxy Servers

The most common way to get past the blockade is though a proxy. They are relevantly cheap and seem to do the trick. They can be extremely slow and this is part of the reason why people don’t want to use them. Proxies are also insecure. Paid services perform rather well, however free proxies are unreliable and dead slow. Users need to constantly have at least a couple of proxies at hand. It might also be a good idea to test the performance of proxy servers and even monitor them. Here is a good list for your consideration.  FoxyProxy offer a brilliant proxy switching tool, supporting regular expressions, used to match URLs where proxies are required. They also offer paid proxies. We were able to test out a couple of them and like with any good paid service, they seem to be working great.

VPN

A bit pricy, but reliable, solution for Chinese residents to browse the net, free of all censorship. Virtual Private Networks are widely used by businesses, who need secure encrypted channels for their intercompany needs. Many organizations use VPN for remote access to shared resources. VPN services are freely advertised in China and anyone can sign up. It is not likely for VPNs to be policed anytime soon. Local banks, retailers, software vendors and a lot more depend on VPN. Shutting it down would bring business back to the Dark Ages.

Tor

Tor is the most widely used traffic anonymizer. It scrambles your traffic, so it is very hard to predict which page the client actually wants to load. Additional encryption is required if you want to feel safer with your privacy. It is rumored that the Chinese government is currently testing ways to obstruct internet browsing through Tor. Many of its privately hosted bridge nodes become inaccessible from China only a couple of hours after being setup. According to speculations, Chinese internet service providers are testing out a new system to find out if hosts are really connecting to the servers they show to be headed for. It is currently affecting nearly 20% of people connecting from China. Tor staff is working to figure out what exactly is going on. At the moment Tor can still be used, but mind that traffic can be intercepted and no encryption is present.

With these anyone can browse forbidden content. Internet censorship in China is evolving at a steady pace. Over the last couple of year, authorities and ISPs have been moving away from the old school ways for preventing people to find and publish content online. We’ve seen a shift in how the government treats internet users and “harmful” websites. The new, refined approach makes it hard for people to actually say if a website is censored or not. Only particular pages might be affected and the number of sites might vary depending geographical location. In the meantime, a lot has been invested to create nuisance for people willing to browse the internet. Certain pages are blocked; some services are so slow that they are actually rendered useless (Gmail is one good example). People choose local alternatives simply because they work better and have the same functionality. This way China is also providing growth for its internally developed services and products. Making tools and websites hard to use and providing adequate alternatives is what most people seem to be OK with.

We would love to hear a good story on the subject. If you like to share your experience, leave a comment below. If your site is blocked from China, or you recently had the misfortune of getting behind the great firewall, let us know. We would also love to publish your story on the blog!

Victoria Pal

Doesn't like queuing (particularly at Wimbledon). Likes travelling, tennis and reading. Loves working as a Project Manager at WebSitePulse.

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