The who, what and why in China’s latest VPN crackdown

by Sidney Leng, Josh Ye and Nectar Gan / January 26, 2017 / SCMP

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a notice earlier this week that all unauthorised virtual private networks will be banned as the ministry rolls out a 14-month campaign to “clean up” and “regulate” internet connection services.

Who will be targeted?

It appears the crackdown will target Chinese businesses and individuals involved in providing unauthorised VPN services. The ministry said late on Tuesday that VPN networks of multinationals approved by Chinese authorities won’t be affected.

Individuals using VPNs on their computers or mobile phones will not be targeted directly. “As for VPN users in China, this new regulation doesn’t make using VPN illegal”, the website VPNDada.com said in a statement.

The regulation does not specifically address how the crackdown will affect providers outside China. In practice, Beijing has always tried to block such services that help Chinese internet users bypass the “Great Firewall”. In one infamous case, the US consulate in Shanghai in August last year published a Weibo post seeking “reliable” VPN service providers.

The blocking of overseas VPN services could intensify even though the latest notice did not mention the move specifically.

“It’s certainly possible that they will try to shut down us and move onto government VPNs,” Sunday Yokubaitis, president of the popular Golden Frog VPN service provider that boasts a big Chinese client base, told the South China Morning Post.

What can China do to block VPN services?

China will find it easier to crack down on businesses and individuals based in the country. Local telecoms authorities and operators can stop providing basic services such as access to servers. In extreme cases, the police force can be involved.

As for overseas VPN service providers, China’s censors can block their websites, “ports” and VPN servers, according to VPNDada.com.

In August 2015, a month before Beijing’s grand military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, the South China Morning Post reported that popular VPN provider Astrill had told users that China “was cracking down on IPSec VPNs using GFW [Great Firewall] auto-learning technique” to make its service unavailable on the mainland.

How long will the crackdown last?

The crackdown campaign has a time frame from now until the end of March, 2018. This does not mean it will stop after that date. It’s thought that during this time, VPN providers in China will either reapply for approval or simply close shop. Read more…

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