China’s Ministry of Industry and Information technology announced Sunday that the country will begin a major crackdown on VPN providers, a service that encrypts millions of Internet users connections and allows Chinese residents a look into the outside world, one which is usually blocked by the country’s infamous “great firewall”. According to the ministry “all special cable and VPN services on the mainland needed to obtain prior government approval – a move making most VPN service providers illegal,” the South China Morning Post reported, a major newspaper from Hong Kong.
The alleged “clean-up” of the nation’s Internet begins immediately and will run until March 31 2018, the official notice reads.
According to the Chinese ministry, the country’s Internet service market “has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance,” alleging a crackdown on unregulated connections aims to “strengthen cyberspace information security management.”
Major VPN providers including VyprVPN and ExpressVPN told the Morning Post that their companies were aware of the issue. Representatives from both providers said their companies are working to address the issue very soon.
China’s infamous “great firewall” of censorship blocks access to a number of the world’s most popular domains including Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Tumblr, The New York Times and Instagram. According to GreatFire.org, an organization that keeps an active eye on China’s ongoing censorship, notes that China blocks access to 143 of the 1,000 most popular websites in the world.
Due to ongoing censorship, many Chinese citizens have been forced to turn to VPN providers and alternative ways to access their Internet in an uncensored fashion. This is not the first time China has cracked down on VPN providers, back in March of 2016, during the National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing, many Internet users reported their paid-for VPN providers were having severe issues for up to a week.
It’s believed that China is tightening its already oppressive hand on Internet censorship in preparation for this autumn’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a once-in-a-decade event in which a new party leader will be elected. Just two days ago, two websites run by a liberal think tank, alongside 15 other sites, were shut down by China.
The latest crackdown can be seen in affect as many social media users from China have begun to complain that their VPN services are slowing or failing entirely. Many citizens have expressed fear of loosing touch with the world outside the “great firewall” or being held accountable for circumventing censorship using a VPN.
As anti-censorship tools run scarce in China, many Internet users fear of losing contact with the world outside China’s hand. We’d urge everyone in, or planning to visit China, to have an up-to-date copy of the Tor Browser. If the main site is ban in your location, there are dozens of reliable mirrors of the software for this exact reason. Users in censorship-heavy or high-surveillance areas are advised to use a Tor Bridge, an obfuscation tactic that will make your traffic appear as if it’s coming from Google, Amazon or another common website.