China’s Insurmountable Firewall

Article by: Umar Maniku

Illustration by: Sung Hee Bae

A veritable blockade to internet sovereignty and freedom, China’s infamous “Golden Shield Project”, or as it is more commonly known, the “Great Firewall,” remains standing strong and sturdy against the onslaught of multi-media options that are available to netizens today. It remains as a testament to the bona fide struggle that governments have with censorship. Now, recent additions to its growing defensive arsenal have given a conundrum for Chinese citizens to access blocked websites like Facebook and Twitter.

While the reasoning behind the “Great Firewall” may seem slightly short-sighted, the intention is to promote the growth of domestic media companies and to censor sensitive information. Nonetheless, with the growing number of users of the internet, numerous methods have been created in order to circumvent the stringent content-blocking policies that the Chinese government is implementing. Chief among these are virtual private networks (VPNs), which work by enabling a computer to send and receive data across shared or public networks, while benefitting from the security policies of the said network. For years, VPNs have been the antidote to the firewall; yet according to Chinese government officials, this will no longer be the case. A series of recent upgrades to the technology behind the firewall has made it much harder for Chinese netizens to access forbidden websites. In fact, the popular VPN Astrill had its services disrupted, and likewise other VPNs are having a harder time with finding connections with outside servers. A Wall Street Journal article reports that the firewall seems to “have made the blocking of VPN connections more automated and dynamic.” The firewall no longer simply shuts down connections, but now “appears to automatically find and block connections that it thinks are likely to be VPNs.” In addition to this, companies that wish to set up in China are required to turn over the source code to their websites and build back doors in their hardware and software. This will enable Chinese authorities to access any company’s hardware and software anytime, anywhere.

These added measures are certain to cause some form of backlash from Chinese internet users. As Junior Simon Zhang, who has lived in China for 15 years, says, “the Great Firewall has created hatred among the people towards the government’s censoring departments.”

The now-enhanced Great Firewall certainly presents an obstacle for internet users to access their favorite websites, and serves to remind the world that even with the predominantly minimal restrictions that exist to control the internet, the internet is still susceptible to widespread censorship.