China expands ‘Great Firewall’ by declaring all unapproved VPNs illegal

24 Jan 2017

Internet cafe in Chengdu, China. Image: pcruciatti/Shutterstock

China is ramping up its efforts to build the ‘Great Firewall’ even higher, with new legislation that will effectively rule all virtual private network services that access banned websites illegal in the country.

With globalisation rapidly changing the demographics of Communist China, the government’s attempts to limit access to websites and content it deems a threat to the state have become more challenging.

For every Chinese citizen willing to only use services like Baidu and Weibo, there are many foreign nationals living in the country who use virtual private network (VPN) services to bypass restrictions to use Google and Twitter.

China undertaking major ‘clean-up’

The Chinese government is expanding its censorship of major American sites – commonly referred to as the Great Firewall of China – by introducing new legislation that will make VPN services all but illegal.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced that as part of a major “clean-up”, all VPN and special cable providers will need to seek approval from the government.

Given that their services allow users to circumvent national censorship laws, this will see almost all of them deemed illegal as part of an operation that has already begun, and will be closely monitored until at least 31 March 2018.

In its statement, the ministry said that “China’s internet connection service market … has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance” and that it wants to “strengthen cyberspace information security management”.

Companies respond

China’s blocking of sites is on a significantly large scale, with over 100 of the most visited 1,000 sites in the world listed as being a threat to the state, including services like Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

VPN providers operating within China have responded to the announcement saying that they are aware of the challenge to their business, but plan to find ways to keep the lights on.

VyprVPN has said that it is “currently working on ways around this”, referring to the new legislation.

In a statement, the company said that as it is based in Switzerland, it does not need to comply with Chinese laws.

“China has targeted VPN providers in the past,” said Phil Molter, co-CTO at VyprVPN’s parent company Golden Frog, “but VyprVPN has been able to quickly and effectively update our service to defeat these blocks.”

Internet cafe in Chengdu, China. Image: pcruciatti/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic