Many Chinese citizens rely on virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent censorship in China by creating a tunnel to the outside world. That tenuous lifeline is being strangled by the Chinese government as several VPN companies such as StrongVPN, Astrill and Golden Frog reported service disruptions this week.
According to a report by the New York Times, “[a] senior official for the first time acknowledged its hand in the attacks and implicitly promised more of the same.”
“China’s long-term goal is to make the Internet act like an intranet, cutting off access to all encrypted sites, so that government bureaucrats can tap into anything that anyone is saying, at any time,” one foreign IT executive who wished to remain anonymous told the Washington Post.
Regarding the latest efforts to block VPN use, a co-founder of Greatfire.org said that the government must have decided increased use among everyday citizens required action. “This is just a further, logical step,” the Greatfire.org co-founder told the New York Times, who requested anonymity to avoid government scrutiny. “The authorities are hellbent on establishing cyber-sovereignty in China. If you look at what has taken place since last summer it is quite astounding.”
The organization also told the Washington Post in an email, “Last year’s crackdown has been the most aggressive in the history of Chinese censorship on the Internet. The authorities now not only just target public information sharing (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) they target private communications as well (Gmail, Outlook, IMs, etc).”
In addition to more aggressive censorship, policies restricting foreign technology are in place creating additional challenges for technology companies.
The New York Times suggests that although the new rules could result from security concerns, it could also be a “cover for building the Chineses tech industry.” “The Chinese regulations go far beyond measures taken by most other countries, lending some credibility to industry claims that they are protectionist.”
For example, new rules regarding banking say that 75 percent of technology products used by banks must be classified as “secure and controllable” by 2019. (Although the definition is somewhat ambiguous the New York Times has obtained a chart that shows that source code for computing and networking equipment must be turned over to the government.)
Obviously some foreign companies wouldn’t want to do this for multiple reasons, which would prevent them from selling to the large and growing Chinese market. Currently foreign technology companies are doing billions of dollars of business in China. Should companies decide to forego Chinese business rather than expose intellectual property by sharing source code, it could result in a devastating amount of damage to revenue.
According to a study by IDC in late 2014, China is expected to spend $465 billion in 2015 on information and communications technology. The Chinese market will account for 43 percent of the worldwide tech sector growth.
Groups including the US Chamber of Commerce sent a letter on Wednesday to the communist party committee on cybersecurity objecting to the new laws.