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The Great Firewall, Golden Shield, and internet censorship

 
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Darqcyde



Joined: 11 Jul 2006
Posts: 10262
Location: A false vacuum abiding in ignorance.

PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 11:13 pm    Post subject: The Great Firewall, Golden Shield, and internet censorship Reply with quote

The Great Firewall: China's Misguided — and Futile — Attempt to Control What Happens Online
By Oliver August Email 10.23.07 | 12:00 AM

Quote:
I didn't know I was a surveillance target until the day I walked into a hotel in China's Fujian province. I was pushing past half a dozen workmen changing lightbulbs in the glum but busy lobby when a uniformed man stepped in front of me. Blue jacket, creased trousers, braided epaulets, peaked cap: government security officer. Politely, he asked whether I would mind answering a few questions. He stood erect, with the manicured swagger of a corporate CEO. Next to him, a gangly plainclothes colleague gave me a so-you-thought-we-wouldn't-catch-you look.

How had they known I would be here? The only people who had my itinerary were my editors in London. A few days earlier, I had sent them an email outlining my trip, and I'd been updating them daily by phone. I could only assume that the authorities had been monitoring my email and calls. I had been chasing down leads on the whereabouts of Lai Changxing, China's most-wanted man. Lai had cheated the government out of $3.6 billion by smuggling oil, cars, and cigarettes. Embarrassed, Beijing wanted to hinder any reporting of his case.

How to Breach the Great Firewall of China

Go in disguise
Use proxy servers and other software that can mask your location and identity. Among the most popular apps are Psiphon, Freegate, TOR, and UltraSurf.

Scramble messages
Use encryption for email. Top software tools include Hushmail and Cryptomail, which take advantage of so-called pretty good privacy — PGP — encryption.

Post on the down low
Avoid online discussion groups for obviously controversial subjects. Post sensitive messages in lifestyle or sports Web sites, which are rarely monitored.

Search overseas
Try the international version of a Web site rather than the China-based one. Google's US-based search engine (in Chinese) isn't blocked, for example.

Watch your language
Avoid controversial terms (e.g., "democracy," "Dalai Lama"), or at least don't put them in the title of your blog post. Body text is much less likely to be monitored.

Log On to Skype
The P2P freeware uses 256-bit encryption for phone calls, staying below government radar. Use the international version (not the Chinese one) to avoid spyware.

The two officers in the hotel demanded to see my passport and asked what I knew about Lai. Then they withdrew to a corner of the lobby to confer. Eventually, they took me to a police car, drove me to the airport, and put me on a plane to Beijing.

It was, in short, impressive evidence of the government's ability to monitor and control electronic communication. And my experience only hinted at the Chinese government's appetite for control. Beijing has recently added a new weapon to its arsenal of surveillance technologies, a system it believes to be a modern marvel: the Golden Shield. It took eight years and $700 million to build, and its mission is to "purify" the Internet — an apparently urgent task. "Whether we can cope with the Internet is a matter that affects the development of socialist culture, the security of information, and the stability of the state," President Hu Jintao said in January.

The Golden Shield — the latest addition to what is widely referred to as the Great Firewall of China — was supposed to monitor, filter, and block sensitive online content. But only a year after completion, it already looks doomed to fail. True, surveillance remains widespread, and outspoken dissidents are punished harshly. But my experience as a correspondent in China for seven years suggests that the country's stranglehold on the communications of its citizens is slipping: Bloggers and other Web sources are rapidly supplanting Communist-controlled news outlets. Cyberprotests have managed to bring about an important constitutional change. And ordinary Chinese citizens can circumvent the Great Firewall and evade other forms of police observation with surprising ease. If they know how.

Like its namesake, the Great Firewall consists of hundreds of individual fortifications spread out along a vulnerable frontier. At its core is a giant bank of computers and servers. Traffic generated by China's 162 million Internet users is routed through the shield, which checks all requested URLs against a blacklist of tens of thousands of Internet addresses. The list includes pages offering political information deemed dangerous by the government, like BBC News and Voice of America. Access to these sites is blocked (at least in theory), and when users attempt to view one of them, they are punished with an involuntary time-out lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Search engines are similarly restricted. If you enter the characters for "democracy" or "Tiananmen Square massacre" into Google.cn you will generally get zero results. This is a technological breakthrough for the Chinese government. Until recently, it could not interfere with the inner workings of search engines and instead blocked entire sites, not just individual pages of a site.

The Golden Shield hardware — supplied by Cisco and other US companies — is supplemented by human censors who are paid about $170 a month. They sit at screens in warehouse-like buildings run by the Public Security Bureau. These foot soldiers in China's information war monitor domestic news sites, erasing and editing politically sensitive stories. Some sites provide the censors with access so the authorities can alter content directly. Others get an email or a call when changes are required. Similar methods are applied to blogs. Sensitive entries are erased, and in the most egregious cases blogs are shut down altogether.

The censors also monitor email traffic, looking for politically sensitive content like calls for protest marches and anti-government tracts. Because it would be impossible to screen millions of Internet users, they home in on watchlists of potentially suspicious emailers — known dissidents, suspicious foreigners — and notify investigators of possible violations.

Information spied online is collected in counties and major cities and matched up with other surveillance data. In my case, the effectiveness of this technique was obvious. Police minders always seemed to know where I was traveling and when I was back in Beijing. Sometimes they'd call as soon as I landed at the airport, telling me I had yet again broken the rules by traveling without permission or conducting interviews without authorization.

Evading them, however, was surprisingly easy. I bought additional phone numbers, a tactic I picked up from Lai. I also learned dozens of tricks to avoid arousing suspicion online. But the cat-and-mouse game was unrelenting. A year before my book on Lai was published, I told an official about it. Maybe I mixed up my tenses, mistakenly suggesting I had already finished it. "Yes," the official said. "I enjoyed the book." I was too stunned to ask how he might have got his hands on the still-incomplete manuscript. But then, I didn't really have to: When I had arrived at my office in Beijing one morning some eight weeks earlier, I had found the cables on my computer changed around. The modem wire was rolled up in a coil, the power cable unplugged, and the printer attached to the wrong port. It appeared someone had been poking around my hard drive. When I lifted up the computer to fix the mess, I found a piece of paper. On it was my office address, written in an unfamiliar scrawl.

For all its ambition, the gears of the giant surveillance machine keep getting fouled with sand. On one side of the Great Firewall, a small industry is sprouting up, dedicated to evading blocks and monitors. Libertarian software engineers, enterprising students, banned religious groups, and regular for-profit companies compete with one another to launch new downloadable tools that outfox the censors. They exploit proxy servers, deploy encryption technology, and ferret out holes in the wall. I have spent many afternoons in the Internet cafés of Beijing's Haidian University district, learning from the students who live in this world. For a dollar an hour, they will help anyone hack the system: set up secure SSH and VPN connections, use a circumvention tool called UltraSurf developed by the banned Falun Gong group, access unregulated Chinese peer-to-peer networks. Their techniques confirm John Gilmore's adage: "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

From these students I learned that censorship is not only easy to subvert, but sometimes it subverts itself. Each week, for example, Beijing's propaganda department updates a list of banned stories. Available to senior journalists at government-controlled news outlets, the list includes scandals, protests, and sackings across the country. Newspapers are not allowed to report on them, but some journalists post the lists online, telling you all you need to know.

The system is self-defeating in other ways as well: Twelve national government bodies share responsibility for the Internet, and all of them have separate political and commercial interests. In some cases, departmental budgets are financed through revenue from online businesses, so it's often in their interests to loosen restrictions. Furthermore, the Great Firewall is besieged by bureaucratic infighting and incompetence that results in exceptions and loopholes.

One day, I received an official summons from the Public Security Bureau, asking me to present myself at the national headquarters. When I turned up, I saw hundreds of bikes covered in dust, as if their riders had gone into the building and never come out.

I was met by two uniformed officers who led me to a windowless room. They came straight to the point: Had I been in touch with Wang Dan, an exiled dissident living in Boston? Yes, I said. I had exchanged emails with him — but had not yet published a story (so how did they know?). Was I aware, they continued, of the rule requiring foreign journalists to ask for official permission to interview Chinese citizens? "Yes," I said. Then the conversation took an unexpected turn. "There is a problem," I told the officers. "Wang Dan has become an American citizen." The officers were silent. "In the future," I said, "which government department should I ask for permission to email and interview him?" Confused and sheepish, they let me leave, and I found myself back by the dusty bikes. So these were the bureaucrats guarding the mighty Great Firewall? Even police departments working in the same building were not talking to each other. Otherwise they would have known that Wang Dan was in fact still carrying a Chinese passport, as I later found out.

Government attempts to suppress coverage of another persona non grata, Lai Changxing, were equally futile. Although excised from the official state media, Lai was well-covered by dozens of Web sites. Hunted by the government, he was cheered on anonymously online. Bloggers compared him to the characters in All Men Are Brothers, a 12th-century book of tales about outlaws who outwit greedy, abusive officials. "Lai is like an ancient bandit," I read on a discussion board. "He only takes from the rich."

After almost two years underground, Lai eventually sought asylum in Canada. Again, independent Web sites carried the news. "Lai has a million-dollar home in Vancouver," was the headline on one site. At this point, newspapers gave up their silence and began to report on the Lai case, too. New media was drawing away millions of readers, so newspaper owners lobbied censors and officials to give them more leeway to defend their commercial interests.

As Chinese citizens become aware that their most potent advantage over censorship is their sheer numbers, more and more grievances are aired online — sometimes with significant consequences. The first cyber-rebellion to have a major political impact took place in 2003. Sun Zhigang, a young migrant worker in Guangzhou, died in police detention after failing to produce identity documents during a street check. Sun's friends protested his death on discussion boards, and soon other sites picked up a campaign demanding police accountability and reform of the laws affecting migrant workers. Before the unprepared system monitors could react, an avalanche was in motion. Tens of thousands of Chinese became involved in a national conversation, despite the risk of punishment. Emboldened, the mainstream media jumped in and reported the Sun case. The government opted not to crack down on these violations, rightly sensing that doing so would have been more politically costly then letting the debate run its course. A few months later, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao abolished the law requiring China's 120 million migrants to have special identity papers. (Singapore, with just 2.4 million regular Internet users and very deep pockets, might have a chance at quelling Internet-fueled popular revolts. But China comprises a fifth of humanity. Any attempt to impose iron-fisted control over a network this big seems certain to trigger economic paralysis.)

Since the Sun case, dissent has regularly roiled the Internet in China. Last year, 13 retired senior officials, including Chairman Mao's former secretary, protested a decision to close down a liberal weekly. In a joint letter published online, they wrote that the government suffered from the "delusion that it can keep the public locked in ignorance." The weekly was reopened.

This year, the pace of protests has increased. In March, the government provoked an outcry online by banning eight controversial books. Their authors published petitions — widely emailed and blogged — criticizing Long Xinmin, the chief censor. Within a few weeks their books were returned to shop shelves, an unprecedented move. Long defended the necessity of censorship, saying, "Advanced network technologies such as blogging and webcasting have been mounting new challenges to the government's ability to supervise the Internet." A month later, Long was fired. Hu Fayun, one of the eight temporarily banned authors, told The Times of London: "The traditional no-talk' style of control by the government has been broken by the Internet. Different voices can be found there."

Why can't the government block coverage of Lai and other sensitive subjects? Besides the seemingly insurmountable technical challenges, one important answer is this: online business. Rigorously policing encryption technology would undermine ecommerce, which is vitally important to the government's crusade to lift the economy. If all encrypted credit card details and other sensitive corporate information had to pass through surveillance bottlenecks, whole sections of the economy would be harmed. When forced to choose, the government seems to trust that raising incomes is a better way of securing power than spying on dissidents.

Of course, China is hardly a Jeffersonian paradise. Thousands languish in prison because of harmless online activities. A recent example is Zhang Jianhong — blogging as Li Hong — who was sentenced to six years for posting political essays. Cases like his justify strong criticism of China. But they don't prove that its monitoring system is successful on a national scale. Furthermore, the government is increasingly relying on physical rather than electronic surveillance. Internet cafs are now required to write down the ID numbers of all users so police can track them down no matter how clever their online disguises. But again, there are physical limits. Police cannot chase after millions of Internet caf&233; visitors.

Today, anyone in China can send a sensitive message if they are minimally savvy, and that fact is transforming the political discourse. True, technology has not led to the overthrow of the Communist Party, as some had predicted — the party has even harnessed the Internet for its own purposes. But this does not mean that Beijing has insulated itself against political change driven by technology. Its critics have unfettered access to mass communications, and the Internet — not the Communist Party — is the main influence on public opinion. No shield, golden or otherwise, can protect them from the public. China's leaders should know this. Their predecessors built the Great Wall of China to keep out Mongol invaders. It proved as useful as every other fixed fortification in history, and the Mongols still invaded Beijing and overthrew the political elite.

Oliver August (www.oliveraugust.com) is the author of Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man.


I wonder how much longer the communist party can hold out in China.
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Last edited by Darqcyde on Mon Oct 25, 2010 9:31 pm; edited 1 time in total
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timmccloud



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2007 12:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I wonder how much longer the communist party can hold out in China.

I hope - not long. Probably at least until the olympics are over - politcal unrest during the olympics could get ugly.

Awesome article - Thanks for posting that!
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2007 3:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It makes me wonder though, how real is it? Was it submitted from "inside the great firewall"? Or did the author write it up after they were on friendlier soil. Honestly, I think it's they kind of piece that could put them at serious risk when/if they go back.
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kame



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2007 10:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I sincerely doubt the author posted this from china Smile
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2007 5:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If they did I don't think that they'll be posting anything anytime soon. I got the impression from the article that the author regularly conducts business in China.
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mouse



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2007 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i would think the fact that the chinese authorities knew he was in contact with a highly-wanted criminal might have a bit of an impact on how they treat him.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 8:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think I just leveled up as a Necromancer...

Anywho, China now licenses their 'Golden Shield" technology to places like UAE and Belarus but there's this arms race to counter it with programs like ultrasurf...


but that article isn't up yet so this post is a place holder.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 9:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Anywho, during the fiasco in Iran this past summer the same guys helping Chinese dissidents also helped the Iranian protesters by bolstering their network so the protesters could bypass blocks. Many Americans, INCLUDING CONGRESSMEN, LAUDED THEM FOR THEIR ACTIONS IN HELPING TO ENSURE FREEDOM ON THE INTERNET...TO ENSURE FREEDOM ON THE INTERNET MR. CONGRESSPERSONS?

Then why the 'Internet Blacklist Bill"?

Stop the Internet Blacklist

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-segal/stop-the-internet-blackli_b_739836.html
By David Segal and Aaron Swartz

Quote:
When it really matters to them, Congressmembers can come together -- with a panache and wry wit you didn't know they had. As banned books week gets underway, and President Obama admonishes oppressive regimes for their censorship of the Internet, a group of powerful Senators -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- have signed onto a bill that would vastly expand the government's power to censor the Internet.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) was introduced just one week ago, but it's greased and ready to move, with a hearing in front of the Judiciary Committee this Thursday. If people don't speak out, US citizens could soon find themselves joining Iranians and Chinese in being blocked from accessing broad chunks of the public Internet.

Help us stop this bill in its tracks! Click here to sign our petition.

COICA creates two blacklists of Internet domain names. Courts could add sites to the first list; the Attorney General would have control over the second. Internet service providers and others (everyone from Comcast to PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the first list. They would also receive immunity (and presumably the good favor of the government) if they block domains on the second list.

The lists are for sites "dedicated to infringing activity," but that's defined very broadly -- any domain name where counterfeit goods or copyrighted material are "central to the activity of the Internet site" could be blocked.

One example of what this means in practice: sites like YouTube could be censored in the US. Copyright holders like Viacom often argue copyrighted material is central to the activity of YouTube, but under current US law, YouTube is perfectly legal as long as they take down copyrighted material when they're informed about it -- which is why Viacom lost to YouTube in court.

But if COICA passes, Viacom wouldn't even need to prove YouTube is doing anything illegal to get it shut down -- as long as they can persuade the courts that enough other people are using it for copyright infringement, the whole site could be censored.

Perhaps even more disturbing: Even if Viacom couldn't get a court to compel censorship of a YouTube or a similar site, the DOJ could put it on the second blacklist and encourage ISPs to block it even without a court order. (ISPs have ample reason to abide the will of the powerful DOJ, even if the law doesn't formally require them to do so.)

COICA's passage would be a tremendous blow to free speech on the Internet -- and likely a first step towards much broader online censorship. Please help us fight back: The first step is signing our petition. We'll give you the tools to share it with your friends and call your Senator.


FUN FACT: The author of this article, David Segal, is a RI state representative.

Lastly, Mr Leahy, you make me wanna cry.
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Mizike



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Edit: Heh, fooled by the necro.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 11:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

well the NEW article on china should be up a in a few days.
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tinkeringIdiot



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 27, 2010 3:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Starting foreign wars on shaky rationale, imprisoning and torturing foreign nationals and US citizens alike, opening the floodgates of corporate money to the political process...none of these things cause the average youessian to bat an eyelash. But you take away instant access to videos of cats riding roombas and THERE WILL BE BLOOD!!1! Just imagine an Anonymous campaign targeting voters 18-25 with relentless information on which congressfolks took away the double rainbows (now we'll never know what they mean!). I almost want them to pass it just to see that madness.
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Darqcyde



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PostPosted: Mon Nov 08, 2010 7:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ok so the article I mentioned above about circumventing China's Golden Shield is here: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/ff_firewallfighters/
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