Beat China's 'Great Firewall' By Ignoring It

from the just-like-that dept

A lot has been made about the so-called “Great Firewall of China” and how the country actually manages to restrict content on such an enormous level. Now a new paper is claiming that it’s improper to think of it as a big wall surrounding the perimeter, and that the real censorship system is far less robust. Instead of actually blocking illicit packets from entering the country, China has set up devices that deliver reset requests to both ends of the connection. According the researchers, if people’s computers were just told to ignore these requests, the system would be impotent to block the material. For China to set up a new system in response, based on stronger restrictions on the perimeter, might actually be a difficult technical challenge. So if this entry or the paper itself makes its way past the firewall, they’ll learn, like everyone else, that online filters don’t work. Update: Ed Felten is writing on this subject as well, and noting that as the system works it could violate US computer fraud law by basically launching a denial of service attack on both ends of the connection. Of course, it’s not clear how that matters directly, since China breaking a US law doesn’t matter much. However, it could raise additional questions about the US companies who supply the hardware and software for the firewall.

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Comments on “Beat China's 'Great Firewall' By Ignoring It”

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Mark says:

The Great Firewall is socially engineered

As an article linked from this blog previously pointed out, the Great Firewall of China doesn’t rely primarily on technology, but on social engineering. Essentially, the Chinese government does such a successful job of intimidating both individual citizens and large corporations that it gets them to self-censor to a much greater extent than any artificial means could accomplish. To reach these ends, China doesn’t need to actually block information, it merely needs to give the impression that it can track any information leak back to its source, at which point the fear of consequences will keep most people from seeking the information out or spreading it once they have it. This new “solution” to the problem won’t accomplish anything unless it attacks the problem at its source, and that source is fear.

Dan says:

Re: The Great Firewall is socially engineered

I agree. Technology has nothing to do with it, it’s the impression of control and power that the Chinese (along with every other totalitarian government) rely on. Slowly eroding that is the only thing that will bring true democracy and choice in China — and that can only be done by the Chinese.

Everyone else should mind their business, IMO.

Andy says:

Re: Re: The Great Firewall is socially engineered

That might be the case, but US visitors to China are going to be disappointment if they plan to go to sites like Wikipedia, or blogs hosted at blogspot, typepad, or (I couldn’t get to any of those). Internet access in the hotels and residences I was in sucked, barely better than dial-up modem speeds. expensive business class DSL in Shenzhen afforded me terrible upload speeds like 5kb/sec. This was my experience. Being a technologist, I don’t think I’d ever live in China simply due to the current state of Internet access there. It’s different of course, if you are Chinese living in China and know nothing else.

Sam says:

Re: Re: Re: The Great Firewall is socially enginee

Well, I am living and working here in the heart of Beijing as we speak and I have no problem getting to any of the sites mentioned, including this one!

I agree that ‘The Great Firewall’ is more of a bluff than an actual bet. Intimidation is largely sufficient in most cases to subjugate the confuscian mind.

If the hotel you stayed in is in any way foreign-owned (Radisson, Hilton, Sheraton, Ramada, Holliday Inn) then it is likely that the owners are doing actual domain/IP filtering out of that very fear — similar to Google’s recent announcement of willingly censoring content as ordered by the Chinese Government. And guess who then bears the cost of this filtering? Not the Chinese government… hehehe

Monty (profile) says:

Re: The Great Firewall is socially engineered

Next time I try to log in to BBC News from Shenzen I will imagine that the firewall doesn’t exist and maybe just maybe I will be able to read the website.

Seriously though when you atry to access a site that is restricted your computer goes shows up to 18% on the access window then stops and tells you the website is unavailable. Ain’t no social engineering there just plain engineering. It is fustrating at times but it does block a lot of dubious and unhealthy sites as well

Sean (user link) says:

You could almost think..

That China would actually want people to do this. I mean who the hell sets up a firewall this big, with so many people in their country, and so many people like poster #5 that would ping the hell out of it that it’s like they are trying to coax people into doing it.

The fact still remains, putting a Firewall up anywhere is just like putting up a wall in real life, people will find their own ways around it, you will then spend millions to block that one spot, and they’ll just get around another one. Just a waste of money IMO.

China can’t stay communist forever, people wille ventually want to know what’s going on around the world.

That’s my two cents.

Jesus Christ says:

Kill the Chinese with Love . . . and Bombs.

>> This new “solution” to the problem won’t accomplish anything unless it attacks the problem at its source, and that source is fear.

But it’s impossible to stop fear. Remember you need to fear fear, thus increasing fear exponentially. I say we just kill off the Chinese people and eat them. It’s much simplier and it solves the world hunger problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

personal experiences with chinese firewall.

i used a computer in a chinese internet cafe in 1998 and got “site not found” whenever i tried to get to, or any of the other major us media outlets.

earlier this year, i stayed with relatives there and through their DSL connection, had about 256 kbps consistently. and was able to access all the english language news sites except those in ny that were focused on chinese politics. i have no experience on the chinese language sites that may be the focus of their censorship.

i will say that i stopped using google when i was there. was automatically re-directed to or something of that sort, where as the lesser known search engines were not redirected from what i recall.

when i really needed to access google, i connected to my home pc which i had intentionally left on, so that i could use its US IP address. unexpectedly, I found that this greatly reduced the download times for applications i needed to download from the web, my point2point connection to home was faster than to the us commercial sites.

call me an anonymous coward, but i am sure the PLA and NSA can figure out who i am from their logs. … just kidding. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: personal experiences with chinese firewall.

PS (replying to my own message) – the real cowards were Disney. They blocked me from listening to WABC because I had a Chinese IP address…. and that was AFTER i registered with their site and gave them a lot of personal information, including my home address within their coverage area. Disney are real losers. Avoid them.

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