China's Solution To The VPN Quandary: Only Authorized, And Presumably Backdoored, Crypto Links Allowed
from the will-Russia-follow-suit? dept
Two of the most important developments in China’s clampdown on the digital world took place last year, when the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology declared that all VPN providers needed prior government approval to operate, and then apps stores were forced to remove the many VPNs on offer there. In some parts of China, VPNs were banned completely, but such a total shutdown is not really an option for cities with many businesses that require secure overseas communication channels. That put the Chinese authorities in something of a quandary: how could they reconcile their desire to prevent VPNs being used to circumvent online controls, while ensuring that the country’s increasingly important corporate sector had access to the encryption tools it needed for operating globally? An article in the FT provides us with the answer (paywall). In recent months, international companies and organizations have found their VPNs blocked more frequently:
regulators have been pushing multinationals to buy and use state-approved VPNs. The state-approved versions can cost tens of thousands of dollars a month and expose users’ communications to Beijing’s scrutiny.
“China’s intention is to control the flow of information entirely, making people use only government-approved VPNs by making it difficult, if not impossible, to use alternatives,” said Lester Ross, partner at legal firm WilmerHale in Beijing.
The great thing about state-approved VPNs is that they can include backdoors for the government to use, and can be to shut down quickly if really serious problems arise that require even more stringent controls.
Backdoored crypto is inherently vulnerable to attacks against those built-in weaknesses, but the Chinese authorities are doubtless willing to let companies run that risk for the sake of maintaining overall control. Since Russia’s views on VPNs are closely aligned with those of China, it will be interesting to see if it decides to adopt Beijing’s solution to the VPN dilemma to tidy up its own rather clumsy approach.