from the hiding-behind-a-wall dept
It sometimes takes a little while, but sooner or later most governments engaged in ham-fisted internet censorship get around to taking aim at VPNs. While VPNs certainly have numerous, legitimate uses (including an additional layer of security when on public WiFi), they're also great tools when it comes to preventing your government, ISP, or anybody else from nosily tracking your online behavior. As such, you'll see broadcasters or even Netflix quick to villify their use to enforce increasingly pointless geographical viewing restrictions.
But such crackdowns are also a favorite tool of more restrictive governments, whether it's to protect VoIP revenue for state-run telecom monopolies, or to prevent users from tap-dancing around state-mandated filters or other restrictions.
In China, home of the largest internet filter ever constructed, the Chinese government has ramped up its own long-standing war on VPNs by announcing a mass shutdown of VPN providers that have been helping citizens get around the great firewall.
According to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, all VPN providers now need prior government approval to operate, a move toward effectively making VPN use illegal entirely. Moving forward, all basic telecom providers and ISPs are barred from setting up or renting special lines (including VPNs) to carry out cross-border operations unless previously arranged. The new effort, which lasts till March 31, 2018, appears to focus more specifically on companies providing VPN services to individuals.
This banning of a fundamental encryption tool is necessary, the Ministry said in a notice published to its website, to "strengthen cyberspace" and cure some ambiguous "disordered development" in the nation's telecom market:
"China’s internet connection service market ... has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance,” the ministry said. The crackdown on unregulated internet connections aimed to "strengthen cyberspace information security management."
This comes on the heels of Chinese police agencies increasingly declaring that censorship circumvention tools are terrorist software, a growing refrain among oppressive governments looking to justify draconian information crackdowns. Estimates have suggested that around 1-3% of China's 731 million internet users use tools like VPNs to access an uncensored internet feed. China's last major crackdown on VPN use was during last March's National People's Congress meeting in Beijing. This crackdown comes ahead of the once-every-five-year national congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year, and the renewal of the Politburo Standing Committee in early 2018.