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VPN Service is Sketchy, Especially on iPhone, After Great Firewall Upgrade

Posted: 01/23/2015 2:56 pm

great wallIf you’ve thought that the VPN on your iPhone hasn’t been working properly in China lately, it’s not just your imagination. Virtual private network provider Astrill said on Wednesday that iOS devices that use VPN protocols IPSec, L2TP/IPSec and PPTP are not accessible in China right now. So far, it’s just iOS devices like iPhones and iPads that are affected. Astrill VPNs on MacBooks still work.

VPN Tech Runo said earlier that many of its services have not been accessible in China either, since December 31. 

An unidentified website that monitors the Chinese internet explained what’s going on:

The Great Firewall is blocking the VPN on the protocol level. It means that the firewall does not need to identify each VPN provider and block its IP addresses. Rather, it can spot VPN traffic during transit and block it.

With the Great Firewall getting harder to climb, companies like Astrill are charging more to do it. The popular VPN provider has already raised its prices to coincide with the Great Firewall update.

Keep in mind, though: there are a number of great VPNs out there. Let us know of others that might work better in the comments.

Photo: flickr


Facebook may find a way to enter China

Posted: 04/20/2011 11:26 am

One of the downsides of living up here is the slow and heavily-censored internet. Unless you have a VPN, sites like Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook are all blocked. LinkedIn and Google/Gmail also have their moments.

The blocking of social networking sites began around the time of the riots in Urumqi in 2009. Those holed up in Zhongnanhai figured Twitter was a key tool leading to the revolt in Tehran that year, and it was too risky to hand that tool to the angry masses in Xinjiang. China has been proven correct on its fears: this year Facebook and Twitter have both been key communications and information tools in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria.

Facebook probably never intended itself to be a political tool, but it certainly makes a good one. That aside, it remains focused on growing the already largest social network in the world, and China remains a big black hole. China has more people online than any other country, yet is an area that Facebook has been unable to penetrate due to restrictions on its service here and hot local social networking sites such as Ren Ren Wang and Kaixing Wang, not to mention Sina Weibo (which is more akin to Twitter).

But it won’t give up. Mark Zuckerberg, who has a Chinese girlfriend and is learning Putonghua, toured China last year and met with executives of Baidu, China’s leading search engine. That could have been a catalyst for this deal (courtesy of Bloomberg):

Facebook Inc. has signed an agreement with Baidu Inc. to set up a social-networking website in China, reported, citing unidentified employees at the Chinese search-engine company.

The agreement followed several meetings between Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Baidu CEO Robin Li, reported on its website today. The China website won’t be integrated with Facebook’s international service, and the start date is not confirmed, according to the report.

Some analysts have already said, if this new site is not integrated with Facebook’s global network, they’ll have a hard time competing with the established players (mentioned above).

Where does that leave us? Well, considering the Jasmine Revolutions and high inflation in China, the authentic Facebook won’t be made available here anytime soon. And if you can read Chinese, chances are your Chinese friends are already on Renren or Kaixin. So for your typical expatriate who wants to use a social network, the options are learn to read Chinese or use a VPN.

And on that note, if you need VPN advice, check out our earlier article on the topic.


China declares war on the Internet; here’s how to get around the Net Nanny

Posted: 03/22/2011 6:00 am

It’s been a tough couple of days for Internet users in China. We’ve all become used to no Youtube, no Facebook and no Twitter, but the Net Nanny has at least left more vital services alone, such as email. That has changed in the last few days as China, with unrest in full swing in North Africa, has begun clamping down on what can be accessed online. Yes, it appears leaders have a severe case of the jitters and when that happens, the people inside Zhongnanhai tend to take a conservative stance.

Two major developments have occured; the first is that wildly popular (especially among laowai) email provider Gmail has had intermittent service the last few days. Some users said they couldn’t access their Gmail accounts, others couldn’t send mail, and others couldn’t mark emails as unread. Google itself finally chimed in yesterday, as reported by the Guardian:

“Relating to Google there is no issue on our side. We have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail,” said a Google spokesman. China’s embassy in Washington was not immediately available for comment.

The announcement follows a blog posting from Google on 11 March in which the firm said it had “noticed some highly targeted and apparently politically motivated attacks against our users. We believe activists may have been a specific target.” The posting said the attacks were targeting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser. The two firms have been working to address the issue. At the time, Google declined to elaborate on which activists had been targeted or where the attacks had been coming from.

The second major development is that China is beginning to knock out access to VPNs, also known as Virtual Private Networks, or the precious tool that gives us access to Youtube. For those unfamiliar with VPNs, they effectively mask your computer’s IP address (the unique ID given to every device accessing the Internet) and gives it a generic IP address which appears to be from somewhere else, such as the United States. If your computer appears to be in the US, you get two benefits: you can see all the websites behind the Great Firewall, and also have access to US-only services such as Pandora, Hulu and Netflix. Right now, reports on Twitter indicate that Witopia, a popular VPN, and 12vpn are both inaccessible in Mainland China, however this can change minute-by-minute.

One VPN you can try (which still works, at least for me) is Strong VPN. (No, I’m not affiliated with them, although I did find out about them through a friend of mine’s blog.) It’s the best VPN I’ve used thus far, but also a bit pricey. But there are many to choose from, as you can see in this list.

It’s hard to gauge how long the crackdown will last. If I’m a betting man though, knowing how scared China is of any potential unrest, I wouldn’t expect to see Facebook or Twitter unblocked anytime soon, and we can only hope that Gmail will eventually be fully freed.

If you have other VPNs to recommend, please leave them in the comments below.

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