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The Golden Shield Project of China: A Decade Later—An in-Depth Study of the Great Firewall



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The Golden Shield Project of China: A Decade Later
An in-depth study of the Great Firewall
Sonali Chandel, Zang Jingji, Yu Yunnan, Sun Jingyao, Zhang Zhipeng
College of Engineering and Computing Sciences, New York Institute of Technology, Nanjing, China
{schandel, jzang, yyu18, jsun19, zzhang36}
Abstract - The Golden Shield Project aka the Great Firewall
of China is one of the most popular and vital information
security and censorship technology project that is being used
very strictly and extensively in the country since 2008. The Great
Firewall has been preventing Internet users in China from
visiting many foreign websites for one reason or the other and
blocking them completely. This particular firewall implements
information access control th
rough some stringent security
policies and takes the responsibility of controlling and censoring
the flow of data. The Great Firewall makes China one of the
strictest countries in the world when it comes to the internet
freedom of the netizens residing in the mainland. In this paper,
we will focus on the development of the Great Firewall that
includes the timeline of its development, the censorship policy
used for its implementation
, its effects and the pr inci ples behind
the technology used for its application. We will discuss where it
stands after a decade of its implementation. We will also present
a study of techniques like using a VPN to circumvent the heavily
monitored firewall. These circumvention techniques have
become very popular in the mainland because of severe
information censorship. With this research, we aim to offer a
clear understanding of the Great Firewall to the people from
across the world.
Keywords - Great Firewall, Firewall, VPN, Access control,
Censorship, Circumvention
The ‘Golden Shield Projectof China started in 1996,
its actual implementation happened in 2008. [1] The foreign
media calls it The Great Firewall’ to indicate the seriousness
and extent of the information block it poses on the entire
country. According to the definition of the Chinese
government, the intention behind the Golden Shield Project is
only to filter and censor wrong information originating from
outside of China to protect the society from its influence. From
the time of its inception
two decades ago, the project has
evolved and turned into a highly secure, heavily monitored
system which is very well described by the term, ‘the Great
Firewall’ as it mesmerizes the rest of the world. The most
significant side effects of the Great Firewall implementation
can be seen from the fact that some of the most popular social
networking apps and websites in the world like Facebook,
YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, and
Instagram are all blocked in
the mainland.
A decade has gone by since the Golden Shield Project has
been officially implemented in the country, and there is no sign
whatsoever of it being removed shortly. The government and
the local citizens believe that the Great Firewall contributes to
stabilizing Chinese society, both online and offline.
The Great Firewall is not only a powerful political tool but
also an exquisitely designed network security program.
However, at the same time, it also brings endless worries to
some people, especially those who live in China and have to
communicate with people from other countries for personal,
business, or academic purposes. To scale the wall, they turn
towards using
VPN applications, which are not necessarily
cheap, safe, and stable. From time to time, there is always a
government crackdown on VPN sellers and users, causing
many issues for everyone involved.
To help people in getting a full understanding of the Great
Firewall, this paper researches its development process and the
technology behind
it. The paper is structured as follows:
Section I introduces the topic. Section II presents the related
work. In section III, the development of the Great Firewall and
the network censorship situation in other countries of the world
are discussed. In section I
V, the paper
talks about the
technology behind the Great Firewall. This includes the
discussion of the kind of technical methods adopted and the
methods implemented during the last two decades. The
technology behind VPN is introduced in section V while
various conditions concerning the privacy and securi
ty issues
in using VPN for circumventing the censorship is listed in
section VI. In section VII, the paper presents a survey result on
local people’s view on the Great Firewall and VPN to show
how well they know about the network censorship in China
and whether they can protect themselves from all kinds of
online attacks and information theft that happens while they
are trying to scale the wall. Finally, we present our conclusion
in section VIII and discuss the future works that can be carried
on by someone interested.
During the research for this paper, we found that the
already published articles on this topic mostly focus on various
aspects of the Great Firewall individually. Some of them focus
only on the technology, some only on cultural and social
impact and some
only on the issues related to the local laws
and policy.
Hounsel, Mittal, and Feamster [10] use natural language
processing and search engines to automatically discover a
much more extensive range of websites that are censored in
China. They focus only on keyword blocking technology,
which is just one aspect of the techn
es used behind running
the Great Firewall.
Stevenson [12] examines the methods of internet
censorship employed by China and other nations and proposes
a novel combination of existing legislative proposals,
recommendations from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and
international cooperation as the best way to address the
problem of internet censorship. It provides background
information about legal and economic trade for our paper.
2019 International Conference on Cyber-Enabled Distributed Computing and Knowledge Discovery (CyberC)
978-1-7281-2542-8/19/$31.00 ©2019 IEEE
DOI 10.1109/CyberC.2019.00027
Farnan, Darer and Wright [17] considers the legitimate
responses from the DNS servers themselves and present the
argument that this type of attack may not be primarily targeted
directly at users but at the underlying DNS infrastructure
within China. However, the evidence they present needs more
experimental data for the verification of their argument.
Zhang et al. [22] talk about secured VPN technology, but
we have extended the idea of using VPN technology
specifically as a countermeasure to the Great Firewall.
In this paper, we discuss the development of the Great
Firewall for over ten years from the technology to the
government policy behind it. We have also analyzed some of
the significant
loopholes of the Great Firewall that
published papers on this topic have not mentioned. We have
also connected the Great Firewall and its effects to its
countermeasure, known as VPN.
3.1 The Timeline of the Great Firewall
The Great Firewall is the nickname, which the western
media gave to a sub-system of the Golden Shield Project in
1997. The Golden Shield Project also called as National
Public Security Work Informational Project,’ is a project that
includes security management information system, criminal
information system, exit and entry administration information
system, supervisor information system and traffic management
information system. This nationwide network-security
fundamental constructional project was started by the Central
Cyberspace Affairs Commission of the People's Republic of
China. [33]
The Internet first arrived in China in 1994. As the
availability of the Internet gradually in
creased with time, it
became the most common communication platform and tool
for trading information like everywhere else in the world. [15]
With the Internet, also came the western ideologies, which the
government was reluctant to embrace. Hence, the birth of the
Golden Shield Project.
The entire project was implemented in different phases.
The main tasks of the first phase (1998-2006) of the project
were the construction of the first level, second-level, and the
third-level information communication network, application
database, shared platform. The second phase was initiated in
2006, which took only two years to complete. It was mainly
focused on enhancing the terminal construction while trying to
formalize public security work. [13]
To increase the final construction, along with the public
security business application system, the Chinese government
started the phase II project in 2006. Compared to
phase I,
phase II emphasized more on information application types of
the public security business and public security information.
The primary goals of phase II included the application system
construction, system integration, the expansion of information
center, and information construction in central and western
provinces of the country. With the completion of p
hase II in
2008, internet censorship in China became more powerful than
ever [13]. Table 1 shows a brief timeline for this project.
Major Events
The Great Firewall was first set up
The services o f keyword screening and sensitive words masking were
introduced by Cisco.
Wikipedia got blocked for the first time (It is accessible now) [4]
YouTube launched Hong Kong substation
somehow its use in
Chinese mainland started being blocked.
Facebook got blocked
Twitter got blocked
Google claimed that it was attacked by Chinese hackers because it
refused to allow the Chinese government to control its server in
Beijing. A few days later, Google was blocked.
Instagram was blocked.
All foreign websites with a domain name are blocked
Table 2 shows some most common types of information
that are censored online. [9]
Politically Sensitive Information
Facebook\Twitter\New York Times
Pornographic Information
Online scams and other crimes
Some online gambling websites
3.2 The Technology Development of the Great Firewall
This section talks about the four stages of technology
developments of the Great Firewall from 1998 to 2018.
1). First stage: The Golden Shield blocks domain names and
IP addresses
The first generation of the Golden Shield project proposed
an internal filter that blocked specific domain names and
servers IP addresses. A multi-level system was implemented
to track Internet users who violated the rules. As a result, all
Internet cafes
in the country
are required to install surveillance
software either provided or approved by the local police. This
system monitors traffic on all computers in the café, including
the screens of each user. The system also has direct access to
the policy network system. Users at Internet cafes are required
to present their ID cards before they can access the Internet. If
a violation occurs, the Internet cafe owners will submit their
personal information to the local
police immediately via the
Internet [11]. Many Internet service providers (ISP) for
residential users are also required to verify every usersID
information. Many of the web-based forums prohibit
anonymous posting. Real names are required to register an ID
to submit articles [21]. Many popular smartphone apps also
need their users to register using their original ID to be able to
keep track of every user’s online activities.
2). Second stage: The Golden Shield implements keyword
In the second stage, the keyword-filtering system of
Golden Shield was upgraded to detect the content of the
websites that netizens visit, even if the internet connection is
going through a proxy. If there is some “sensitive content”
communicated along with the network connection, the
Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is reset automatically.
For example, some phrases that refer to any political dissents,
such as “Officials called on," “Persecution activities,” “Illegal
detention,” and “Declared anti-communistwill be censored.
3). Third stage: Great Firewall begins detecting VPNs and
other circumvention tools
With support from the government, the developers of the
Great Firewall finally managed to identify weaknesses in
VPNs [44]. They found that there are some distinct features of
the commonly used VPN protocols, such as IPSec,
L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP, which often use specific ports. When
processing the encrypted connection, it leaves a distinctive
trace. Again, the Great Firewall was upgraded to detect such
connection traces. As a result, there is a very long list of VPNs
that cannot be used functionally because the Great Firewall
stopped the connection traces, such as Free VPN, Green VPN,
Jiguang VPN, Tianxing VP
N and many more
. [21]
4). Fourth stage: Cybersecurity laws target anonymity and
In addition to continually upgrading the technology behind
the Great Firewall, Beijing has also introduced new laws to
criminalize VPN service providers. The first primary law to
regulate Internet content was released in 1996. This law was
about the “Interim Provisions Governing Management of
Computer Information Networks in the People’s Republic of
China connecting to the International Network.” These
provisions were amended and enhanced in 1998 and 2000 by
the “Provisions for the Implementation of the Interim
Provisions Governing Management of Computer Information
Networks in the People’s Republic of China.” [12] The law
stated that all Internet information services must be licensed (if
commercial) or registered with the authorities (if private). ISPs
must record and retain data about the number
of time users
spend online, their account numbers, their IP addresses, and
their dial-up numbers. The latest addition to this string of
regulations came in 2005, which deals specifically with
providers of “Internet news information services.” [18]
On January 22, 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and
Information Technology (MIIT) announced a “Notice on
Clearing Up and Regulating the Internet Access Service
Market,” which forbids the unapproved creation of dedicated
lines or other information channels to conduct cross
business activities. It means providing VPNs to the users
without official permission is illegal in China now. Table 3
shows the development of cyber laws for VPNs in China. [6]
In December 2017, a man called Xiangyang Wu was
sentenced to 5.6 years in prison and fined 500,000 Yuan (73K
USD approx.) for illegal business operations of VPNs. [39]
According to announcements made by Shanghai Baoshan
District People’s Court in October 2018, Dai Mou was also
sentenced to three years in jail and was fined RMB 10,000 (US
$1,446) for selling and using VPN services in China illegally.
January 22,
the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information
Technology (MIIT) announced a “Notice on Clearing
Up and Regulating the Internet Access Service
Market” [6]
January 2017 -
A large amount of Taobao shops were shut & the VPN
applications were removed from iPhone market [40]
December 2017
Xiangyang, the VPN service provider, was sentenced
to jail for being guilty [39]
October 2018
Dai Mou has been sentenced to three years in jail and a
fine for selling and using VPN services.[38]
3.3 Internet Censorship in China vs. the Rest of the World
China is not the only country in the world to implement
censorship on its cyberspace. Besides China, there are more
than 20 countries around the world that seriously monitors and
censors the online activities of their netizens. Apart from these
countries, some other countries keep implementing censorship
temporarily d
uring some pro
tests or demonstration against its
government or when some social disturbance happens in their
territory. They do this mostly to control the news from
spreading, both real and fake and causing more disruption in
society. Given the different cultural background and values,
each country's Internet censorship presents a very different
picture. [20]
In Table 4, we briefly list the
primary methods used by
some countries for the censorship of their network. Most of the
countries do not directly block access to any legal, foreign
websites. Also, there is no official verification system adopted
in any other countries as China does. [1]
Great Firewall
Closed LAN
Limit the number of Internet users
Closed Internet
High Internet access costs
Limit speed and comments
Internal Intranet.
4.1 The Firewall Technology
The core technologies behind any general firewall include
the concept of Packet filtering, Application Proxy, Stateful
Inspection, and Complete Content Inspection.
4.2 Methods used
the Great Firewall
The Great Firewall technologies combine multiple firewalls
technologies, as mentioned in section 4.1. For example, the IP
address checking and filtering technology in the Packet
Filtering Firewall and the connection blocking technology in
the data detecting technology in the Application Proxy
Firewall. The Chinese government employs multiple
approaches for censorship that includes both technical and
non-technical means. [24, 17]
The following section talks about the leading methods that
are used behind the Great Firewall:
1) DNS poisoning technology: One of the essential technical
methods used by the Great Firewall is DNS poisoning. When
the Great Firewall observes DNS queries to specific domains,
it responds by sending a poisoned DNS response to the
requesting DNS resolver. Due to its position in the network,
this typically reaches the requesting DNS resolver before the
response from the DNS server. This results in the requesting
DNS resolver caching the poisoned DNS response and
ignoring the response from the DNS server itself. [17]
2) Self-Censorship:
According to laws and regulations
mentioned in section 3.2, Chinese companies are responsible
for their content, and any violations can lead to severe
penalties ranging from hefty fines to closures. Therefore, many
large companies have set up their law enforcement teams to
monitor and ensure that their platforms do not contain banned
topics. [44]
3) Manual enforcement:
To enforce censorship and
harmful content considered detrimental to the progress of
China, a large number of Internet watchdogs are employed.
These people are contracted by the authorities to monitor
online content and inform about any potential violations to the
assigned government officials to make an on-site investigation.
Some sites offer back-
end access, allowing
these watchdogs to
edit content directly. Recently, advancement in AI technology
has allowed the monitoring processes to be automated on a
large scale. [44]
4.3 The Working principle of the Great Firewall
The Great Firewall blocks a specific site for many
different reasons. However, these reasons entirely depend on
the choice of the government. The Great Firewall aims to
eliminate criticism and prevent people from being infiltrated
by the information that the government decides to be harmful
to the peace and harmony of the people in the country [24]. It
can include a ban on sensitive words, which can insinuate
national leaders,
violation of the constitution or reaction
s that
can influence the peace of society. There is much censorship
regarding social issues becoming widespread and known to the
public or outside world as well. Similar news coming from the
outside world that the government feels might spoil the mind
of the local citizens is censored as well. Fig.1 shows the
working principle of the Great Firewall [5]. Between the times
a user submits their request, and the server sends back the
response, four things can go wrong [27]. The following points
explain how it works in steps.
1) DNS Blocking: When a netizen enters a URL, the DNS finds
the corresponding IP address. If DNS is set as not to return that
particular IP address, then the user cannot access the site. As
shown in Fig.1, the message displayed on the screen is "Cannot
find the webpage.” Around 2002, China began to use ‘Domain
Name Hijacking.’ They use IDS (Intrusion Detection Systems)
monitoring systems provided by routers to hijack domain
names, preventing people from accessing filtered websites. At
the same time, to prevent advanced users from directly using
Fig.1 The working principle of the Great Firewall
different domain name servers with normal functions, China
has also begun to block overseas DNS servers and has blocked
hundreds of North American DNS servers. [17]
2) Connection Phase: The monitor will compare the users
request to the list of banned IP addresses [5]. If it belongs to a
banned address, the server aborts the request. As shown in
Fig.1, the error message displayed is, "The connection is
3) URL Keyword Blocking: Although the URL is not on the
blacklist, the connection is reset if the requested URL contains
forbidden words [19]. Advanced routing equipment from
companies such as Cisco, which supplies 80 percent of China's
routers, has helped China achieve keyword filtering. As shown
in Fig.1, the
message displayed is, The server is
redirecting the request.” [10]
4) Webpage Scanning: Once a user enters their requested site,
the monitoring system scans the entire page to see if it can pass.
Users may not be able to access the site for a few minutes or
even an hour. As shown in Fig.1, the error message displayed
is "Unable to display the web page
4.4 The Aftereffects of the Great Firewall
4.4.1 Effects on Society
The firewall is not meant to separate the Chinese internet
from the overseas internet, but it is mainly used to implement
targeted blocking of individual foreign websites, mobile
applications, and specific web pages. It is important to note
that these interception points add up
to a tiny fraction of the
vast ocean of overseas internet. Some people take the blocking
very seriously because some blocked websites used to be very
popular among Chinese netizens. For example, Google,
Facebook, Twitter, and other mainstream websites in the
United States. There are two dominating views about
censorship. One is
that the
western world has taken this as a
prominent example of China's "lack of Internet freedom."
Moreover, the other half includes the local people who are not
at all interested in the blocked sites in any way and do not get
affected by its absence. For them, the problem is almost non-
existent. The reality is that both sides are deepening or
expanding in their respective directions. [2]
4.4.2 Effects on Businesses Private and government-
A. In China
In the past few years, the Golden Shield project has
brought a significant impact on the nation when it comes to the
e-business. The first thing to notice is the rapid growth of local
internet companies, typically the “BAT” (Baidu, Alibaba,and
Tencent). Without any powerful competitor from the outside
world, these companies have gained almost unlimited and
unopposed resources in the Chinese market, including the
government’s support. [16]
In 2018, the use of Baidu as the only search engine reached
60% of the overall
se of the local search engine market
[42]. The success of Baidu has grown tenfold after Google quit
the Chinese market in 2010. Though a survey conducted by
China Internet Watchin, August 2018 suggests that over
70% of Chinese will choose Google over Baidu if it ever
returns. [43]
The Internet industry in China, without powerful foreign
competitors, is prospective yet still in chaos. Big companies
like the “BAT” keep ignoring the internet’s ethics principles
from time to time. For example, Weibo (Twitter’s equivalent),
a social website where users can post pictures, short videos,
and text contents, was denounced by its users for a series of
violations of government policies including stealing users’
account to post and re
-post commercial advertisements and
randomly blocking posts from accounts which are not VIP
accounts in order to push people to buy its VIP services.
However, Weibo is still one of the most popular social
websites in the country. In addition, after learning lessons from
mistakes made by Facebook and Twitter, Weibo cooperates
with the Chinese government very closely.
Great Firewall
not only encourages the growth of
local internet enterprise but it also brings profits to VPN
service providers even when most of the free VPN applications
have been defined as illegal in the last two years. Apart from
the restrictions set by the government, there are some side
effects, which increases the operating costs of all the foreign
and local companies who have a business in other countries.
Also, they have to adopt a VPN to ensure their regular
communication between their overseas branches and clients.
Even though such communications will not be targeted directly,
but the
ban on non
-state sanctioned VPNs and the cost for
building VPN servers are still expected to grow extensively.
B. International influence
In China, the cybersecurity law was officially
implemented from June 1, 2017. Many enterprises in Europe
and the United States, industry associations with
background, government departments, and mainstream media
expressed varying degrees of concern, disappointment, and
even anxiety about the Chinese cybersecurity laws. Foreign
critics said that the law could shut out foreign technology
companies from "important" departments and lead to
controversial rules, such as requiring companies to store data
on servers in China. Such actions were already taken before the
new cyber laws were implemented. For example, Google
decided to quit the Chinese market only because it refused to
store data in servers under government surveillance, located in
Beijing. [1]
4.5 Technology Tricks and Loopholes
Although the
Great Firewall
is growing to be stronger,
there still exists some loopholes that users find very hard to
understand. For example, some users can access a few blocked
websites such as YouTube, when they use an external LAN
port for connecting to the LAN. Some of these problems are
still not settled, but some can be explained. For example, some
users find that they can still
receive notifications from blocked
social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. Take Apple’s
APNS (Apple Push Notification Service) as an example. The
operation behind it can be seen in Fig.2.
Fig.2 Apples official APSN mechanism
The Provider is the ba
ckground server of users
The Provider server is blocked, but the APNS server is not as it
is in foreign countries (mostly more than one). It can
communicate freely with the provider. Therefore, there is no
communication problem between APNS and iPhones. As a
result, Facebook and other blocked apps can send messages to
APNS, and then APNS can push
messages to the iPhone,
bypassing the wall as seen in Fig. 3. This also applies to
Android phones where users can get a push notification from
the blocked app, but they cannot open it.
Fig.3 Example of YouTube and Facebook users receiving message
Fig.4 The messages above shows some error messages received while trying
to open and access some blocked sites
Except for a few loopholes, the Great Firewall technology
is robust enough to censor everything else without fail. Some
local versions of some universal apps like QQ music can even
detect that the users are using a VPN to connect and hence
decline the users
access to their server.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) refers to a private
communication environment built on public communication
facilities, which is characterized by private and virtual
communication. The goal of a VPN is to establish a logical
network independent of the physical topology of the
which allows a geographically distributed set of hosts to
interact with each other and can be managed as a separate
network [31]. It is commonly used in enterprise-level office
systems, but because of the Internet censorship on such a
massive scale in China, many people use VPN to scale the wall.
VPN provides an end-to-end transmission system,
it is
very convenient for users to log in to the company gateway
from a remote location with an untraceable IP address.
Because of this approach, it can easily avoid institutional
5.1 The Technologies used by a VPN
The mainstream applications that claim to provide VPN
services are using one of the following three techniques: Proxy,
IPSec, and SSH.
Proxy Server:
A proxy server is like a courier service
which is responsible for nothing but transcending the message.
The work of proxy servers is conducted in the HTTP layer and
Socket layer in the Open System Interconnection (OSI) model
under most circumstances. [21]
2) IPSec: IP security is the most common method used by
VPN applications. It works in the third layer of the Open
System Interconnection (OSI) model, which is the Network
layer. [21]
3) SSH: It is an encrypted channel that needs to be combined
with the proxy server to overcome the blocked network. Hence
the tool that is used to scale the blocked network which is
usually called SSH is, in fact, an SSH agent. It can be
considered as an encrypted agent, where the package is kept in
a safe case while being sent to the courier. In the TCP/IP five-
tier model, SSH is the security protocol that applies to the
application layer and transport layer. SSH is a remote shell, an
application based on SSL. Although many people use SSH to
transmit data, they merely use the SSL proxy function of
SSHD software to get this job done. [21]
A. The awareness of Chinese citizens about GFW and VPN
Table 5 shows the results from an online survey that
shows the data from the citizens who visited the blocked
websites [2
]. This survey aimed to find out the awareness of
the local netizens regarding GFW and how many still choose
to visit the blocked websites. Figure 5 shows the motivation of
people who tried to visit those websites. [24]
Relevant factors The result of the Survey
92% male
Education background
73% of the participants were
university students
Age group
22-25 yrs.
Students from an IT background
Methods used to visit the blocked
Mostly free VPN
The frequency to scale the wall
66% visited every day
Money spent on scaling the wall
88% paid less than 10 yuan per month
Fig.5 The motivation of people who tried to use VPNs
5.2 Privacy and Security Issues in using a VPN
When it comes to dealing with the Great Firewall, VPN is
an inevitable technology. In the past few years, more and more
netizens around the world have chosen to use VPN to cover up
their online traces. However, the various pros and cons cannot
be neglected when it is about paid and free VPNs. Table 6
summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of using various
paid and free VPNs. [29] [30] [28]
Also, here are the research results that the researchers
found after analyzing the original coding and network behavior
of 283 VPN apps in Android’s Play store. [7]
1) 18% of VPNs do not encrypt any data, leaving users
vulnerable to man
in-the-middle attacks when using open
networks like public Wi-Fi.
2) 16% of VPNs embed code in users' network data, such as
image transcoding. The purpose of image transcoding is
to make the image load faster. Two apps embed Java
scripts that push ads and tracks user behavior in their
data. JavaScript can be easily modified into malware.
3) 18% of VPNs do not encrypt any data, leaving users
vulnerable to man
-in-the-middle attacks when using open
networks like public Wi-Fi.
4) 16% of VPNs embed code in users' network data, such as
image transcoding. The purpose of image transcoding is
to make the image load faster. Two apps embed Java
scripts that push ads and tracks user behaviour in their
data. JavaScript can be easily modified into malware.
The IP address
Anonymous use, No
Registration and login
not needed to use
Too many ads
Easy to install and use
Multiple devices
allowed per
Security is not
Support several VPN
5) 84% of VPNs leak traffic when using IPv6. 66% of VPNs
even leak DNS information making users more
vulnerable to surveillance or modification attacks.
6) 67% of apps claim to enhance privacy, but 75 percent use
third-party tracking codes to monitor users' online
behavior. 82% require users to provide sensitive
information, such as access to user accounts and text
7) 38% of VPNs contain code classified as malicious by
VirusTotal. VirusTotal, provided by Google, is a
collection of more than 100 antivirus software antivirus
6.1 Chinese Government’s policies towards the Great
Under normal circumstances, there is no privilege given to
anyone at any point of time to access the blocked sites in the
country. However, during some very significant international
sporting, political or business events like G-20 Summit, World
Expo, Youth Olympic Games, etc. the government does allow
the visitors from foreign countries to have the privilege of
accessing the Internet without any censorship. This exceptional
privilege service is provided by the telecom operators and is
only allowed within an exclusive scope of a limited zone.
These free internet access zones are just set for a limited period
for the guests and media reporters until the event ends. Table 7
some examples of such events when a censorship-free
zone was created for people visiting China from overseas for
the same. [32]
Free Zone
World Expo
May 1, 2010- October 31, 2010
September 4, 2016-
Asian Games
November 12, 2010- November 27,
Youth Olympics
August 16, 2014-
August 28, 2014
6.2 Chinese Government’s policies towards VPN
Although there are many VPN applications available in the
market that can help in getting access to the blocked content
but selling and using a VPN without an official license
illegal in many cases in China [37]. In January 2017, the
Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT)
issued the notice on clearing and regulating the Internet
network access service market, which stated: “It is not allowed
to establish or rent special channels (including VPN) to carry
out cross-border business activities, without the approval of the
telecommunications authorities.” Through this announcement,
we can see that unapproved VPN cross-
border business
activities are explicitly prohibited [6]. During the time between
January 2017 to March 2019, a large number of Taobao shops
got shut for selling illegal VPN software. At the same time, a
lot of illegal VPN applications have been removed from the
iPhone market as it is monitored by
local government now
after its local data center moved to Guizhou, a province in
southwest China, in March 2018 [36]. Although fears of a
blanket block on services have not materialized, VPN
connections often face outages during the time of major
political events in China. [30]
6.3 Current Situation and Future Plans
The government regulation allows foreigners
to invest in
China’s virtual private network but caps foreign ownership at
50% [3]. The government intends to turn Hainan province into
a free trade zone to let Hainan become the foundation of an
international tourist center and encourage overseas companies
to establish regional headquarters there. Google has been away
from China for eight years, but now the company has been
quietly testing the waters
by investing in
different products in
China. Google has launched its Drive and Docs products in
Shenzhen in China, adding to a growing list of services it
wants to offer in the world’s biggest Internet market [26]. On
January 19, 2018, Tencent and Google announced that they
had signed a cross-licensing agreement for patents covering a
wide range of products and technologies, and they said they
would be open to further collaboration on future innovations.
As a result of this research, we have concluded that there
are four stages in the technology development of the Great
Firewall. We talked about the leading technologies used behind
the Great Firewall, including DNS poisoning, Proxy server
technology, and Network address translation technology. We
can also conclude that the Great Firewall is being developed
and updated continuously. Therefore, the power of the Great
Firewall cannot be ignored. The increasing importance of the
Internet attracts peoples attention on network and data
security. Th
e Great Firewall plays a vital role in protecting
national information security. It has been preventing Internet
users in China from visiting certain foreign websites, which the
rest of the world considers as a prominent example of China's
"lack of Internet freedom." Blocking some external sites is
proving out to be extremely beneficial for the rapid growth of
local internet companies. Organizations and netizens are
rampantly using VPNs to circumvent and scale the wall.
However, nowadays, there have been some new local laws that
prohibit users and sellers from using and selling VPNs,
respectively. Overall, we hope that our work can be used as a
complete reference to learning more about the principles and
policies of the Great Firewall.
Further study needs to be done on how to improve the
firewall technology to better prevent illegal users from entering
the Intranets. We hope that our work on the Great Firewall can
help others to learn and know more about the Great Firewall.
This paper offers a reference for studying the technologies and
development of the firewall.
[1] People’s Daily Online: The cybersecurity act and the national security
review system.
[2] Global times: what impact does the firewall have on China's Internet
[3] Expats Allowed to Invest in China's VPN Services in Hainan
[4] "China Now Blocked from Accessing Wikipedia."
The Epoch Times. 8
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[5] One picture shows you the data behind the Great Firewall of China.
[6] The evolution of China’s Great Firewall: 21 years of censorship.Web.
[7] VPN is illegal. Use it carefully, even if it is not illegal. Web.
[8] US takes China VPN ban to the WTO. JobTubeDaily. 25 Feb.2018.
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[10] Austin Hounsel, Prateek Mittal, Nick Feamster, Automatically
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[11] Introduction on the Golden Shield. Web.
[12] Christopher Stevenson,
“Breaching the Great Firewall: China’s Internet
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on Cyber Security and Cloud Computing (CSCloud)/2018 4th IEEE
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(EdgeCom), Shanghai, 2018, pp. 144-152.
[17] Oliver Farnan, Alexander Darer, Joss Wright, “Poisoning the Well
Exploring the Great Firewall’s Poisoned DNS Responses,” Workshop
on Privacy in the Electronic Society, ACM, 2016.
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Firewall: The Law and Power of Internet Filtering in China, 13 Minn.
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MPLS, IPSec, and SSL Virtual Private Networks," 2018 Second
International Conference on Computing Methodologies and
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the Law.
[23] Santoro, Michael A. “China 2.0: Illusion and Promise behind the ‘Great
Firewall.’” pp. 106–123, China, 2020
Shao Zhuqing. “The survey about the status of
Chinese citizens who
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[25] Google Drive and Docs in China? Web.
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Destiny.” Shared Destiny, Anu Press, 2015.
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comprehensive comparison of multi-party performance. Web.
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how to use VPN services in compliance.
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things! Web.
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... The Great Firewall is the name given to the project by the Western World because of Its structure. The official name of it is "The Golden Shield Project" which first occurred in 1996 but started to fully implemented in 2006 (Chandel et al., 2020). Tsui (2003) states that the essential reason for the launch of "The Golden Shield Project" is to increase the adaptation of information and communication technologies to catalyze content control in cyberspace and to strengthen the combat against crime in the cyber space. ...
... According to Chandel et al. (2020), the Golden Shield Project, which has occurred for so-called reasonable reasons, has turned into a highly sheltered, heavily monitored, fully controlled system that deserves to qualify as "The Great Firewall". The name "Golden Shield" given to the project by the "Ministry of Public Security" and the main purpose of the project explained to combat and protect China's İnternet from harmful and illegal content mostly from outside of the country (Negro, 2017). ...
... From the day the Golden Project became fully active, dozens of web pages, IPs, and URLs blocked including the most popular social media applications Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. (Chandel et al., 2020). ...
... Our study, continues its focus on the Chinese case, and sources are used to analyze the impact of AI when it comes to country minorities, social media, internet censorship, privacy, politics and social order. It is found that China, through the Great Firewall, controls the web and the search results, banning many popular western media and sensitive information, and specifically the political ones (Chandel et al., 2019;Huang, 2019), justifying this by bringing up the socialist core values of the system (Li, 2017). This practice is also encouraged by the government when it comes to social media, Qiang describes the manner in which WeChat interferes in the daily life of the citizens, and assumes control of their information, something which is known to other countries, resulting in the apps blacklisting. ...
... This censorship has been first set up in 1996, and in 2004 the service of keyword screening and sensitive words masking was introduced by Cisco. From 2004 to 2014 Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and major domains have been blocked and Chinese versions of these platforms have replaced them (Chandel et al., 2019). The country under the socialist centralization, its understanding towards political stand and public opinions are determined upon traditional Chinese political culture and Marxism-Leninism (Huang, 2019). ...
... erts that the ruling party has already represented the interests of the people and the socialist core value system is guiding ideology of Chinese legislation (Li, 2017). Social media including the public opinion platforms are a plain mouthpiece of the ruling party with the voices outside of this system being relatively untrustworthy (Huang, 2019). Chandel et. al., (2019), stated that the Great Firewall aims to eliminate criticism and prevent people from being infiltrated by the information that the government decides to be harmful to the peace and harmony of the people in China. According to them, there are two main camps about the views of internet censorship. The one refers to those who view it as a p ...
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This paper focuses on the use of Artificial Technology surveillance and on the challenges that Artificial Intelligence (AI) implementation introduces related to Personal Data Privacy and democratic rights’ issues. In this research, we analyze a wide field of Artificial Technology surveillance implementations and a number of policies in use by the Chinese government. The Chinese case demonstrates AI’s use in implementing a variety of applications and incidents such as the “Great Firewall”, the CCTV usage, the impact of the Social Credit System, and the repression in Xinjiang. Eventually, the democratic violations and Human Right issues of the Covid-19 pandemic response strategy using AI techniques in China are outlined. Conclusively, the need for an appropriate regulation context when it comes to AI technologies handling Personal Data in Public Services, even adopting the Chinese perspective, is highlighted
... According to official Chinese government sources, Sonali et al. (2019) indicated that this effort was initially intended to filter and control falsehoods from outside hthe nation. However, as time passed, this effort became a closed monitoring system known as "the Great Firewall" [28] . ...
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China, a communist country that only opened itself to international markets in 1978, has seen its economy develop rapidly due to foreign investment in the domestic market. The state’s role in regulating the domestic market is undeniable, and the technology industry is mainly focused on building its technological capacity to keep up with other countries. This paper aims to examine the two-sided coin between China’s government and its private industry by building a framework through literature studies on two main focuses: state support and business development strategy. The framework illustrates how Tencent’s success in conquering the global market is due to the Chinese government’s power to regulate its market and implement its Business Development Strategy. The research results show that the influence of government support has partially impacted Tencent’s success. Still, Tencent’s success in internationalizing and catching up with technology has significantly contributed to its success in dominating the global market.
... In late 2012, companies that provide VPN services claimed that the Great Firewall of China was able to "learn, detect and block" encrypted communication methods used by several different VPN systems [16].In 2017, the government instructed telecom companies in China to ban individuals from using VPNs by February 2018. [3]. ...
... Considering China's usual eagerness to harvest data, it may at first be surprising there are not many analytics services present on the analyzed websites. The reason for this is probably China's censorship and the fact that the Great Firewall blocks many western services (for instance, Google Analytics) [1]. Instead, China uses its own centralized information collection. ...
The accelerated digitalization and the increased use of online services for everyday tasks, online privacy issues are more important than ever before. This also goes for universities which are increasingly moving information and services online. Our study provides a technical overview of prevalence of third-party analytics on university websites. Websites of 40 universities from eight different countries around the world are analyzed to reveal third-party analytics services they use. The study shows that most universities, especially in many technologically advanced western countries, have alarmingly high number of analytics services on their websites. The results emphasize the need for web developers and data protection officers to better assess what kind of data their websites deliver to third parties. This is especially important for universities, as kind of example institutions tasked with advancing the common good.KeywordsOnline privacyThird-party analytics servicesTrackingUniversity Websites
Although it is less talked about, and many people look the other way, there is a third way to regulate the internet, content moderation and censorship, in addition to the US’ immunity model and the European safe harbour model, and that is the Chinese (or Asian) model. Obviously, it is not possible to put all Asian countries in one basket and one regulatory model in terms of social, social or even political situation, but it is clear that, despite the differences, they have chosen a much stricter path than Europe or the United States of America when it comes to responsibility for Internet regulation and content governance. The Chinese solution is based on Internet sovereignty, namely the (near) perfection of the idea that countries around the world have the right to choose how they develop and regulate their Internet.
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Using the analogy of an orchestra, the book looks at the ways in which the Party-state conducts communications in China. Rather than treating China’s communications system as purely one of centralised top-down control, this book proffers that it is the combination of the government through its state policies, the propaganda bureau’s campaigns, commercial consumer culture, digital and traditional media platforms, celebrities, entertainers and journalists, educators, community interest groups, and family and friends, who all contribute to the evolution of how ideas are perpetuated, enforced, and legitimised in China. Covering themes such as censorship, surveillance, national narratives onscreen and in everyday life, political agency, creative work, news production, and gender politics, this book gives an insight into the complex web of conditions, objectives, and challenges that the Chinese leadership and commercial interests face when orchestrating their visions for the nation’s future. As such, this volume will be of great interest to students and scholars of media and communication studies, Chinese politics, and Chinese Studies.
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Creating a legal framework for cybersecurity is a key factor in the digitalization of an economy. The interaction between the BRICS member countries has undergone a digital transformation, which has improved their ability to work together economically and strengthened the growing influence of these countries in the international arena. The purpose of the present study is to determine the potential of the BRICS member nations to form a joint cybersecurity strategy. The authors put forward a hypothesis that the formation of an effective cybersecurity system is possible only with a sufficient level of development of information and communication technologies and a high degree of digitalization of interstate governance. The scientific novelty of this research lies in its complex approach to the scientific and theoretical analysis of the problems of ensuring cybersecurity in the BRICS member countries, on the basis of which it identifies the common areas for cooperation. The research methodology is based on establishing a correlation between the indicators of e-government development and the criteria for state cybersecurity, followed by a comparative analysis. As a quantitative indicator, the authors use the data of the E-Government Development Index for the BRICS member countries from 2010 to 2018. Additionally, the level of maturity of each country's national cybersecurity system is reflected in the rating of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Based on the ITU rating, we assess the cybersecurity efficiency of the BRICS member countries versus other countries. The findings of the research lead the authors to the conclusion that state control over cyberspace and the availability of a national strategy are prerequisites for achieving a high level of cybersecurity.
Conference Paper
One of the primary filtering methods that the Great Firewall of China (GFW) relies on is poisoning DNS responses for certain domains. When a DNS request is poisoned by the GFW, multiple DNS responses are received - both legitimate and poisoned responses. While most prior research into the GFW focuses on the poisoned responses, ours also considers the legitimate responses from the DNS servers themselves. We find that even when we ignored the immediate poisoned responses, the cache from the DNS servers themselves are also poisoned. We also find and discuss the IP addresses within the DNS responses we get; in particular 9 IP addresses that are returned as a result for many different poisoned domains. We present the argument that this type of attack may not be primarily targeted directly at users, but at the underlying DNS infrastructure within China.
China’s Internet filtering and censorship regime has received considerable global attention. The Chinese government has successfully regulated access to Internet content at the national level through technical means. Although some researchers optimistically viewed the Internet as a liberating force in China’s democratic development, the Chinese government has actually been using network technologies to control online information and grafting its own ideology to the Net. Digital technologies have become the government’s tool to tamp down political threats. The rise of the Chinese model of Internet control prompts many interesting questions associated with Internet law scholarship. This Article uses Lawrence Lessig’s pronouncement “code is law” as a lens for understanding the Internet filtering system in China. Through the application of Lessig’s theory to the great firewall of China, we aim to illustrate the theory’s new implications and the government’s policy options in cyberspace.
Along with the rapid diffusion of Internet connectivity in China, many commentators, politicians, and pundits have speculated about the potential of the Internet to facilitate political change and undermine the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but the CCP regime has managed to stifle most attempts to use the Internet to promote political change. The centerpiece of its strategy for limiting what it perceives as the adverse consequences of the spread of the Internet has been the construction of a system of high-tech Internet controls, which have been dubbed the “Great Firewall.” Although it remains far from impenetrable, the Great Firewall has become increasingly technologically advanced and effective. Various parties outside of China have responded by developing technologies designed to circumvent these controls. For those trying to use technology to foster change in China, however, it is not simply a question of outsmarting the censors, but also one of dealing with more fundamental obstacles to finding a workable model for using the Internet to disseminate information and facilitate change.
Automatically Generating a Large, Culture-Specific Blocklist for China
  • Austin Hounsel
  • Prateek Mittal
  • Nick Feamster
Austin Hounsel, Prateek Mittal, Nick Feamster, "Automatically Generating a Large, Culture-Specific Blocklist for China." presented at the Advanced Computing Systems Association, 2018
How to use a VPN in China without Breaking the Law
  • Jobtubedaily
JobTubeDaily (2018). How to use a VPN in China without Breaking the Law.
China 2.0: Illusion and Promise behind the ‘Great Firewall.’
  • Michael A Santoro
Santoro, Michael A. "China 2.0: Illusion and Promise behind the 'Great Firewall.'" pp. 106-123, China, 2020