Chinese cityscape with skyscrapers obscured by fog
30 Oct 2018 13:25

China Introduces More Aggressive VPN Blocks Ahead of Major Trade and Internet Conferences

VPN providers have been experiencing connectivity issues for the past fortnight as the country prepares to host the annual World Internet Conference

Rebecca Duff
By Rebecca DuffStaff Writer

Since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, the Chinese government has been constantly trying to restrict VPN use, leading to intermittent connection drops for many users. VPN providers have described trying to evade the censors as a “cat and mouse” game, stating that almost as soon as they manage to provide a solution, the Chinese authorities come up with a new way of blocking it.

Sunday Yokubaitis, chief executive of Golden Frog (operator of VyprVPN) says that these recent crackdowns are a lot more aggressive than the “steadily increasing blocks” he’s used to seeing. He believes that this time, the government appeared to have “staff on the ground monitoring our response in real time”, in order to deploy additional blocks as and when they were needed. The main attacks started on Sunday October 28, but VyprVPN had managed to restore its service in China by Tuesday 30.

We believe that these more dedicated blocks are due to two major upcoming Chinese events: President Xi is set to attend a trade fair in Shanghai between 6-10 November which aims to calm foreign concerns about Chinese trade practices, while simultaneously promoting the country as a global importer.

At the same time, on the 7-9 November the eastern town of Wuzhen will be hosting the annual World Internet Conference, designed to showcase China’s vision for the future of the internet. This is set to attract over 400 companies and institutions from 25 countries and regions worldwide, all discussing the importance of technological development.

This means that currently even well-known VPN providers such as ExpressVPN are experiencing connectivity issues that are leading to masses of user complaints. It’s likely that they will be able to construct a short-term solution, but it’s proving difficult to maintain prolonged internet access in China for more than a couple of days.

Lokman Tsui, who studies Freedom of Expression and Digital Rights at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, believes that this could be “a wave of experiments” as censors attempt to test out a new technology that blocks VPN traffic more effectively. There are no concerns around a blanket block on VPN services just yet, but following these incidents it looks like it could be a real possibility in the near future.