Will Gmail be permanently blocked in China?

Gmail has been blocked in China from time to time in the recent days. GreatFirewall.biz monitors Gmail access every day. Here are some thoughts on why this is happening.

Why is Gmail access important in China?

Facebook.com, Blogspot.com and Twitter.com are all blocked in China (check out Top Sites). Chinese equivalents Renren, Weibo etc as well as all local email providers are all screened for sensitive keywords. Gmail, together with LinkedIn.com (recently blocked, then unblocked), provide important exceptions to this otherwise compact control of online activity in mainland China. Because connections are encrypted (the address starts with https://) the Great Firewall cannot know what users are writing about. If the authorities don't accept this, they can do two things: 1) Hack individual accounts. They've been accused of doing this on several occasions, eg on Jan, 2010 and March, 2011. 2) Close down the service altogether, an idea which they seem to be playing with now.

How many people use Gmail in China?

Google has a lot of competition in China. Baidu, QQ, Sina and 163.com are all more visited than Google.com (according to Alexa). They probably all have more mail users than Gmail too. I've been unable to find any sources of how many Gmail users there are in China. However, two reasons suggest they are plenty: 1) According to Alexa, Google.com comes in at 7th place of the most visited websites in China. However, most of the search is done on Google.com.hk (typing in google.com in China redirects here by default). This means that a big chunk, perhaps most, of the traffic to google.com in China is done to access Gmail. 2) According to my own little study. I looked at 31 Chinese people in my address book and came up with the following result. This is by no means accurate, but still an indication:

Other (Chinese) provider26%

If you have any better sources of the number of Gmail users in China, please comment.

Why hasn't Gmail been blocked already?

Facebook, Youtube, Twitter etc are all blocked so why not Gmail? One theory which I've heard many times is that important people use the service themselves. If you believe in the idea of reformist vs conservative factions inside the government, access to Gmail is probably an issue that is debated from time to time. The outages in the last few days suggest that the Gmail defenders might be losing influence.

What will happen if it's blocked?

While Facebook, Youtube, Twitter etc are major websites outside of China, they were never widely used here, and Chinese copycat websites have sprung up to replace them. If Gmail is blocked, shifting to another provider is more difficult - you have to change your email address, and you lose all your old messages and contacts. Will there be some sort of protest if it's blocked? Time will tell.


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Thu, Sep 24, 2015

Apple blocked CNNIC CA months after MITM attacks

In March of this year, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains. The root certificate authority for these domains was the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). CNNIC was controlled by the Chinese government through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and is now under the management of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). CNNIC was recognized by all major browsers as a trusted Certificate Authority. If CNNIC signs a fake certificate used in a man-in-the-middle attack, no browser will warn of any unusual activity unless the certificate is pinned.

Wed, Sep 23, 2015

Malicious Xcode could spread via download manager Xunlei

What’s at stake?

We reported last week that popular Chinese iOS apps were compromised in an unprecedented malware attack. We discovered that the source of the infection was compromised copies of Xcode hosted on Baidu Pan. Apple has published an article urging developers to download Xcode directly from the Mac App Store, or from the Apple Developer website and validate signatures. We’ve now discovered that even if a developer uses a download link seemingly from Apple, he might still be possible to obtain a compromised copy of Xcode.

Please note that we do not have evidence that such attacks has happened. But it is an easy attack that anyone can implement.

How does it work?

This compromise happened because of Xunlei. Xunlei is the most popular download manager in China. Much of its popularity is due to the fact they can accelerate download speeds by pulling resources from other Xunlei users as well as cached copies on the Xunlei server. All of this, however, is invisible to users. Users can simply enter a regular http download address into Xunlei  download manager and the download will start. Chinese developers were using direct download addresses such as http://adcdownload.apple.com/Developer_Tools/Xcode_7/Xcode_7.dmg to download Xcode.

Mon, Sep 21, 2015



Sat, Sep 19, 2015

Popular Chinese iOS apps compromised in unprecedented malware attack

What happened?

According to recent reports, some versions of Xcode used by developers in China have been compromised and are being used to inject tracking codes in iOS apps without developer knowledge. (1,2). Unaware of the injection, those developers then released their compromised iOS apps to the App Store which were then later approved by Apple. At the time of writing this post, the compromised apps are still available in the App store. Any user who has installed and launched these compromised apps will be a victim of these tracking codes.

This is a significant compromise of Apple’s app store. Apple notoriously manually reviews all app submissions and, in comparison to Android stores, has been relatively malware-free. This is the most widespread and significant spread of malware in the history of the Apple app store, anywhere in the world.

The compromised version of Xcode was hosted on Baidu Pan. It is unlikely that Baidu was aware of the compromised version of Xcode. The company removed the files yesterday when news of the compromise surfaced. Because of slow download speeds from foreign websites in China, many Chinese developers prefer to download apps from domestic websites. Many Chinese also use download software like Xunlei, rather than downloading directly from the official Mac App Store.

According to users reports, many prominent Chinese apps are affected. We have included links to the compromised apps in the list below but DO NOT DOWNLOAD these apps. We are simply linking to them so that users can recognize the apps. Affected apps include:  

Wechat The most popolar messaging app in China 

Wed, Sep 16, 2015


英文原文来自 https://blog.torproject.org/blog/learning-more-about-gfws-active-probing...

Roya, David, Nick, nweaver, Vern, 和我刚刚完成了关于GFW主动探测系统的研究。这个系统在几年前就被用来探测翻墙工具,比如Tor。我们在之前的博文中介绍过GFW主动探测系统是如何工作的。但有几个问题我们没有回答。比如这个系统的物理结构是怎样的。那些用来主动探测的IP是归GFW所有的么? 有猜测GFW短时间内劫持了部分IP来用来主动探测,但没有证据。这次研究回答了这些问题。


  • 通常来说,如果Tor的某个网桥代理被GFW检测并封锁,它会一直被封锁。但是这意味着网桥代理完全无法访问吗? 我们让中国的VPS一直连接我们控制的网桥代理。我们发现,每25小时,中国的VPS可以短暂的连接到我们的代理网桥。下图显示了这个现象。每个数据点表示中国的VPS试图与网桥代理建立连接。中国联通和中国教育网都有这个周期性现象。有时候,网络安全设备在更新规则时会默认允许所有流量,但我们不知道GFW周期性现象是不是因为这个原因导致的。

  • 我们找到了规律,GFW主动探测的TCP头暗示那几千个IP都来自与同一个地方。下图显示了数据包的初始序号和时间。每个数据点都是一个主动探测连接。如果每个主动探测都是从不同地方发出的,我们应该看到随机的数据点,因为数据包的初始序号是随机选择的。但是下图显示主动探测连接虽然来自不同IP,但是非常有规律。我们认为主动探测的初始序号是按照时间产生的。


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From looking at details of my online English students in China, their e-mail addresses are (out of about 20 contacts):
1. Work e-mail addresses from company domain names
2. 163.com, with a grand total of 2! :D
3. One contact each at: qq.com, sohu.com, foxmail.com, gmail.com, hotmail.com

From speaking in group classes with many more students than I have in my contact list, I know that most of them have QQ accounts for instant messaging. I don't know if they also use those QQ accounts for email.

Thanks for sharing. We'd love to know more about:
1. What proportion of Chinese netizens use Gmail?
2. How many of them suspect or know that the recent Gmail problems are caused by the government?
3. How do they react to their email service being taken down?


I currently work in a small city in northern China (south of Beijing). The office is quite large, about 200 + workers. I was speaking with a tech-savy co-worker that is visiting from Guandong. When I asked him how many co-workers are aware that the Chinese government blocks some websites and searches, he answered maybe 1 or 2.

I asked a bunch of them. It turns out he was mostly right. There were a few that knew the government blocked websites like youtube and facebook, but none of them knew to what extent the internet is filtered here. Though they did believe that internet filtering is a good thing. I think it is a bad thing.

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