Who is protecting the VPNs?
In recent days news has spread that China is cracking down on VPN use (Guardian, Global Voices). Chinese internet users, particularly those in universities, are finding it increasingly difficult to make use of VPNs to circumvent online censorship and access blocked websites. This seems to be a continuation of the increased censorship witnessed this year, including temporary blocks of GMail and LinkedIn.
While important, this development leaves an obvious question unanswered: Why do the authorities not block access to the main websites of the major VPN providers? Each serious provider offers access to a number of servers around the world and blocking actual usage of these is somewhat complicated. The main websites, however, could be blocked in an instant. After all, the Great Firewall has no problem constantly blocking other websites such as Youtube and Facebook.
There are three apparent possibilites. The first is incompetence. The authorities might simply not be aware of the VPN providers that are not blocked. This seems unlikely for two reasons. First, all it takes is a Google search of, say, "VPN China". Blocking the top 10 results would go a long way to making VPN access in China more difficult. Second, some providers, such as StrongVPN, are in fact temporarily blocked from time to time.
The second possibility is that blocking VPN use is not a priority. Paid VPNs may mostly be used by foreigners, and the censorship is more consistent when it comes to free solutions such as Tor and Witopia.
The third possibility is that some faction inside the regime is vetoing ideas of blocking VPN use altogether. This may be the most likely reason that major VPN provider websites remain unblocked, given how easy it would be to block them.
What do you think? We welcome your opinions.