Sina Weibo Enacts New "7 Day Delay" Function for Sensitive Terms Following 18th Party Congress

On November 10, 2012, Reuters published a report entitled "China Party Chief Stresses Reform, Censors Relax Grasp on Internet." An excerpt:

China's largest microblog service unblocked searches for the names of many top political leaders in a possible sign of looser controls a month after new senior officials were named to head the ruling party. 
Searches on the popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog for party chief Xi Jinping, Vice Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders - terms that have long been barred under strict censorship rules - revealed detailed lists of news reports and user comments.

What's actually happened is that Sina Weibo is now imposing a seven day delay on search results for these names, as well as other "sensitive terms" (such as the name of lawyer Xu Zhiyong (许志永)).  Sina Weibo does not notify users when it does this. Read on for more details and examples. The Standing Committee of Political Bureau of the 17th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party ("PBSC") comprised the following nine members: Hu Jintao (胡锦涛), Wu Bangguo (吴邦国), Wen Jiabao (温家宝),  Jia Qinglin (贾庆林), Li Changchun (李长春), Xi Jinping (习近平), Li Keqiang (李克强), He Guoqiang (贺国强), Zhou Yongkang (周永康). It is worth noting that Sina Weibo did not always censor searches for the names of all members of the PBSC. For example, this screenshot, taken in February 2012, shows that a search on Sina Weibo for "Xi Jinping" returned hundreds of thousands of results, including posts made just minutes before.

These screenshots were taken on October 27, 2012, and show that by then searches on Sina Weibo for the names of all of the members of the Political Bureau 17th CPC Central Committee always returned the same result - a censorship notice informing the user that "In accordance with relevant laws,  regulations, and policies, search results for 'XXX' have not been displayed." (根据相关法律法规和政策,“XXX”搜索结果未予显示。).

As noted previously on this blog, during the 18th Party Congress (November 8 - 14), Sina Weibo began tweaking its censorship mechanisms, at first eliminating the censorship notice in favor of saying it could find no results. Then it restored the censorship notice in some cases, while in other cases it appeared to show complete search results, but attempting to view more than one page of results would eventually result in a censorship notice. See - http://blog.feichangdao.com/2012/11/in-week-before-party-congress-sina.html Sina also adopted implicit censorship as mentioned in our blog post new censorship on weibo. At around noon on November 15, 2012, Xinhua announced the "List of members of Standing Committee of Political Bureau of 18th CPC Central Committee": Xi Jinping (习近平), Li Keqiang (李克强), Zhang Dejiang (张德江), Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), Liu Yunshan (刘云山), Wang Qishan (王岐山), and Zhang Gaoli (张高丽). The screenshots below show that, two weeks after the announcement of the new Politburo, Sina Weibo administrators had yet to settle on a consistent approach to censoring information about the Communist Party's new leaders. At first glance, it initially appeared that Sina administrators had decided to not censor searches at all. For example, in the left-hand screenshots below, searches for "Xi Jinping" and "Li Keqiang" apparently returned thousands of results and there is no censorship notice anywhere on the page. A closer look reveals, however, that all of the "Hot Posts" were several days old, and the posts following the "Hot Posts" were actually delayed by almost exactly 48 hours. The right-hand screenshots show that Sina Weibo administrators continued to gradually increase the amount of censorship following the initial relaxation. By November 27, search for "Xi Jinping" was once again returning no results, only a censorship notice, and a search for "Li Keqiang" was returning no results from the previous 48 hours - the most recent result was three days old, and there was only one result from that day.

One month after the announcement of the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, Sina Weibo appears to have settled on a "new normal" - it will impose a one week delay for search results for all PBSC member's names in Chinese, except for "Hot Posts". The screenshots below show that the most recent results for searches for "Xi Jinping" on December 13 and 14 are from December 6 and 7, respectively.

Sina Weibo does not display a censorship notice for these search results. On December 14, 2012, Sina Weibo was showing results but imposing the delay for searches for the names of all members of the Politburo Standing Committee, as well as Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. It was, however, completely censoring searches for "Wen Jiabao."

At the bottom of each search result page, Sina Weibo informs users "In order to provide more varied search results, we have excluded some posts that are relatively similar, you can click here to see all results." (为了提供多样性结果,我们省略了部分相似微博,您可以点击查看全部搜索结果) For uncensored results clicking on this link will take users to an up-to-the-second stream of posts. In the case of the names of Politburo Standing Committee members, however, the user is told "Apologies, unable to find results relating to 'XXX'" (抱歉,未找到“习近平”相关结果。). These screenshots, which show what happens when the link was clicked after a search for "Xi Jinping," indicate that sometimes it takes a few minutes for Sina Weibo to remove search results.

In the left-hand screenshot above, Sina Weibo returns a single search result, along with a censorship notice. The right-hand screenshot, taken a few hours later, shows no results and no censorship notice, just a notice saying no results could be found. Sina Weibo also continued to engage in selective censorship for queries related to China's leadership. These screenshots, taken on November 13, show that searches for "XJP" and "Xi Jinping" in Pinyin returned no results, just a censorship notice.

As another example, these screenshots show that, while Sina Weibo was returning delayed results for "Peng Liyuan" (彭丽媛 - Xi Jinping's wife) in Chinese characters, searches for "Peng Liyuan" in Pinyin returned no results, just a censorship notice.

Finally, these screenshots show that Sina Weibo completely censored searches for "Xi Mingze" (习明泽 - Xi Jinping's daughter) in both Chinese characters and Pinyin.

 

The new rule is not only being applied to leaders and their families. These screenshots show that, whereas a search for "Xu Zhiyong" on November 27 returned results from as recently as November 25, the same search on December 18 did not return any results from the preceding seven days (with the exception of "hot posts").

From http://blog.feichangdao.com/2012/12/sina-weibo-enacts-new-7-day-delay.html

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Mon, Jan 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Lu Wei and the Cyberspace Administration of China

January 26, 2015

Beijing, China

 

Mr. Lu Wei

Director of the Cyberspace Administration of the People’s Republic of China 中央网络安全和信息化领导小组办公室主任

Director of the State Internet Information Office 国家互联网信息办公室主任

Deputy Director of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party 中共中央宣传部副部长

Cyberspace Administration of China,

Floor 1, Building 1,

Software Park, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

4 South 4th Street, Zhongguancun,

Beijing, China, 100190

 

Dear Mr. Lu,

On January 22, 2015, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is under your direct control, wrote a response to a story we published about an MITM attack on Microsoft. In the post, your colleague, Jiang Jun, labelled our accusations as "groundless" and  "unsupported speculation, a pure slanderous act by overseas anti-China forces".

We at GreatFire.org take great offense to these comments and we will refute them in this letter.

Mon, Jan 19, 2015

Outlook grim - Chinese authorities attack Microsoft

On January 17, we received reports that Microsoft’s email system, Outlook (which was merged with Hotmail in 2013), was subjected to a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack in China.

The following screenshot shows what happens when a Chinese user accesses Outlook via an email client (in this case, Ice-dove):

We have tested Outlook to verify the attack and have produced the same results. IMAP and SMTP for Outlook were under a MITM attack. Do note however that the web interfaces (https://outlook.com and https://login.live.com/ ) were not affected. The attack lasted for about a day and has now ceased.

This form of attack is especially devious because the warning messages users receive from their email clients are much less noticeable than the warning messages delivered to modern browsers (see screenshot at the end of this post for comparison).

(Sample error message from default iPhone mail client)

Fri, Jan 09, 2015

GFW upgrade fail - visitors to blocked sites redirected to porn

In the past, the Chinese authorities’ DNS poisoning system would direct Chinese internet users who were trying to access Facebook, Twitter and other blocked websites (without the use of a circumvention tool) to a set of fake IP addresses that are blocked in China or are non-existent. After waiting for some time, Chinese internet users would receive a timeout message if they were trying to access a blocked site.

However, with the new DNS poisoning system, in addition to those IP addresses used before, the Chinese authorities are using real IP addresses that actually host websites and are accessible in China. For example, https://support.dnspod.cn/Tools/tools/ shows that if a user tries to access Facebook from China, they might instead land on a random web page, e.g. http://178.62.75.99

Below is a screenshot by a Chinese user when he was trying to access our GreatFire.org website which was blocked in China. He was redirected to a goverment site in Korea. In essense, GFW is sending Chinese users to DDOS the Korea government's website.

One Chinese Internet user reported to us that when he tried to access Facebook in China, he was sent to a Russian website, unrelated to Facebook. Another user tweeted that he was redirected to an German adult site when he tried to access a website for a VPN.

某墙你这什么意思,DNS 污染返回给我一个德国工口站的 IP,满屏很黄很暴力弹弹弹(

— nil (@xierch) January 4, 2015

Wed, Dec 31, 2014

CNNIC leadership change coincides with blocking of Gmail

On December 26, 2014, in an announcement posted on their website, a new chairperson for CNNIC was directly appointed by the Cyberspace Administration of China. The announcement of this appointment coincided with the complete blocking of Gmail.

Cyberspace Administration of China (中央网信办) is chaired by Lu Wei, “China’s web doorkeeper”. Lu Wei is also the vice chair of the Central Propaganda Department, according to his official resume.

chair.png

This office is directly responsible for the blocking of Gmail and other websites including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

CNNIC is China’s certification authority and operates the country’s domain name registry. 

What are certificates used for?

Certificates are used primarily to verify the identity of a person or device, authenticate a service, or encrypt files. 

What is a certification authority (CA)?  

Tue, Dec 30, 2014

Gmail completely blocked in China

All Google products in China have been severely disrupted since June of this year and Chinese users have not been able to access Gmail via its web interface since the summer. However, email protocols such as IMAP, SMTP and POP3 had been accessible but are not anymore. These protocols are used in the default email app on iPhone, Microsoft Outlook on PC and many more email clients.

On December 26, GFW started to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail. These IP addresses are used by IMAP/SMTP/POP3. Chinese users now have no way of accessing Gmail behind the GFW. Before, they could still send or receive emails via email clients even though Gmail's web interface was not accessible. 

Google's own traffic chart shows a sharp decline of Chinese traffic to Gmail. 

Below is a ping request to the Gmail SMTP server, which is completely inaccessible in China.

 

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