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 - 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").



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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 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



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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