Gmail is getting faster but still not as fast as dial-up

Many in China have complained that Gmail is so slow that it is almost impossible to use (see our original story from March 2011 - Gmail now 45 times slower than QQ). We have continued to gather data on the Gmail situaiton in light of Google's continued operation in China. With more data we can now show how the situation has developed since March. The results are clear in this chart:

All foreign webmail providers are considerably slower than domestic competitors (QQ is included for comparison). Out of Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, a distressed Yahoo, whose local partner in China is Alibaba, is consistently the fastest free foreign email provider. Hotmail has at times challenged Gmail to a race to the bottom. Using the same comparison as in March, Gmail is now only 9 times slower than QQ and has seen a considerable improvement in speed since September.

One way to put the speed of Gmail into perspective is to compare today's access speed with old dial-up modems, for those that remember. In the 1990s, they provided speeds up to 56 kbps, or roughly 7000 bytes per second. That is considerably faster than the average speed of either Gmail or Hotmail, when accessed from within China in 2011.

Apart from speed, the main problem with Gmail in China is instability. Rather than blocking the service outright, it seems that the authorities have chosen to impose occasional, random outages. Looking back over the year (from March onwards), we can see the following:

Gmail has had an acceptable download speed less than 30% of the times we've tested it. Most of the time, it's very slow (meaning less than 5000 bytes/second). Our data suggests that all foreign webmail services are temporarily blocked from time to time. Again, Yahoo performs better than either Gmail or Hotmail.

Data from QQ is included for comparison reasons. As QQ is hosted in China, it would not be blocked by the Great Firewall. While the data may indicate that QQ has been blocked at times, this is most likely due to problems with the test location or data noise. Please allow a margin of error of plus or minus 3% on all data which appears on this web site.

The data is based on 776 individual tests from March onwards. You can check the latest data for webmail services here.

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Tue, Mar 31, 2015

Chinese authorities compromise millions in cyberattacks

The Great Firewall has switched from being a passive, inbound filter to being an active and aggressive outbound one. This is a frightening development and the implications of this action extend beyond control of information on the internet. In one quick movement, the authorities have shifted from enforcing strict censorship in China to enforcing Chinese censorship on internet users worldwide.

Fri, Mar 27, 2015

CNNIC censored Google and Mozilla’s posts about CNNIC CA

This week, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains, the root CA of which is CNNIC. Google and Mozilla both publicly disclosed this security incident and published blog posts(Google, Mozilla). However, Chinese translations of Google’s and Mozilla's blog posts were censored on the Chinese Internet.

  • William Long is a prominent Chinese blogger on IT and tech. He translated Google’s security post without adding any personal opinions. The Chinese blogpost ranked #1 when searching CNNIC MITM in Chinese on Google and Baidu. He tweeted that he received a phone call from propaganda department demanding the post to be removed immediately. The post http://www.williamlong.info/archives/4183.html was deleted. Google cache is still available.

Wed, Mar 25, 2015

Evidence shows CNNIC and CAC behind MITM attacks

Since 2013, we have repeatedly called on major software vendors to revoke CNNIC-issued certificates. Most notably, we raised this issue when we reported on the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on Google, Microsoft’s Outlook, Apple, Yahoo and Github. Mainstream media have reported about these security vulnerabilities before and on March 24, Ars Technica reported on Google’s announcement that they have definitive evidence that CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) was behind a new MITM attack on Google.

From our October, 2014 blog post:

Thu, Mar 19, 2015

We are under attack

We are under attack and we need help.

Likely in response to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), we’ve experienced our first ever distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. This tactic is used to bring down web pages by flooding them with lots of requests - at the time of writing they number 2.6 billion requests per hour. Websites are not equipped to handle that kind of volume so they usually “break” and go offline.

This kind of attack is aggressive and is an exhibition of censorship by brute force. Attackers resort to tactics like this when they are left with no other options.

We are not equipped to handle a DDoS attack of this magnitude and we need help. Some background:

  • The attack started on March 17 and we are receiving up to 2.6 billion requests per hour which is about 2500 times more than normal levels.

Thu, Mar 12, 2015

Collateral Freedom and the not-so-Great Firewall

Recognizing that the authorities have been hesitant to crackdown on our method of circumvention, we have accelerated our expansion of the development of collateral freedom, in three key areas.
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