GreatFire May: Google and Sina Adapt, The Great Firewall Strikes Back

After analyzing our May data, which now covers more than 30,000 URLs, we can confidently say that the month of May was uneventful. Few major websites were blocked or unblocked. Perhaps this lack of activity was related to leadership change in China (and not just at the very top - see Rumors say China's chief internet censor replaced. While the Great Firewall didn't change much, Google and Sina, in very different ways, both took important steps in trying to deal with the pervasive censorship.

Google Strikes - The Great Firewall Hits Back

"We have observed that searching for certain keywords on Google from within mainland China will often lead to a temporary service disruption." 
Google Support, May 31, 2012.

Starting on May 31, Google displayed a warning message to users from China if they enter any of the many keywords blocked by the Great Firewall. Users could choose to continue the search which would most likely result in the connection being reset for a minute or so. Or they had the possibility to edit the search query and find another, non-blocked, way of searching for the same thing.

For the 16.7% of Chinese web users that use Google, the immediate effects of this was that the censorship became more transparent. To make it even more transparent, Google could choose to publish the list of blocked keywords. Meanwhile, we've reverse-engineered the full list. You can also browse our own database of keywords blocked on Google. Another effect was that the user experience improved. Since a reset connection means that you can't use the service at all for about a minute, a warning message is much more convenient. Furthermore, the suggestion function that offers autocompletion of common searches worked better. Try typing "tiananm", for example.

However, after a month of relative inactivity, this got the GFW team to strike back. Within a day, they disabled the new Google feature by blocking the javascript file that contains the code altogether. This of course makes us wonder what Google's next move will be. It would be very easy to rename the file or to embed it on the html page making it more difficult to selectively block features.

Going forward, there is much more that Google can do. Rather than just informing users that a search query has been censored, they could offer ways to get around it. The most obvious one would be to redirect users (automatically or manually) to the encrypted version of Google which is still not blocked in China (https://www.google.com.hk).

The fact that this functionality was rolled out, and not just on Google Hong Kong but actually any Google search engine that is accessed from China, shows that Google is actively working on ways to get around censorship in China. For more on this exciting game, read Google Confronts the Great Firewall on Foreign Policy and the announcement on the Google Search Blog.

https://www.googleusercontent.com was blocked in May which is the only major Great Firewall change during the month which involved Google.

How to get your account closed on Sina Weibo

On May 29, Sina Weibo announced a new user-points system to regulate users (original, interpreted by ZDNetAsia). The concept is that each Weibo user will be given 80 points to start with. Any behaviour deemed inappropriate by censors will cause points to be deducted. If the user reaches 0 points, his or her account will be closed.

Just like with the user contract announced last month, the description of what is allowed and not is very general. So what is a user who wants to get their account closed to do? Here are a few tips:

  1. Post a lot of tweets containing these keywords that are all blocked on Sina Weibo.
  2. For more efficiency, check out these keywords that are blocked not only on Weibo but also on Baidu and Google.
  3. Get some inspiration by checking out copies of thousands of Sina Weibo posts that have been deleted.

In other Weibo news, weibo: 天安门 was briefly unblocked on May 21 but has otherwise been fully blocked before and after. weibo: 郭金龙 was unblocked during the second half of May and has stayed that way since.

New Blocked Keywords

China Digital Times discovered many new blocked keywords. Some of them have been unblocked since, and some are blocked not just on Weibo. Here's an updated overview:

BaiduGoogleWeibo
baidu: 巨无霸google: 巨无霸weibo: 巨无霸
baidu: 揭秘google: 揭秘weibo: 揭秘
baidu: 八一广场google: 八一广场weibo: 八一广场
baidu: 色猫google: 色猫weibo: 色猫
baidu: 腌肉google: 腌肉weibo: 腌肉
baidu: 大腿肉google: 大腿肉weibo: 大腿肉
baidu: 剔肉埋骨google: 剔肉埋骨weibo: 剔肉埋骨
baidu: 尸骨google: 尸骨weibo: 尸骨
baidu: 吃受害者google: 吃受害者weibo: 吃受害者
baidu: 吃少年google: 吃少年weibo: 吃少年
baidu: 韩耀google: 韩耀weibo: 韩耀
baidu: 连环失踪案google: 连环失踪案weibo: 连环失踪案
baidu: 雷锋google: 雷锋weibo: 雷锋
baidu: 乌尔google: 乌尔weibo: 乌尔
baidu: 人权google: 人权weibo: 人权
baidu: ren权google: ren权weibo: ren权
baidu: renquangoogle: renquanweibo: renquan
baidu: 晋宁google: 晋宁weibo: 晋宁
baidu: 食人魔google: 食人魔weibo: 食人魔
baidu: 杀人狂google: 杀人狂weibo: 杀人狂
baidu: 吃人google: 吃人weibo: 吃人
baidu: 张永明google: 张永明weibo: 张永明
baidu: 云南失踪google: 云南失踪weibo: 云南失踪
baidu: 肢解尸体google: 肢解尸体weibo: 肢解尸体
baidu: 云南杀google: 云南杀weibo: 云南杀
baidu: 冤案google: 冤案weibo: 冤案
baidu: 猥亵google: 猥亵weibo: 猥亵
baidu: BJ日报google: BJ日报weibo: BJ日报
baidu: 炫富女google: 炫富女weibo: 炫富女
baidu: 马力宏google: 马力宏weibo: 马力宏
baidu: 马驰google: 马驰weibo: 马驰
baidu: 法拉利google: 法拉利weibo: 法拉利
baidu: 新加坡google: 新加坡weibo: 新加坡
baidu: 刘明泽google: 刘明泽weibo: 刘明泽
baidu: 周永google: 周永weibo: 周永
baidu: zy康google: zy康weibo: zy康
baidu: z永Kgoogle: z永Kweibo: z永K
baidu: 朝阳医院google: 朝阳医院weibo: 朝阳医院
baidu: 自行离开google: 自行离开weibo: 自行离开
baidu: 骆家辉google: 骆家辉weibo: 骆家辉
baidu: 医院google: 医院weibo: 医院
baidu: 美大使google: 美大使weibo: 美大使
baidu: 光chenggoogle: 光chengweibo: 光cheng
baidu: guang诚google: guang诚weibo: guang诚
baidu: 政治庇护google: 政治庇护weibo: 政治庇护
baidu: 滕彪google: 滕彪weibo: 滕彪

No Boxer Rebellion on Wikipedia

http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxer_Rebellion was apparently blocked throughout May but is now available again. en.wikipedia: Huang_Qi was unblocked during May. Chinese users can however access any of the many blocked Wikipedia articles by using the encrypted websites: https://zh.wikipedia.org and https://en.wikipedia.org remain unblocked.

Foreign Websites Continue To Get Faster

Loading chart..

Showing average download speed of Alexa Top 500 websites not hosted in China, per month. Source.   

Loading chart..

Showing Alexa Top 500 websites blocked 50% or more of the time, per month. Source.

Other Detected Changes

http://rapidshare.com was unblocked but is extremely slow. http://archive.org was unblocked and has stayed unblocked. http://www.hulu.com was briefly available on May 13 but has been blocked again since. http://www.weather.gov was unblocked and has stayed that way. 

News on GreatFire.org

May was an exciting month for us on GreatFire.org. We completed the Chinese version of our website, started reaching out on Sina Weibo and Google Plus, introduced a much easier way of looking up and comparing keywords (on Baidu, Google and Sina Weibo) and imported thousands of sensitive keywords from BlockedOnWeibo and China Digital Times. Stay tuned for more. If you want to collaborate with us please email [email protected].

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Sat, Apr 04, 2015

CNNIC censors news about their own statement

On April 1, 2015 Google announced that they will no longer recognize the CNNIC Root and EV (extensive validation) certificate authorities (CAs).

On April 2, 2015 Mozilla concluded that CNNIC’s behaviour in issuing an unconstrained intermediate certificate to another company was ‘egregious practice’ and that Mozilla products would no longer trust any certificate issued by CNNIC’s roots. Mozilla also published a more detailed report about their actions.

After unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains were exposed by Google and Mozilla on March 23, 2015, CNNIC censored any mention of these posts. CNNIC is not only a certificate authority, they are also China’s online censorship apparatus. CNNIC was, is and will continue to practice internet censorship.

 

News about the April 1 and 2 annoucements has again been censored on social media and also on traditional media in China.

Below is a screenshot of Weibo posts about these announcements.

 

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.

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Comments

Latest! New Google blocked keyword function back up, working again. Google changed the URL of the JS file. How long before it's blocked again?

The previous URL was http://www.google.com.hk/xjs/_/js/s/s,st,anim,bbd,c,sb_cn,hv,wta,cr,cdos... and is still blocked (see https://en.greatfire.org/https/bit.ly/KhDUnK).

The new javascript file URL is http://www.google.com.hk/sbox/s/s,st,anim,bbd,c,sb_cn,hv,wta,cr,cdos,sk,... and is not blocked (yet?). See https://en.greatfire.org/www.google.com.hk/sbox/s/s%2Cst%2Canim%2Cbbd%2C... for an updated status.

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