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 greatfire@greatfire.org.

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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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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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