New semi-censorship on Sina Weibo, and lots of keywords blocked and unblocked during September

New Semi-Censorship

We are currently monitoring more than 12,000 keywords on Sina Weibo, out of which around 2500 are currently blocked. When searching for any of those blocked keywords, you get the following message:

根据相关法律法规和政策,“[the blocked keyword]”搜索结果未予显示。

This translates into:

According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results for [the blocked keyword] can not be displayed.

These keywords generate no search results at all. Recently, however, a new form of self-censorship has emerged in which some results are returned but not all (big thanks to Jason Ng at BlockedOnWeibo for letting us know). Take, for example, weibo: 八九纪念 ("remember 89") and weibo: 河蟹 ("river crab", used instead of 和谐 which means "harmony" and is used to refer to censorship). These had been fully blocked since we started monitoring them in May this year. However, sometime in September, searching for either of the two started returning some results, followed by this new message:

 根据相关法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。

which translates into:

According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, some of the search results for [the blocked keyword] can not be displayed.

An even more interesting example is weibo: 民泽江. It used to be fully blocked, but in September was partially unblocked (displaying the message quoted above). Then, at least as of October 1, it has been fully unblocked.

This new semi-censorship level resembles the one practiced by Baidu, which admits to self-censoring but still returns selected results.

Blocked and Unblocked

The following keywords were not blocked prior to September, 2012, but have been blocked since that month and onwards.
  1. weibo: 三表哥
  2. weibo: 克强
  3. weibo: 张培莉
  4. weibo: 砸毁警车
  5. weibo: 自焚

And these keywords were all blocked before September, but are not blocked anymore:

  1. weibo: 3月20日
  2. weibo: 4月3日
  3. weibo: 5人被刑拘
  4. weibo: 8x8
  5. weibo: BJ日报
  6. weibo: fang binxing
  7. weibo: guangcheng
  8. weibo: q=cache
  9. weibo: qd
  10. weibo: xing 爱
  11. weibo: xing 爱
  12. weibo: youtube
  13. weibo: 九八
  14. weibo: 二胡
  15. weibo: 互联网信息办公室
  16. weibo: 五套 功法
  17. weibo: 倪玉兰
  18. weibo: 八九纪念
  19. weibo: 公告
  20. weibo: 冤案
  21. weibo: 加兹温
  22. weibo: 勿忘
  23. weibo: 北戴河会议
  24. weibo: 吃人
  25. weibo: 吃少年
  26. weibo: 合肥 法院
  27. weibo: 国家 军队
  28. weibo: 大使馆
  29. weibo: 大力王
  30. weibo: 大腿肉
  31. weibo: 孤立事件
  32. weibo: 审理
  33. weibo: 尼尔伍德
  34. weibo: 师傅 天线
  35. weibo: 康 宝宝
  36. weibo: 开来
  37. weibo: 抗议
  38. weibo: 护士长
  39. weibo: 抵制日货
  40. weibo: 无修正
  41. weibo: 晚自习后
  42. weibo: 暴露
  43. weibo: 替身
  44. weibo: 杀人狂
  45. weibo: 正无
  46. weibo: 毒杀
  47. weibo: 民泽江
  48. weibo: 江绵恒
  49. weibo: 法广
  50. weibo: 熙来
  51. weibo: 立军
  52. weibo: 立案
  53. weibo: 纪委
  54. weibo: 纳米比亚
  55. weibo: 经济观察报 查封
  56. weibo: 美 大使
  57. weibo: 腌肉
  58. weibo: 自行离开
  59. weibo: 薄
  60. weibo: 藏 里
  61. weibo: 讲真相
  62. weibo: 起东
  63. weibo: 连环失踪案
  64. weibo: 邪恶的党
  65. weibo: 阿炳
  66. weibo: 非法献花
  67. weibo: 韩耀
  68. weibo: 领馆
  69. weibo: 食人魔
  70. weibo: 马力宏
  71. weibo: 驻华大使馆
  72. weibo: 骆 信访办
  73. weibo: 骆家辉 信访办
  74. weibo: 高干子弟
  75. weibo: 高瞻
  76. weibo: 鸵鸟肉
  77. weibo: 黄奇帆
  78. weibo: (梅)宁华

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Tue, Jul 05, 2016

GreatFire.org now testing VPN speed and stability in China

There is a commonly held belief in China that if you have a VPN that works then you should keep quiet about it. In terms of freedom of access to information, the problem with this approach is that access to knowledge suddenly is a secret. Today we are launching a project that we hope will destroy that model.

Our newest website, Circumvention Central (CC), aims to provide real-time information and data about circumvention solutions that work in China. Since 2011, we have been collecting data about blocked websites in China and now we will add data about the effectiveness of VPNs and other circumvention tools.

We are launching CC with four main objectives in mind.

Our first objective is to help to grow the number of Chinese who circumvent censorship restrictions in China. By sharing our information and data about these tools, we hope to show a wider audience which circumvention tools are working.

Our second objective is to improve the circumvention experience for users in China by bringing transparency to tool performance. We will measure these tools on speed (how quickly popular websites are loaded) and on stability (the extent to which popular websites load successfully).

Sat, May 07, 2016

The New York Times vs. The Chinese Authorities

Could the New York Times be setting the best path forward for news organizations in China?

Thu, Feb 18, 2016

From the desk of Lu Wei: Apple, encryption and China

Lu Wei, Director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, offers some friendly help to FBI Director James Comey.

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.

After Google found these unauthorized certificates, both Google and Firefox revoked its trust in CNNIC a few days later, a development we at GreatFire.org have adovacting for since 2013. Apple and Microsoft on the other hand, did not revoke their trust in CNNIC, nor did they make any announcements regarding the security compromise.

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 http://adcdownload.apple.com/Developer_Tools/Xcode_7/Xcode_7.dmg to download Xcode.

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