Eight Questions For GlobalWebIndex

GlobalWebIndex published a new report on Internet usage around the world this week, and it contained some great news for China. Twitter, Facebook and Google+ have increased their user numbers dramatically in China, as seen below. There's just one problem. They are all blocked in China, and we believe that GlobalWebIndex has got its data wrong (as do TheNextWeb):

 
This development is what we hope happens in China's future and it's what we are fighting for but it certainly is not the reality now. The last thing we want to see is people saying that Chinese netizens have free and open access to social media around the world. They don't! They are prevented from looking at many foreign web sites and they are also prevented from accessing information on Chinese web sites. The Great Firewall is not some myth, it's a sad reality. Chinese censorship authorities will be delighted to see this news as it makes the rest of the world believe that censorship is not happening here.
 
Because of this, we want to ask GlobalWebIndex the following 8 questions:
  1. How many registered users are there from China for Twitter, Facebook and Google+? Your own data and tweets suggest 70 million for Twitter (via your tweet), 125 million for Facebook (also via your tweet although slide 17 of your report suggests 450 million) and 150 million for  Google + (via the same report).
  2. How many of those users are active? Your data again suggests 35.4 million Twitter users (via your blog post) but eMarketer suggests 35.5 million (via their infographic). Facebook at 63 million and Google + at 106 million (both via your infographic). How do the active user percentages for Twitter (47%), Facebook (50%) and Google + (71%) compare to other markets?
  3. Does China include Hong Kong, Macau and/or Taiwan in your reports?
  4. If Twitter has more active users in China than in the US, how come the most popular account based in China has only 562,250 followers (and is run by a foreigner)? This compares to the most followed US-based Twitter account (@ladygaga: 29m followers) as well as the most followed Sina Weibo account (姚晨: 24m followers), both more than 100 times more popular.
  5. If Facebook has tens of millions of users in China, why do they themselves only claim to have 600k?
  6. If LinkedIn.com has 16m users in China and Facebook has four times as many, why does Alexa rank LinkedIn as #267 and Facebook only as #482?
  7. What is a “Virtual Cloud Network” and how do you use it to circumvent censorship? Did you ask users how they get around the Great Firewall? In our experience, free circumvention tools such as Ultrasurf and Freegate are more widespread than commercial VPNs but we lack data and it would be very interesting to know more.
  8. How did you/Lightspeed find users to reply to your surveys in China? Was the survey in Chinese? If so, how were the names of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn translated? On what websites was it advertised? Was the survey website itself blocked or throttled in China?

 

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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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