Massive blocking of foreign media in China

After Tuesday’s report Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite by ICIJ, China blocked a number of major newspaper websites. All websites below were blocked after publishing copies of the original report. They're all listed as the publishing partners for “Chinaleaks” stories on ICIJ's website. The Great Firewall rarely blocks non-Chinese websites. Many of them have published the Chinese version of the report which probably explains the unusual development.

Newspaper

Main Language

Article

http://www.icij.org

English

Chinese

http://www.theguardian.com

English

English

http://www.theglobalmail.org

English English

http://www.sueddeutsche.de

German

Chinese

http://www.lemonde.fr

French

Chinese

http://www.elpais.com

Spanish

Chinese

http://www.cbc.ca

English

English

http://www.ndr.de

German

German

http://www.lesoir.be Italian Italian
http://www.lematin.ch Swedish Swedish
http://www.newstapa.org Korean Korean
http://pcij.org English English
http://trouw.nl Dutch Dutch

The blocks are unusually severe. First of all, while the Great Firewall is capable of blocking individual articles or sections, the above websites are all entirely blocked. For BBC, they only blocked the article, not the entire website. For This is often the standard way of censoring reports. Why such a blanket block?

Update: We have found the reason for such block. Any website listed as the publishing partners for “Chinaleaks” stories by ICIJ is completely blocked. Websites not listed have individual stories related to the incident blocked or not blocked at all. We can infer that the government blocked them more for revengen than for controlling the information. Only a small percentage of Internet users in China read in English, let alone German, Spanish, etc.

Second, English websites are not usually the targets of the censors. For example, the article posted in English by SCMP is not blocked. In the case of reports of Xi Jinping and Wen Jiabao a year ago, only Chinese websites and the original English websites were affected, not other media that reported on the stories.

Perhaps the severity of the block suggests that Chinese leaders are particularly concerned about this report.

Interestingly, few Chinese versions of foreign media are covering the story. There is no mention of it on Reuters Chinese, WSJ Chinese, IBTimes ChineseNanzao. These websites have also all remained unblocked. Only NYT Chinese, which has blocked for a long time, covered the story. This suggests that the strategy of forcing the foreign press to self-censor by threatening with website blocks and visa denials is working.

We at GreatFire.org believe in a free Internet. We have created an unblockable mirror for the report in Chinese and English. Please share with all your friends behind the Great Firewall.

CORRECTION (posted Janaury 23, 2014): FT Chinese has posted a story about the ICIJ report, in English and Chinese.The individual article is blocked.

The French language website for the CBC, Radio Canada, has not been blocked and they have posted an extensive story in French about the ICIJ report.

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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.

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.

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