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.


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German Italian Italian Swedish Swedish Korean Korean English English 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 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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Tue, Jul 05, 2016 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 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 to download Xcode.

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