China just blocked thousands of websites

The Chinese censorship authorities have DNS poisoned *edgecastcdn.net, which means all subdomains of edgecastcdn.net are blocked in China. EdgeCast is one of the largest Content Delivery Networks (CDN) in the world and provides its cloud services to thousands of websites and apps in China.

We have acknowledged all along that our method of unblocking websites using “collateral freedom” hinges on the gamble that the Chinese authorities will not block access to global CDNs because they understand the value of China being integrated with the global internet. However, we can now reveal publicly that the authorities are doing just that - attempting to cut China off from the global internet.

We have seen instances of “collateral damage” due to “collateral freedom” over the past few days and have received emails from some smaller website owners wondering why their non-sensitive sites are being blocked by the great firewall.

What's going on?

The disruption to EdgeCast’s service was noted by the company on their website on November 14, 2014, although we noticed a problem on November 12 and the first poisoning on the 13th. The company's status update still appears on their site:

Please be advised, we are experiencing issues with content delivery in the China region due to suddenly increased restrictions imposed by the Chinese Government. If you are receiving reports from end users not able to view content from within China, please contact our network Operations center to discuss the options available to you.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 12.26.20.png

Some of the recent victims of collateral damage, all EdgeCast clients, include:

Sony Mobile’s global and Chinese sites are both blocked.

The Atlantic will, sadly, not be able to claim that their website was blocked due to the aggressive nature of their reporting on China.

The project website of Drupal (drupal.org) is blocked. Drupal is used as a back-end framework for many websites worldwide. Administrators of those websites in China will face disruptions when trying to update Drupal or install extensions.

Firefox browser add-ons are another victim. Firefox's addons.cdn.mozilla.net is hosted on EdgeCast. Firefox users in China will not be able to install any add-on for Firefox.

Gravatar is used by many websites to show profile images. The images are hosted on EdgeCast and any website that uses Gravatar in China will be displaying broken images. Here is what a typical Chinese user will see when accessing those websites.

Other blocked websites include speedtest.net and deviantart.com. It is hard to tell what websites may be affected because different sites might have different elements (i.e. images) that rely on EdgeCast. Anybody who appears on the EdgeCast customer list is potentially affected. Some client names appear in the screenshot below.

edgecast.png

Why?

The great firewall (GFW) is attempting to block access to our collateral freedom mirror sites, which are hosted in the global cloud infrastructure. GFW cannot distinguish traffic to our mirror sites and other traffic to the cloud provider which means that they cannot block access to our mirror sites without blocking access to the all sites hosted by the CDN. We are forcing the authorities to make a decision between allowing uncensored access to the global internet or blocking global CDNs all together, which will come at a significant economic cost.

In the case of EdgeCast, the authorities have chosen to block access to their service altogether and as a result, they have taken down tens of thousands of websites in one foul swoop. The blocking of such a considerable number of websites in one instance will likely result in significant economic loss as many businesses will be impacted.

EdgeCast was recently acquired by Verizon, whose board directors include senior executives from companies that have made significant investments in China including Royal Dutch Shell, Proctor & Gamble and Deere & Company.

If the authorities did not anticipate what damage the blocking of EdgeCast would inflict, they have likely been alerted by the many companies that use EdgeCast in China. This action comes at a bad time for the Chinese authorities. This week, they are hosting the World Internet Conference and the blocking of EdgeCast will likely be a hot topic of discussion. We call on the Chinese authorities to lift the restrictions on EdgeCast immediately.

Update

EdgeCast removed the status update on its website, but have published a blog post about their current problems in China: 

We have been hearing from our CDN and Monitoring partners throughout the industry and our own customers that more sites, CDNs and networks are being filtered or blocked by the Great Firewall of China. This week we’ve seen the filtering escalate with an increasing number of popular web properties impacted and even one of our many domains being partially blocked… with no rhyme or reason as to why.

At Verizon EdgeCast we have put policies in place to help our customers mitigate the effects of this most recent filtering but expect this to be an ongoing issue for our customers seeking to reach Chinese users (users in China). For any customers who are seeing their delivery impacted, please log in to your EdgeCast portal. Here you will find instructions on your portal home page on how to best mitigate filtering or blocking.

For those of our customers who are frustrated by this, we share your frustration, as does the whole content delivery and hosting industry. Rest assured that we stay committed to work with our global ISP partners and do our best to mitigate the effects of these filtering policies to ensure a clear path to your users and customers in China.

 

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Tue, May 23, 2017

Is China establishing cyber sovereignty in the United States?

Last week Twitter came under attack from a DDoS attack orchestrated by the Chinese authorities. While such attacks are not uncommon for websites like Twitter, this one proved unusual. While the Chinese authorities use the Great Firewall to block harmful content from reaching its citizens, it now uses DDoS attacks to take down content that appears on websites beyond its borders. For the Chinese authorities, it is not simply good enough to “protect” the interests of Chinese citizens at home - in their view of cyber sovereignty, any content that might harm China’s interests must be removed, regardless of where the website is located.

And so last week the Chinese authorities determined that Twitter was the target. In particular, the authorities targeted the Twitter account for Guo Wengui (https://twitter.com/KwokMiles), the rebel billionaire who is slowly leaking information about corrupt Chinese government officials via his Twitter account and through his YouTube videos. Guo appeared to ramp up his whistle-blowing efforts last week and the Chinese authorities, in turn, ramped up theirs.

via https://twitter.com/KwokMiles/status/863689935798374401

Mon, Dec 12, 2016

China is the obstacle to Google’s plan to end internet censorship

It’s been three years since Eric Schmidt proclaimed that Google would chart a course to ending online censorship within ten years. Now is a great time to check on Google’s progress, reassess the landscape, benchmark Google’s efforts against others who share the same goal, postulate on the China strategy and offer suggestions on how they might effectively move forward.

flowers on google china plaque

Flowers left outside Google China’s headquarters after its announcement it might leave the country in 2010. Photo: Wikicommons.

What has Google accomplished since November 2013?

The first thing they have accomplished is an entire rebranding of both Google (now Alphabet) and Google Ideas (now Jigsaw). Throughout this blog post, reference is made to both new and old company names.

Google has started to develop two main tools which they believe can help in the fight against censorship. Jigsaw’s DDoS protection service, Project Shield, is effectively preventing censorship-inspired DDoS attacks and recently helped to repel an attack on Brian Krebs’ blog. The service is similar to other anti-DDoS services developed by internet freedom champions and for-profit services like Cloudflare.

Thu, Nov 24, 2016

Facebook: Please, not like this

Facebook is considering launching a censorship tool that would enable the world’s biggest social network to “enter” the China market. Sadly, nobody will be surprised by anything that Mark Zuckerberg decides to do in order to enter the China market. With such low expectations, Facebook is poised to usurp Apple as China’s favorite foreign intelligence gathering partner. If the company launches in China using this strategy they will also successfully erase any bargaining power that other media organizations may hold with the Chinese authorities.

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?
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