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 take great offense to these comments and we will refute them in this letter.

We do not level accusations against CAC lightly. We took great lengths to provide data collected during the attack to back up our claims. Multiple reports confirmed our analysis, including screenshots and tests posted by Chinese internet users as well as independent analysis from security experts.

We have reported on previous MITM attacks against iCloud, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, all of which have been confirmed by the respective companies. We have also asked independent security experts to examine the data we or Chinese users captured during each MITM attack. Please see the independent data analysis in each instance here: Outlook, iCloud, Google, Yahoo, Github. In each case the conclusions are similar:

Our conclusion is that this was a real attack on Microsoft's email service. Additionally, the attack is very similar to previous nationwide Chinese attacks on SSL encrypted traffic, such as the attack on Google a few months ago.   

Two independent security experts contacted by Reuters said GreatFire's report appeared credible.

"All the evidence I've seen would support that this is a real attack," said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at security software developer F-Secure.

To be more specific, it appears as if the MITM attacks are being performed on backbone networks belonging to China Telecom (CHINANET) as well as China Unicom.  

All evidence indicates that a MITM attack is being conducted against traffic between China’s nationwide education and research network CERNET and

The fact that the MITM machine was six hops away from the user indicates that the MITM is taking place at some fairly central position in China's internet infrastructure, as opposed to being done locally at the ISP.

We have noted your department's denial of involvement in the Outlook MITM attack. However, Jiang Jun acknowledges that an attack took place. We assume that by proclaiming your innocence, you believe that others are responsible for the attack.

If CAC is not responsible for the attack, nor complicitly letting it happen, can you please explain how “hostile forces” can tap into the backbone of Chinese Internet and implement nationwide MITM attacks six times over the past two years?

Why did CAC not launch an investigation after you denied any involvement in a MITM attack against Apple’s iCloud in October, 2014? Do note that your colleague Mr. Jiang states:

The Chinese government is a staunch advocate for cyber security and stands firmly against any sort of cyber attack. China will crack down on online offensive maneuvers initiated in China and those launched via Chinese Internet infrastructure in line with law.

Can you please explain, Mr. Lu, how CAC has cracked down on these “offensive maneuvers”? How come your department is censoring reports about this attack and even stories that appear in state media, including People's Daily?

Mr. Jiang also makes several accusations about, all of which we would like to address in this letter.


Our translation: Jiang Jun said, is an anti-China website set up by an overseas anti-China organization (1). It has long made groundless charges against Chinese government (2). They ( timed this incident with an announcement from CAC about the closure of illegal websites, website columns, and public WeChat accounts (3), aiming to incite dissatisfaction and to smear China's cyberspace management system (4).

(1) Three people founded in 2011 without any help from any external organizations. We were dissatisfied with Internet censorship in China and we decided to fight against it. We are not anti-China but we are anti-censorship in China. Please take the time to read more about the history of our organization.

(2) We've been monitoring and writing about Chinese Internet censorship since 2011. In fact, the main purpose of is to automatically test internet censorship in China. All of our blog posts are backed up by hard data, collected from automatic testing, manual testing and user reports. As mentioned earlier, we have even provided the full raw data on the most recent MITM attack. This evidence is far from being “groundless”.

(3) Unless you are accusing us of staging this attack, how is it possible that we can "time" the MITM attack with your announcements? Microsoft has confirmed that there was an attack - we simply reported on it in a timely fashion. In fact, this timing provides some indication that CAC is indeed behind the MITM attack. Perhaps the closing of WeChat accounts and the attack on Outlook were part of the same plan?

(4) We do agree on one thing and that is that we are "aiming to incite dissatisfaction and smear China's cyberspace management system". We are here to watch what you are doing, to criticise you when you are wrong and to end online censorship in China. And we are encouraging netizens and companies alike to fight against GFW and Chinese internet censorship in general. We've called for Microsoft, Apple and others to immediately revoke trust for CNNIC certificate authority. Your continued MITM attacks, your denial of your involvement in these attacks, and your baseless accusations against us are only adding to the urgency of revoking trust for CNNIC.

We have also noted that you have instructed Chinese media to discontinue mentions of us in the Chinese press, after you labeled us as “anti-China”. However, no matter what censorship measures you put in place, our voice will continue to be heard by state media, including this mention in the Global Times:

"The Great Firewall is blocking the VPN on the protocol level. It means that the firewall does not need to identify each VPN provider and block its IP addresses. Rather, it can spot VPN traffic during transit and block it," one of the founders of an overseas website which monitors the Internet in China told the Global Times Thursday via e-mail.

We look forward to receiving an apology from you for your groundless slander against us; your “wild guesses and malicious blemishes" will not help solve cyber issues.


The Team at




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Thu, Aug 10, 2023

1.4 million people used FreeBrowser to circumvent the Great Firewall of Turkmenistan

Since 2021, the authorities in Turkmenistan have taken exceptional measures to crack down on the use of circumvention tools. Citizens have been forced to swear on the Koran that they will not use a VPN. Circumvention tool websites have been systematically blocked. Arbitrary searches of mobile devices have also taken place and have even targeted school children and teachers.

The government has also blocked servers hosting VPNs which led to “near complete” internet shutdowns on several occasions in 2022. Current reports indicate that 66 hosting providers, 19 social networks and messaging platforms, and 10 leading content delivery networks (CDNs), are blocked in the country. The government presumably is unconcerned about the negative economic impact that such shutdowns can cause.

Fri, Mar 18, 2022

Well-intentioned decisions have just made it easier for Putin to control the Russian Internet

This article is in large part inspired by a recent article from Meduza (in Russian).

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russian users have had problems accessing government websites and online banking clients. Browsers began to mark these sites as unsafe and drop the connection. The reason is the revocation of digital security certificates by foreign certificate authorities (either as a direct consequence of sanctions or as an independent, good will move); without them, browsers do not trust sites and “protect” their users from them.

However, these actions, caused - or at least triggered by - a desire to punish Russia for their gruesome actions in Ukraine, will have long-lasting consequences for Russian netizens.

Digital certificates are needed to confirm that the site the user wants to visit is not fraudulent. The certificates contain encryption keys to establish a secure connection between the site and the user. It is very easy to understand whether a page on the Internet is protected by a certificate. One need just look at the address bar of the browser. If the address begins with the https:// prefix, and there is a lock symbol next to the address, the page is protected. By clicking on this lock, you can see the status of the connection, the name of the Certification Authority (CA) that issued the certificate, and its validity period.

There are several dozen commercial and non-commercial organizations in the world that have digital root certificates, but 3/4 of all certificates are issued by only five of the largest companies. Four of them are registered in the USA and one is registered in Belgium.

Mon, Aug 03, 2020

Announcing the Release of GreatFire AppMaker

GreatFire (, a China-focused censorship monitoring organization, is proud to announce that we have developed and released a new anti-censorship tool that will enable any blocked media outlet, blogger, human rights group, or civil society organization to evade censors and get their content onto the phones of millions of readers and supporters in China and other countries that censor the Internet.

GreatFire has built an Android mobile app creator, called “GreatFire AppMaker”, that can be used by organizations to unblock their content for users in China and other countries. Organizations can visit a website ( which will compile an app that is branded with the organization’s own logo and will feature their own, formerly blocked content. The app will also contain a special, censorship-circumventing web browser so that users can access the uncensored World Wide Web. The apps will use multiple strategies, including machine learning, to evade advanced censorship tactics employed by the Chinese authorities.  This project will work equally well in other countries that have China-like censorship restrictions. For both organizations and end users, the apps will be free, fast, and extremely easy to use.

This project was inspired by China-based GreatFire’s first-hand experience with our own FreeBrowser app ( and desire to help small NGOs who may not have the in-house expertise to circumvent Chinese censorship. GreatFire’s anti-censorship tools have worked in China when others do not. FreeBrowser directs Chinese internet users to normally censored stories from the app’s start page (

Fri, Jul 24, 2020

Apple, anticompetition, and censorship

On July 20, 2020, GreatFire wrote to all 13 members of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting a thorough examination into Apple’s practice of censorship of its App Store, and an investigation into how the company collaborates with the Chinese authorities to maintain its unique position as one of the few foreign tech companies operating profitably in the Chinese digital market.  

This letter was sent a week before Apple CEO TIm Cook will be called for questioning in front of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. The CEOs of Amazon, Google and Facebook will also be questioned on July 27, as part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation into competition in the digital marketplace.

This hearing offers an opportunity to detail to the Subcommittee how Apple uses its closed operating ecosystem to not only abuse its market position but also to deprive certain users, most notably those in China, of their right to download and use apps related to privacy, secure communication, and censorship circumvention.

We hope that U.S. House representatives agree with our view that Apple should not be allowed to do elsewhere what would be considered as unacceptable in the U.S. Chinese citizens are not second class citizens. Private companies such as Apple compromise themselves and their self-proclaimed values of freedom and privacy when they collaborate with the Chinese government and its censors.

Mon, Jun 10, 2019

Apple Censoring Tibetan Information in China

Apple has a long history of censorship when it comes to information about Tibet. In 2009, it was revealed that several apps related to the Dalai Lama were not available in the China App Store. The developers of these apps were not notified that their apps were removed. When confronted with these instances of censorship, an Apple spokesperson simply said that the company “continues to comply with local laws”.

In December, 2017, at a conference in China, when asked about working with the Chinese authorities to censor the Apple App Store, Tim Cook proclaimed:

"Your choice is: do you participate, or do you stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be. And my own view very strongly is you show up and you participate, you get in the arena because nothing ever changes from the sideline."

In the ten years since Apple was first criticized for working with the Chinese authorities to silence already marginalized voices, what has changed? Apple continues to strictly follow the censorship orders of the Chinese authorities. When does Tim Cook expect that his company will help to bring about positive change in China?

Based on data generated from, Apple has now censored 29 popular Tibetan mobile applications in the China App Store. Tibetan-themed apps dealing with news, religious study, tourism, and even games are being censored by Apple. A full list of the censored apps appear below.

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Great letter. Look forward to hearing if there's a response, though I think we all know how likely that is.



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