In the wake of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, China has launched a new wave of online censorship, cracking down on a popular firewall-circumvention service.
Users of the paid Virtual Private Network (VPN) service Astrill were greeted with an error message over the weekend, stating that “increases censorship” were blocking the service’s protocols, and that the company was working on an updated version of the app to get around the restriction.
— Arvin (@atMailbox) September 7, 2015
VPNs are used to get around the regime’s Great Firewall internet blockade. Attacks on VPNs and other anti-censorship tools have faced interference from the regime with regularity.
In the days running up to the 70th anniversary, the software developer website GitHub experienced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks are when a multitude of compromised systems attack a single target, thereby flooding the target system so much that it’s forced to shut down.
The week before GitHub was attacked, Chinese developers, under pressure from the police, shut down ShadowSocks, an open source project that allows Chinese netizens to circumvent the Great Firewall.
The attacks last month wasn’t the first time China had targeted GitHub. In March, the regime temporarily took down two GitHub pages—one hosting content for GreatFire, which makes uncensored Google searches available in China, and a mirror of the Chinese translation of the New York Times—with its “Great Cannon.”
These incidents are a part of larger efforts to tighten the regime’s rein on the internet that began late last year, when the usual client-based workarounds for accessing Gmail, long banned in China, were blocked in December.
In January, the People’s Daily’s reported that the Great Firewall had been”upgraded for cyberspace sovereignty,” and subsequently the popular VPNs TunnelBear, Strong VPN, and Astrill all reported connection issues.
The persistence of Chinese web censorship has spawned a large market for services that can circumvent the Great Firewall, and some of the most useful tools, like Freegate and Ultra-Surf, have been made not in China but by the diaspora abroad.