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The Great (Fire)wall of China

As is well known, there are some subjects – such as Taiwan, Falun Gong – that the Chinese Government doesn’t think its people should know about. So about 30,000 Internet censorship officials have been deployed to man what is called the “Great Firewall of China”, which blocks access to these and countless other subjects.

German IT security expert Sebastian Wolfgarten wanted to find out if he could get around the so-called Great Firewall of China, a vast Internet censorship system that prevents Chinese citizens from accessing information their government deems sensitive.

Researchers have known for the past several years that when Chinese citizens type certain phrases like “Falun Gong” and “Taiwan” into Google, they receive very different results than people outside the region do. The question is whether there might be a simple technical way to dig a little escape route through the Great Firewall.

Getting into China’s network turned out to be easier than you might imagine. Wolfgarten simply bought a server at a Chinese ISP by phone. Once the server was set up, he could log into it from Germany. And all the data that went through the server would be subject to the same digital censorship that Chinese citizens experience every day. He quickly discovered that when he requested information on Taiwan through his Chinese server, he got no data in return. Sometimes, he couldn’t access his server for days on end. When he phoned the ISP for information, workers there told him the server was running. He was just blocked from reaching it.

Over the next year, he tried several methods for getting uncensored data to his Chinese server through the Great Firewall. He would log into the server, then make requests for information about Amnesty.org or Falun Gong. What he

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discovered was that there are possible ways to trick the automatic Chinese censorship system.

Wolfgarten admitted that it’s not clear that servers owned by foreigners are subject to the same treatment as Chinese-owned servers. He concluded by saying that a lot more research needs to be done, and invited others to help him.

You can read Wolfgarten’s paper about his research here.

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