China government will reportedly begin blocking all virtual private networks (VPNs) by February 1, 2018, according to a report from Bloomberg. If the report is true, it means internet controls in China are about to get even more restrictive.
China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom are the largest state-run internet service providers (ISPs), who together serve over 1.35 billion subscribers. Citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, Chinese government has ordered the three state-owned ISPs to bar individual access to VPNs by next year, marking a significant crackdown on citizens’ access to the open web.
However, the claim was denied by China Telecom. According to their spokesperson, the company has not yet received any notice from the government on this regard.
Whereas, many people believe that there has been some substance to the VPN block. Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology launched an announcement that, in order to live line up with a “cleanup” of unauthorized internet connections, all VPN services should get government approval first. In November 2016, China even passed a new cybersecurity law, forcing ISPs to keep IP address logs for six months at a minimum.
It is still unknown whether the internet access of many informational businesses in China will be impacted by the latest push against VPNs. Jake Parker, VP of the US-China Business Council, said that VPNs played an incredibly important role for helping companies access global services and information outside of China, as the government allowed all companies operating on the Chinese soil to employ leased lines to access the international web as long as they had registered their usage of such services for the record. Jake Parker admitted that many companies would think about reducing or even closing operations in China every time the country implemented an effort to cut off internal corporate VPNs in the past.
But he also pointed out that, compared to companies in China, individual users bear the brunt of the ban on VPNs.
In accordance with President Xi Jinping’s “cyber sovereignty” framework, the government need take actions to tighten all loopholes around the Great Firewall—the system designed to block information sources from Facebook, Twitter, or other international websites.
While VPNs are widely used by businesses and individuals to view banned websites, the technology operates in a legal gray area. Typically, VPN extends over public network like the internet. Users will be using an encrypted and private area of the internet that allows them to access the websites and data that might be banned.