Over the last week or so, a number of VPN providers have reported issues with their services in China following reports that the government had updated its firewall to block such software.
Astrill VPN, Vypr VPN, and Strong VPN all reported issues, with the president of Golden Frog (the company that operates Vypr) Sunday Yokubaitis saying that the “attack” was “more sophisticated” than previous ones.
Other VPN providers have experienced some issues while others haven’t seen a difference. Pure VPN says it is not affected. Meanwhile Astrill told VPN Creative in an email that its iOS app in particular has been affected by the Great Firewall (GFW) changes.
“Our iOS app has been affected by GFW blockage,” said Astrill. “Our router applet, android app and computer application are working fine.”
The number of VPN users had been growing in China too, according to several VPN providers but no figures are made available to verify that.
“StrongVPN has a sizable customer base in China and these customers are important to our business and bottom line. Disclosing exact numbers could have unintended consequences and cause more issues with the Great Firewall – or worse,” says Doug Haden, manager of Strong VPN.
“Being one of the oldest VPN companies, we have seen increased worldwide interest (and sales) for our VPN services over the last several years,” he added.
“I can tell you that more than 300 new VPN users come to our service every day in China,” Amit Bareket from SaferVPN told CIO.
China ratchets up its censorship
The New York Times got in on the story towards the end of this week, reporting on several new changes that the government has made to protect the “sovereignty” of its Internet and curtail foreign media and cultural influences.
This latest VPN hampering is one of the first instances where a Chinese official has outright said the censorship method was to prevent foreign influence.
The NYT’s report says everyone from scientists and researchers to graphic designers have been affected by the blockage and can now no longer access vital academic resources or other information.
“It’s like we’re living in the Middle Ages,” said one angered citizen that works in academia.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” he said. “For a nation that professes to respect science and wants to promote scientific learning, such barriers suggest little respect for the people actually engaged in science.”
A spokesperson for Great Fire, the site that tracks censorship and blocking methods used in China, said he was not surprised by the latest measures.
China is not unique in the uptake of VPN services in recent years though with a greater awareness of cyber security and privacy aiding this growth.
“The most interesting thing about the recent growth in StrongVPN customers is the number of “non-technical” users we are seeing,” says Doug. “Average, every day people are starting to get the message that what they do online is no longer private. Big Data has shown its hand.
“Also interesting is the rise in the number of customers who are using VPN for every session, meaning they never go online without protecting themselves with a VPN. (This is based on feedback we get from them via support and internal surveys.)”
We have reached out to a number of VPN providers for comments on how their service has been affected in China. If you have any more information that you’d like to share, contact us or leave a comment below.