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Chinese Internet Users Concerned About Crack Down on VPNs

Will China’s internet be further closed off from the rest of the world?

Manya Koetse

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China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice on Sunday that it will strictly contain the unapproved use of virtual private networks (VPNs) by Chinese firms. Many Chinese internet users are concerned about the announcement and fear that it will further close off China’s internet from the rest of the world.

In the “Notice of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Clearing the Internet Market of Network Access Services” (“工业和信息化部关于清理规范互联网网络接入服务市场的通知“), the Ministry stated on January 22 that it will tighten control over Virtual Private Networks (VPN 虚拟专用网络) often used within China to access websites blocked by the ‘Golden Shield Project’ (better known as the ‘Great Firewall of China’).

The official announcement on the website of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The announcement says that authorities will start strengthening control over companies in the areas of Content Delivery Networks (CDN), Internet Data Centers (IDC) and Internet Service Providers (ISP), and that it will “put an end to illegal business activities,” which entails the unauthorized use of VPNs. The measurement is implemented to “promote the healthy and orderly development of the Internet industry.”

Companies will be able to apply for approval to set up or rent special internet connections for ‘cross-border operations’, but those without official approval will be barred from using VPNs.

 

“Without a VPN, how can we now go on Facebook to show our patriotism and love for China?”

 

The crack down on unauthorized internet connections, which will make most VPN service providers in China illegal, will last until March 31, 2018.

On Weibo, media outlets like China News used an image of pandas attempting to climb over a fence to reinforce the message.

Reactions on Chinese social media vary, with many netizens making sarcastic comments about the news. “Wouldn’t it just be better to cut off all Internet and shut down further contact with foreign countries?” some say.

Many others also comment: “Without a VPN, how can we now go on Facebook to show our patriotism and love for China?”

But there are also those who are confused on what the new regulations will mean for individuals, and many who are worried as they fear it will widen the gap between China and the rest of the world: “They will first restrict companies, then they will restrict individuals – it goes step by step.”

“Why are we not allowed to browse foreign websites in the first place?” another commenter wonders: “I simply don’t understand.”

According to a Shanghai-based IT expert quoted by Chinese state media, the crack down is needed to battle “illegal activities.” He told Global Times: “Some multinational companies in China such as Microsoft Corp have a reasonable need to communicate with their headquarters overseas via VPNs, but some corporations or individuals browse overseas Internet pages out of illegal motivations. In this regard, the new rules are extremely important.”

 

“This something that is often underestimated, but there are even walls within the Great Firewall of China.”

 

Some internet users from Xinjiang are especially concerned. For people from the region of Xinjiang in the northwest of China, home to the majority of Chinese muslims, the control on information flows is extra strict as the area has a history of social unrest. “I am from Xinjiang and I have to use a VPN to access most of my apps, like Xiami Music, Baidu Cloud or the Changba (music) app. Without a VPN, what else is there left to do on my phone?”, one commenter wonders.

“What’s up with that?” others ask: “I had a friend from Xinjiang coming over to Shenzhen recently, and although he has a 4G phone card he could not access it. When we called the information line we finally understood that nobody from Xinjiang can use 4G on their phones.” Another person comments: “This something that is often underestimated, but there are even walls within the Great Firewall of China.”

Besides worry, many people express their sadness over the stricter control of China’s internet. They post crying emoticons, writing: “Has our VPN era come to an end?” One person says: “This gives me a headache. If you have experienced the internet freedom of the 1990s, you’d understand how much this grieves me.”

 

“I don’t even know what a VPN is.”

 

Apart from those who worry, there is also a large group of Weibo users who are not too concerned about the new regulations for now. “Did nobody read the original text? This is about companies!”, one person said.

“Why should we want to use foreign websites when we have our own sites like Weibo or Youku?”, some say.

Many others have never used a VPN to ‘climb over’ the Great Firewall of China. “I don’t even know what a VPN is,” some commenters say.

– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kate

    January 24, 2017 at 8:35 pm

    The individual users need not to worry about as this new cybersecurity law will only affect the ”Fixed Line” VPN which are rented out by the Chinese Telecom or those installed by Microsoft to connect the offices (operating in mainland China) to their regional H.Qs. The commercial VPN services mostly operate outside mainland China and won’t have any Fixed line VPN functioning, so they will remain unaffected. I know it because I just talked to my VPN service (ExpressVPN) customer representative to clear my ambiguity regarding the new cybersecurity policy of Chinese government.

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China Digital

“Don’t Download This App!” – A Top 10 of Harmful Chinese Apps

This latest top 10 of harmful Chinese apps comes amid a heightened media focus on mobile users and cybersecurity in China.

Jialing Xie

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Thousands of apps are available to China’s mobile users, but not all of them are safe. These apps were marked as harmful by Chinese state media this week.

On September 17, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua News Agency issued a top 10 list of harmful mobile apps. The list, published via various social media outlets, raised discussions online about the security risks of seemingly innocent and fun apps.

The top 10 list comes during China’s 2019 “Clean the Web” (净网) campaign, an ongoing nationwide initiative organized by Chinese authorities to clean China’s digital environment by eradicating pornography and ‘illegal publications’ (扫黄打非).

As the People’s Republic of China will soon celebrate its 70th anniversary, the “Clean the Web 2019” campaign is now in full swing.

According to China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Center (NCVERC), the 10 listed ‘harmful apps’ posing hazards related to illegal gambling, stealing personal data, and having in-app downloads without users’ permission.

The full list of harmful mobile apps (and their bugged versions) is as follows.

 

The following first four apps are accused of personal data breaches:

 

1. ‘Happy Eliminating’《开心消消消》(Version 1.1)

The app on the left (开心消消消) is very similar to another popular gaming app called Happy Elements (开心消消乐).

This gaming app (image on the left), is highly similar to another popular gaming app known as Xiaoxiaole or Happy Elements (开心消消乐) (on the right).

 

2. ‘Digule’《嘀咕乐》(Version 1.0.1)

App screenshots from SnapPea.

This app promises to offer free comics and offline downloads. The app presents itself as being “non-ads interference” on the Android Market.

 

3. ‘Mifeng Yx’《蜜蜂优选》(Version 2.4.2)

This app helps users to get discount from popular online shopping sites such as Tmall and Taobao.

 

4. ‘Yangling Travel’《杨凌旅游》

This is a travel app that offers a wealth of information related to self-guided tours, travel tips, and hotel booking services.

 

The following apps have been labeled as ‘harmful’ for containing malware; their plug-ins and bundles drain users’ cellular data by downloading promotional ads and mobile apps in the background without permission:

 

5. ‘Zhijiao YXY’《职教云学院》(Version 1.0.2)

Zhijiao YXY is an online teaching platform for vocational education.

 

6. ‘Fashion Snap’《时尚快拍》(Version 3.6.72)

Fashion Snap is a beauty camera and photo editor tool.

 

7. ‘Watermark Images’《水印修图》(Version 4.0.91)

This is another photo editor tool featuring photo watermark add-ons.

 

These last three apps were linked with gambling activities by Chinese state media, or have security vulnerabilities making users susceptible to financial losses:

 

8. ‘Cute Puppy Go Home’《萌犬回家》(Version 2.0)

This is an app that matches pets with potential adopters.

 

9. Guess-emoji-challenge (Version 1.1)

As its name indicates, this is a mobile gaming app all about emoji guessing.

 

10. Warehouse Manager《仓库管家》(Version 1.0.1)

This is a warehouse management application.

(Note that we found two additional apps with the exact same name on AppAdvice, both are described as warehouse management applications – so for now, it is not clear which one of the three is the one referred to by Xinhua, and how it is associated with gambling.)

 

In addition to warning Chinese mobile users about the aforementioned versions of the 10 apps, Chinese media also spread the NCVERS’s advise in recommending netizens to use “real-time monitoring” anti-virus apps to help detect malware carried by illegal and harmful apps. 

In response to the report on the harmful apps, SinaTech News launched a poll on Weibo asking people what unwanted side functions mobile apps they dreaded the most.

At the time of writing, a majority (48.7%) of the 77,000 people participating in the poll indicated that “collecting user data without permission” is one of the things they loathe the most.

With China’s Cybersecurity Week kicking off earlier this month, there’s recently been an increased (social) media focus on cybersecurity in China.

This week, Chinese cybersecurity experts warned social media users not to post photos of themselves doing a V-sign gesture, since criminals could possibly abuse their fingerprint data.

The Chinese app Zao also sparked major privacy concerns in China earlier this month. The app, that was released on August 30, allows users to play with face-swapping and “deepfake” effects. There were soon concerns about the app’s questionable privacy policy, which stated it had “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable” rights to all user-generated content (also see The Guardian).

By now, the hashtag ‘Ten Lawbreaking & Harmful Apps” (#十款违法有害App#) has received over 130 million views on Weibo.

“This is a time for all of us to be concerned,” one Weibo blogger writes, with others agreeing: “I think all apps are collecting our data nowadays.”

But not all people seem to be so worried: “Weibo, WeChat, and Baidu – I’d say those apps are really harmful! They are harmful because they make me waste so many hours of my day.”

Read more about Chinese apps here.

By Jialing Xie

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Digital

Cybersecurity Experts Warn: Flicking the V-Sign in Photos Could Give Away Your Fingerprint Data

V-sign selfie pictures could disclose personal information about your fingerprints, security experts warn.

Manya Koetse

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Our cameras are getting better, but that’s not always a good thing. Chinese internet security experts warn that peace sign photos could potentially be abused to collect fingerprint data.

The 2019 China Cybersecurity Week was held in Shanghai this week, and made it to the top trending topics on Sina Weibo today.

The topic attracting the attention of millions of Chinese web users is not China’s cybersecurity in general, but one that was discussed during the event, namely the potential privacy risks in making a V-sign on photos.

Chinese internet security experts at the conference warned that people are unaware that they could be giving away personal data information about their fingerprints when sharing photos of themselves making a peace sign.

If the side of the fingertips is facing the camera, and if there is not a lot of space in between the camera and the hand, it would potentially be possible to gather fingerprint data using photo enlargement tools and AI techniques.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

The deputy director of the Shanghai Information Security Industry Association stated that photos displaying a fingertop-facing V-sign taken within 1,5 meter of the camera could potentially disclose 100% of one’s fingerprint information, China Press reports.

A booth at the conference giving information about fingerprint information leaking through V-sign photos. Photo via China Press.

Criminals could reconstruct fingerprint patterns of other people and abuse them in various means – basically wherever fingerprint information is used to confirm people’s identities (e.g. biometric door locks or fingerprint payment scanning).

Besides not disclosing fingerprint information in photos posted online, experts also warn people not to leave fingerprint information at machines without confirming their purpose and legality.

Fingerprint scanning is used for a multitude of purposes in China. Foreigners who arrived in China since 2017 will also be familiar with the policy of collecting foreign passport holders’ fingerprints upon their arrival in the PRC.

On Chinese social media, the topic “Making a V-Sign Could Leak Your Fingerprint Data” is one of the biggest being discussed today. On Weibo, the hashtag has gathered 200 million views at time of writing (#拍照比剪刀手会泄露指纹信息#).

Some commenters advise people on social media to make peace signs with the nail side of the fingers facing the camera. (That gesture, however, is deemed an offensive gesture in some nations.)

The V-sign is often used as a rather non-symbolic or cute gesture across in East Asia.

Although in many Western countries, the symbol is mostly known as the victory sign (“V for Victory”) as used during World War II, it entered mainstream popular culture in Japan since the 1960s and spread to other Asian countries from there.

This Time article explains how the gesture appeared in Japanese manga in the late 1960s, one of them titled V is the Sign (Sain wa ‘V’ / サインはV).

Amid the concerned Weibo users, some are not worried: “It’s ok,” one commenter writes: “Using a Beauty App smoothes out my skin anyway.”

There are also many commenters who are confused about the news, wondering what advanced photo camera quality and AI technique might implicate for future privacy risks concerning face recognition data and iris scanning software (“Should we also close our eyes?”).

Others offer a different solution to the unexpected V-sign issue: “Just flip the middle finger instead.”

By Manya Koetse

The images used in the featured image on this page come from 追星娱乐说.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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