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Making Sense of the Chinese VPN Crackdown

March 15, 2017
Paul Ruelas

Over 2,000 years ago, the Chinese began building the Great Wall of China. The idea was to protect Chinese states and empires from raids by various nomadic groups. The wall served its purpose, in addition to regulating trade and import duties.

More recently, the Chinese government implemented what’s commonly called the Great Firewall of China. The goal is to control and limit how Chinese citizens use the Internet. The firewall has posed challenges to organizations doing business with China.

Recently, the Chinese have tightened the Great Firewall with a ban on some VPN services. In January, the country’s Ministry of Industry and IT announced a 14-month national campaign that requires all providers of VPN services to obtain prior government approval. Essentially, this makes the activities of many VPN providers in China illegal.

According to local reports, this crackdown on unregulated Internet connections aims to “strengthen cyberspace information security management.” But the unofficial goal is to dramatically limit what Chinese citizens can — and cannot — see, read and do online.

Blurred Lines

VPNs are at the heart of this matter because they’re among the main tools Chinese individuals use to get past the Great Firewall and gain access to overseas websites. Many use commercial (but unregistered) VPNs on their phones, tablets and laptops to gain access to western social media, search engines and more.

Some Chinese companies also offer prepaid SIM cards that anonymously circumvent the Great Firewall. Individuals can buy these cards with cash, keeping the entire transaction anonymous.

Technically, these private VPNs are illegal. Yet it’s estimated that about a third of all Chinese citizens and visitors with Internet access employ them.

As you can imagine, China’s recent ruling has U.S. and European companies doing business in the country worried. How will they communicate with their workers in Chinese branch offices? How will they continue ordering from Chinese suppliers? And how can they do both while staying on the right side of the law?

Priority Networks

The silver lining to this cloud? Many VPN providers in China are already registered with the government and licenced yearly and therefore totally legal. While these services are out of reach for most individuals, companies doing business in China can take advantage of them.

Some of Masergy’s customers have asked about this issue, and we’re glad to be able to reassure them: Our networking partners in China are licensed by the government and completely legal. Because they’re certified service providers, our Internet access remains a cost effective method of business communication. Additionally, this access can be used in conjunction with our SD-WAN service.

In addition, Masergy maintains Chinese points of presence (POPs) in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. For our clients doing business in China, Masergy remains open for business, and we plan to stay that way.

Learn more about Masergy’s SD-WAN and Hybrid Network solutions.

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