China has begun a crackdown on the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, making it harder for internet users to circumvent the Great Firewall.
The nation’s ministry of industry and information technology announced a 14-month “cleanup” of internet access services, including making it illegal to operate a local VPN service without government approval.
VPN services use encryption to disguise internet traffic so that web surfers in China can access websites that are usually restricted or censored by the Great Firewall.
The Great Firewall is a vast internet surveillance and content-control system that prevents people in China from accessing certain websites and pages. It blocks content that’s critical of the Chinese government or that covers controversial political events, such as the Tiananmen Square protest or spiritual movements such as Falun Gong.
Some 171 out of the world’s 1,000 top websites are blocked, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, according to censorship monitor Greatfire.org. In order to access these sites, Chinese internet users can use VPN services, although the government has been trying to clamp down on these for several years.
According to the ministry, the crackdown is designed to “strengthen cyberspace information security management”.
“China’s internet connection service market,” the ministry said, “has signs of disordered development that require urgent regulation and governance.”
The campaign is timed ahead of a leadership overhaul that takes place at the Communist party congress in late 2017.
Greatfire.org’s Charlie Smith said that the measures predominantly affect domestic players.