These VPNs Can Evade the Chinese Great Firewall (So Far)
At the end of March, the Chinese government beefed-up its infamous Great Firewall oppressive features. While the name may conjure in Western minds thoughts of securing the Chinese government’s data, the Great Firewall of China is actually the world’s most sophisticated and aggressive censorship system.
In other words, this firewall isn’t meant solely to keep attackers out, but to keep its citizens’ thoughts and speech under firm control. Even VPNs end up caught in its growing black hole. The resulting exposure to career threats and human lives is brutal and unrelenting. And it’s getting worse.
Recently, China’s attacks on internet freedoms have expanded beyond its borders. Indeed, “one of China’s most insidious exports [is] its censorship techniques, and its Firewall is an inspiration for aspiring autocrats the world over,” journalist James Griffiths writes in his book, “The Great Firewall of China.”
VPNs are vital protections for citizens or anyone working in or with China. Unfortunately, VPNs are “being systematically detected and shut down by the government in really advanced and upsetting ways,” reports Comparitech, a research, review, and tech comparison website for consumers.
“Large scale testing of VPNs in China is challenging, not least because someone caught inside the country running these tests would be at the mercy of Chinese authorities. China represents one of the biggest markets for VPN use, but there is a lack of reliable information on which VPNs actually work behind the Great Firewall,” Comparitech’s reviewer and tester, Aaron Phillips wrote.
“To mitigate the ethical issues of employing a tester within China, Comparitech rented a server in Shenzhen and commissioned me to test 59 VPN providers after the latest government purge. I checked each app to make sure I could connect to banned websites and get around regional content bans,” he added.
The testing details are outlined in Aaron’s post, but here are his key findings:
- Only 13 of the 60 tested VPN providers could beat the Great Firewall.
- When shopping for a VPN in China, additional encryption is essential for forming a reliable connection that will circumvent Party wiretapping.
- The most successful VPNs use next-generation obfuscation to hide their servers from the internet censors’ black hole.
- Following the update on March 31, L2TP over IPSec is no longer secure enough to get around the Great Firewall.
So which VPNs passed the test and evaded China’s crushing firewall (so far)? Here’s the list with Aaron’s comments:
- Hotspot Shield
- NordVPN (using an obfuscated server)
- Private Internet Access (PIA)
- PureVPN (works in both modes, but Internet Freedom mode is recommended)
- SurfShark (NoBorders mode is required to connect in China, double-check it’s turned on)
- Windscribe (Most servers are accessible in China)
Any weakness in a VPN, no matter how small, can lead to China detecting it and shutting it down.
“Proton is a great example of a strong VPN provider that just hasn’t been able to keep up with China’s evolving defenses. They use outdated methods like routing OpenVPN traffic through port 443, intended to disguise OpenVPN as HTTPS traffic, which have proven ineffective against an adapting China,” wrote Aaron.
But it’s not only China that is systematically breaking down VPNs, Russia is …