For a long time, China has used the Great Firewall (GFW)—a highly sophisticated set of tools for filtering content—to censor what users within its borders can access online. Recently, the Peoples’ Republic of China made a move to shut down the last bastion of uninhibited online access, but chances are that the move is going to backfire.
In January 2017, authorities in China embarked on a 14-month-long campaign to mop up the country’s large number of unauthorized websites. Among the top targets of the campaign were virtual private network (VPN) providers, who enable users to circumvent the GFW by tunneling users’ online activities to servers located in other countries, effectively altering the IP address and cloaking the identities of users. These VPN services, used by many to navigate to blocked websites such as Google, popular social media websites, and established online publications, are immensely popular among citizens who are interested in accessing foreign websites. However, VPN providers have been a nuisance to the Chinese government for a long time.