Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 When operating within hostile networks, the first course of action would involve the use of pseudonyms in order to mask an individual’s identity. For any Internet user, using a pseudonym is understood as a part of online culture, where such names would take the form of a handle, a user name, login name, avatar, screen name or nickname. While most online services let users reserve the use of pseudonyms in order to establish their reputation within their online communities, the anonymous aspect of pseudonym subjects it to identity hijacking on the open Internet, where it is easy for anyone to use the same pseudonym to pose as the author in question. The abundance of free web email services (e.g., Hotmail, Yahoo mail and Gmail) as well as free blog services (e.g., and do make it easier for anonymous communication, since most of these services require little identification from the user, allowing them to use their preferred pseudonyms. Being free of monetary cost is also better for privacy since using a paid version links your user account to your financial information, which would thus reveal the your true identity.

Comment Icon0 The popularity of Internet cafes, called netcafes in China, also helps users to maintain privacy, since it would be harder to link public IP addresses to the constant flow of individual customers who use public computers to send email, blog articles and participate in BBS. Users can also increase their level of privacy by switching to different Internet cafes when they go online. Recently, however, the Chinese authorities have started to clamp down on this particular method, since they now require users to register their real names each time they use the public computers at these netcafes. According to Beijing Xicheng District’s Culture Administration Enforcement Team, eight urban districts of Beijing would have adopted real-name registration at their netcafes by the middle of 2008. By April 2008, all 53 netcafes in Xicheng District would have installed the netcafe operation and management system. After the system is put into operation, users need to take a photograph and register with their real name when they enter a netcafe for the first time, but they only need to input their ID number thereafter before they can access the network at the netcafes (ChinaTechNews, 2008).

Comment Icon0 Cryptography enhances on the pseudonym method of communication, by affording users the ability to render their messages unreadable by the general public as well as the Chinese government, only to be read by intended recipients. A common, reliable form of online encryption is PGP, otherwise known as Pretty Good Privacy, which is a computer program that provides cryptographic privacy and authentication. Created by Philip Zimmermann in 1991, PGP is often used for digital signing, encrypting and decrypting emails to increase the security of email communications.

Comment Icon0 PGP’s unique feature is its “asymmetric” encryption, which provides a high level of security through the use of two key signatures- one to encrypt and the other to decrypt. Details of the encrypting key (the “public key”) can be exchanged without risk over the Internet because it can’t be used to decrypt messages. The decrypting key, known as the “secret key”, must never be communicated. OpenPGP (Open Pretty Good Privacy) is the most popular version of the PGP encryption program. To create and use a pair of keys and manage the public keys of its correspondents is GnuPG (GNU Privacy Guard), which can be used both with mail programs such as Thunderbird or Outlook, with webmail or instant messaging. However, as Chinese dissidents have remarked, using encryption for Internet communication would outweigh the benefit of its intent, since encryption might attract the attention of Chinese authorities. For these users, they would rather rely on camouflage by appearing as harmless as normal Internet traffic (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002).

Comment Icon0 Rather than depending entirely on the Internet, citizens have used whatever comes most conveniently to get their message across. With about 601 million mobile phone subscribers in China (Nystedt, 2008), short messaging service (SMS) is often an effective way to circumvent censorship in order to organize grassroots events such as protests and marches. This SMS phenomenon was most notably witnessed in 2003, during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Arrests were made on citizens accused of causing panic by spreading “rumours” about SARS via text messages. All this happened while the authorities were still denying that the SARS epidemic had existed. In the Anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2005, protesters used SMS, along with blogs, instant messaging (IM), email and bulletin boards to spread the word. As the use of SMS became popular for organizing protests, it was reported that government officials were forced to send a text message to everyone in the Shanghai area warning them not to attend any more demonstrations (New York Times, 2005). In June 2007, a mass demonstration was organized against the planned construction of a toxic chemical plant close to south-east China’s seaside city of Xiamen. Around 10,000 people turned up on time and on location thanks to the news disseminated exclusively via SMS, BBS postings and blogs. In order to control the situation, Chinese authorities went to the extent of shutting down SMS service for several days (Kennedy, 2007).

Comment Icon0 Thanks to the advent of free blogging services, the proliferation of blogs in China had initially allowed citizens to easily update and disseminate information online, often serving to either complement or contradict mainstream news coverage. According to the CNNIC “Survey Report on Blogs in China 2007”, there were 72.82 million blogs in China by the end of November 2007. Produced by 47 million blog authors, this meant that one out of four Chinese netizens was a blogger (CNNIC, 2007). Since overseas blogging platforms are often blocked, the blogging services within China have been known to prevent users from posting articles with restricted keywords, rendering the service less ideal for subversive communication. As a workaround, Chinese bloggers initiated an Adopt-a-Blogger program, which seeks international servers to host Chinese blogs and avoid censorship (New York Times, 2005). An alternative strategy might be to “mirror” the content of a blog so that if the government shuts it down, there would still be alternative copies online. Such practices take a similar vein to the art of Samizdat, which originated in Russian as самиздат, meaning “self-published”. Samizdat involves the clandestine copying and distribution of government-suppressed literature or other media in Soviet-bloc countries. Copies were made a few at a time, and those who received a copy would be expected to make more copies. Not too dissimilar from the blogging phenomena, samizdat is a unique phenomenon in the post-Stalin USSR, where grassroots literature for self-analysis and self-expression reflected the Soviet intelligentsia (Alekseyeva, 1992).

Comment Icon0 While the Chinese Internet-filtering system is elaborate, it is far from perfect with security loopholes ready to be discovered and exploited by enterprising Internet users. However, depending on the diligence of the Chinese authorities, these loopholes are often eventually patched if enough attention is brought to it. For instance, since most network- filtering engines block objectionable content via domain names, sometimes related sub-domains are missed by the filters. For instance, if is blocked, perhaps would work. Another method involves searching on “elgoog”, at, which is a parody of Google’s search engine where results are displayed in reverse. Even though the site was meant as a parody, it gives Chinese Internet users free unfettered searches, until authorities shut it down.

Comment Icon0 Experts say hackers and the government are in a constant game of cat-and-mouse, with the former constantly finding loopholes and the latter moving just as quickly to close them (New York Times, 2005). For Chinese Internet users with extensive contacts overseas or those willing to pay for unfettered access, there are servers outside of China that allow users to bypass restrictions imposed by the PRC government and to access banned information. A popular means is to establish a virtual private networking (VPN) server overseas, and this is secure since the network traffic is encrypted. Greater detail into the use of proxy and tunneling services will be explored in the following sections.

Chapter 7.3.1 – Basic Circumvention Strategies


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