China's Great Firewall to Block All VPNs By February 1, 2018
One of the biggest pains of traveling to mainland China is the government's restrictions on what websites and services you can use in the communist-run country. Websites we have come to rely on daily — from Google, Gmail and YouTube to social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — are blocked from being accessed from a standard internet connection. These restrictions are colloquially referred to as the "Great Firewall of China."
Thankfully, it's been fairly easy to get around the firewall by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). While VPNs aren't technically allowed in China, VPN providers and the government have been playing a cat-and-mouse game — with the VPNs generally winning.
The government seems to be tired of losing this battle and recently began a 14-month crackdown on VPNs. In January, it was announced that using a unregistered VPN after March 2018 would be considered a crime. Ironically, this came at the same time as Chinese leaders were calling for "develop[ing] global connectivity to enable all countries to achieve inter-connected growth and share prosperity." Since the original announcement, the government seems to have shifted its focus to cracking down on providers of unregistered VPNs — rather than the users of these VPNs.
Now, we have more details on this plan from Bloomberg. Reports have emerged that the Chinese government is requiring its state-run telecom carriers "block individuals’ access to virtual private networks by Feb. 1." But, that doesn't mean that the telecom companies are going to wait seven months to start blocking these services. One popular VPN service, called GreenVPN has already folded in China as of July 1.
The VPN that I use every day for my travel is Golden Frog's VyprVPN. The provider boasts more than 200,000 IP addresses from over 700 servers available for users to connect through. In addition to securely transmitting my data while I'm using various internet connections, using a VPN comes in use when websites are geo-blocked — like we've experienced in the US from Air Berlin and we are still experiencing when trying to use Etihad Guest's website.
VyprVPN has already come out with a statement that it's prepared for the upcoming China crackdown. The service notes that it was "back up and running fully in under 4 hours the last time the Chinese Government began blocking VPNs" while it took other VPN services "up to 2 weeks."
Since it's still unclear whether the upcoming crackdown will target VPN companies themselves or VPN users themselves, it's important to stay informed before traveling to China. For now, it seems VPN users themselves will avoid prosecution, even after the February 2018 changes. The question might only be which VPNs will still work.