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27 Mar 2024

The Issues of Using VPN in China: Why Teridion Is a Great B2B Alternative

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Sharon Duchin
Table of Contents

In the era of global business, seamless communication and collaboration are essential, and the China connectivity challenges faced by businesses operating in or connected to China are critical.  A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, allows users to access the internet as if they were connected to a private network, masking their IP address and encrypting their data*. Use of VPN in China plays a crucial role due to the country’s stringent internet regulations and censorship policies. The Great Firewall of China, as it’s commonly known, imposes restrictions on accessing certain websites and services, and VPNs enable users to bypass these restrictions, accessing a more open and unrestricted internet.

A stable internet connection enables real-time communication, smooth video conferences, and efficient collaboration among team members, regardless of geographical locations.

A stable internet connection facilitates the quick exchange of information, enabling businesses to make data-driven decisions and respond promptly to market changes.

A stable internet connection ensures efficient access to cloud-based services and global marketplaces, enhancing the customer experience and maintaining a competitive edge.

While VPNs offer a workaround for internet restrictions, the country’s active tightening of control over VPN services and the increasingly limited options have left many businesses stranded with their VPN not working in China. Finding and maintaining reliable solutions can be a time-consuming and resource-intensive process.

*Disclaimer: Teridion does not endorse the use of VPNs in China. While they are commonly used as a workaround, it’s important to note that the use of VPNs are highly restricted in China, making them partially effective at best and legally risky at worst. 

Why Teridion?
Teridion solves network latency for global enterprises by using powerful 
AI-driven route detection.

The great firewall of China: Understanding Its Purpose and Functionality

The Great Firewall of China is a comprehensive system of internet censorship and surveillance implemented by the Chinese government to regulate and control online content within its borders. This intricate network of technologies and methods is designed to restrict access to certain foreign websites, block content deemed politically sensitive or inappropriate, and monitor the online activities of Chinese citizens. It serves as a tool for political censorship, preventing the dissemination of content that challenges the ruling party’s authority, promotes dissent, or violates cultural and social norms established by the government. The Great Firewall’s purpose is deeply rooted in maintaining political stability and controlling the narrative within the country.

In terms of functionality, this multifaceted system employs various technologies and methods to control and censor internet access.

Domain Name System (DNS) filtering is a primary method. By manipulating DNS queries, the Chinese authorities can redirect users attempting to access forbidden sites to non-controversial content or display error messages. The system also uses IP blocking to prevent access to certain IP addresses associated with blacklisted websites. This method targets the servers hosting prohibited content, making it challenging for users to reach these sites.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a technology that allows authorities to inspect the content of data packets as they travel across the network. The Great Firewall uses DPI to identify and block specific keywords, URLs, or even images that are considered sensitive or inappropriate. If identified, the communication is either blocked or flagged for further monitoring.

To counter circumvention attempts, the Great Firewall actively blocks access to known proxy servers (proxy blocking) and VPN services. These tools are often used by users seeking to bypass censorship and access blocked content.

Finally, there is active monitoring and censorship of content on popular social media platforms. Automated systems and human moderators work together to identify and remove content that violates censorship policies.

Are VPNs legal in China?

The official stance of the Chinese government is that all VPN services must be licensed by the government to operate legally. However, obtaining a license can be a complex and challenging process. Recent regulations indicate that the use of unauthorized VPN services to access blocked content, such as foreign websites and social media platforms, is prohibited. 

Businesses that require VPN services for legitimate purposes, such as connecting to international networks, may apply for a license. However, even in such cases, the government exercises close scrutiny over the usage.

In summary, while VPNs are not inherently illegal in China, their use is heavily regulated, and individuals and businesses are required to adhere to government guidelines, obtain licenses if necessary, and avoid using unauthorized services to access restricted content.

Does China block VPNs?

China’s effort to control internet access challenges VPN providers, leading to periodic crackdowns, technical countermeasures, and legal compliance issues. Users within China should be aware of the dynamic nature of internet censorship policies and the potential impact on VPN services.

China has periodically intensified its efforts to block VPNs during sensitive political events or social unrest. For example, during major political meetings, anniversaries, or protests, the government tends to tighten control over internet access, leading to increased measures against VPNs.

That means VPN providers must constantly update their servers and infrastructure to evade detection. This involves frequently changing IP addresses and employing advanced obfuscation techniques. As China tightens its control, VPN providers engage in a continuous cat-and-mouse game to find new ways to bypass censorship measures, while authorities seek to identify and block these methods.

VPN providers must carefully choose server locations to avoid those that are more likely to be blocked by China. This limitation can affect the quality and speed of VPN services for users inside China. Some providers opt to comply with government regulations to continue operating, while others choose to remain outside the legal framework, risking being blocked.

How VPN is used in China (often illegally)

Here’s a detailed explanation of the technical aspects involved:

  • Encryption:
    • VPNs use encryption protocols to secure your internet connection. The most common protocols are OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec, and IKEv2/IPsec.
    • When you connect to a VPN server, your data is encrypted, making it difficult for third parties, including the Chinese government, to monitor or intercept your online activities.

 

  • Tunneling:
    • VPNs create a secure tunnel between your device and the VPN server. This tunnel ensures that your data travels securely over the internet.
    • This is crucial in China, where the Great Firewall attempts to inspect and block certain types of traffic. The encrypted tunnel prevents the firewall from analyzing the content of your communications.

 

  • IP Address Masking:
    • VPNs mask your real IP address by assigning you an IP from the server’s location. This allows you to appear as if you are accessing the internet from a different location, bypassing geo-restrictions imposed by the Great Firewall.

 

  • DNS Spoofing:
    • To counter DNS-based censorship, where specific domain names are blocked, VPNs often use DNS spoofing techniques. This involves redirecting your DNS queries through the VPN server, ensuring that the actual destination of your requests is concealed.

 

  • Stealth Protocols:
    • Some advanced VPNs offer stealth or obfuscation protocols. These protocols make VPN traffic appear like regular HTTPS traffic, making it more challenging for deep packet inspection systems used by the Great Firewall to detect and block VPN usage.

 

  • Split Tunneling:
    • Some VPNs allow split tunneling, a feature that lets you choose which traffic goes through the VPN and which goes through your regular internet connection. This can be useful for accessing local services without going through the VPN.

 

  • Regular Protocol Updates:
    • VPN providers often update their protocols to stay ahead of censorship measures. This cat-and-mouse game involves adjusting the VPN’s configuration to adapt to changes in the Great Firewall’s filtering methods. It’s risky.

Individual VPNs vs corporate VPNs in China

The usage of VPNs varies significantly between individuals and corporations, each catering to distinct needs and challenges. In China, personal VPN usage among individuals commonly revolves around privacy concerns and the circumvention of internet censorship. For these users, essential functionalities include basic encryption and the ability to bypass the Great Firewall seamlessly. Simplicity and ease of use are paramount, as personal VPNs are often chosen for their user-friendly interfaces and straightforward setup processes. Additionally, affordability is a key consideration, with individuals often favoring cost-effective or free options that meet their basic privacy and access requirements.

In contrast, corporate VPNs in China serve a more intricate role focused on network security, data protection, and facilitating remote access for employees. Security features such as advanced encryption protocols, multi-factor authentication, and secure tunneling are imperative to safeguard sensitive business information. Corporations with global operations require VPNs that offer diverse server locations to ensure reliable and fast connections for their distributed workforce. Moreover, compliance with local and international regulations becomes a critical need for businesses, necessitating VPNs with robust logging and auditing capabilities. Corporate VPNs also need to seamlessly integrate with existing infrastructure, offering customization options and 24/7 support to address any operational issues promptly.

How Teridion helps get businesses around VPN issues

Teridion revolutionizes WAN connectivity with its innovative WAN-as-a-Service, effectively addressing the complex issues associated with VPN connectivity in China. By establishing strategic partnerships with regulated Chinese cloud providers, we have crafted a robust connectivity solution tailored to the unique demands of contemporary businesses operating in China.

Utilizing the public cloud, our solution boasts rapid deployment with extensive global coverage. Teridion integrates established WAN acceleration techniques with real-time, metric-driven route optimization to significantly enhance internet routing performance. As a result, we empower our clientele to deploy and manage their locations in China, adopting the same user-friendly and flexible approach as with their global sites. Configuration takes minutes, and deployment within hours.

Designed to seamlessly integrate with any edge device, Teridion’s network establishes connections for Chinese-based companies to a global network on the public cloud, using a network of over 500 PoPs. This unique infrastructure allows our customers to leverage a private routing system at the cloud edge within China, facilitating the establishment of the fastest path between two endpoints within China and extending beyond.

 With Teridion, businesses can avoid VPN challenges altogether, using an efficient, flexible, and high-performance connectivity solution that’s specifically tailored for China.

Picture of Sharon Duchin
Sharon Duchin

Head of Marketing

Sharon Duchin is the Head of Marketing at Terdion. Prior to joining Teridion she was the CMO of several startups, as well as a Business Unit Manager at Keter Plastic and a Marketing Manager at General Mills USA. Sharon Holds an MBA from Chicago Booth and a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Economics from the Hebrew University.
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