News / Asia

Some Chinese Surf Freely, for Now

Chinese youth use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing (File Photo)
Chinese youth use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing (File Photo)

A new web technology being championed by China is allowing a short-term gap in its so-called “Great Firewall,” which blocks Chinese Internet users from sites blacklisted by the government in Beijing. Experts say how the gap is closed could have ramifications for the entire world.

The gap exists because of IPv6, the next generation of Internet protocol designed to replace IPv4. The change is needed because the old system is about to run out of IP addresses, the combination of numbers that identify your computer over the Internet. IPv6 will offer a nearly infinite number of IP addresses.

The lack of new IPv4 addresses is being felt most acutely in China, which was allotted a relatively small share of IPv4 addresses when they were doled out in the 1980s. At the time, some four billion IP addresses seemed like enough for the entire world. But with the proliferation of networkable devices, IP addresses are becoming a scarce commodity.

Why so many IP addresses

Exactly when IPv4 addresses will become exhausted is debatable, but it’s likely to happen sometime in the next few years, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is responsible for managing IP address around the globe.

To answer the shortage, China has been a leader in rolling out IPv6. But it’s only available to a small slice of the population, mainly in the big cities and around large universities. At least some of these users seem to be able to surf without blocking or filtering.

“We have been testing IPv6 connectivity to China for the past year, and so far, it seems like the Chinese government is not paying attention to it at all,” said Andrew Lewman, the executive director of the TOR Project, an open network that helps people protect their identity online.

Lewman’s observation seems to be borne out on the ground in China, at least anecdotally.

“Many people (including me) are using IPv6 related tricks,” e-mailed one Chinese Web surfer and engineer, who wished to remain anonymous.

“Yes, I have used IPv6 to go around the firewall,” user “Dxing” told VOA on Google +.  “For now, the firewall cannot deal with IPv6,” said user “Brain,” a student in Heifei on Google +.

China has more Internet users than any other country, with more than 450 million surfers, 66 percent of whom access the Internet using cell phones.

“For China to be fully on the Internet, in its full glory moving into the 21st century, it needs more phone numbers, or essentially more Internet addresses,” said David Gewirtz, an Internet expert at the U.S. Strategic Perspectives Institute.

Lewman said the number of people using IPv6 is probably in the “tens of thousands,” but he expects China to start paying attention as soon as those numbers reach a critical mass.

Another reason there’s no IPv6 firewall is the hardware is not plentiful.

“There are just not enough vendors selling the equipment to use on an IPv6 Great Firewall,” Lewman said. “Basically [the Chinese government] just has to say to vendors that there are billions of dollars to be made here.”

Once this happens, things could get very interesting.

Hal Roberts, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and an expert on Internet filtering circumvention and Internet surveillance, said IPv6 could present a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the creation of a nearly infinite number of new IP addresses could be a boon to anonymity, which largely relies on the ability of an anonymous surfer to quickly change IP addresses on the fly to avoid detection.

On the other hand, Roberts said there’s a movement, pushed largely by U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Recording Industry Association of America to build a strong association between hardware and IP addresses.

In other words, since there would be so many IPv6 addresses, it would be possible to hardwire every computer, cell phone or any other type of hardware that connects to the Internet with an IP address, making anonymity virtually impossible.

“That’s a debate that’s still happening,” said Roberts. “We don’t know which way that will go.”

Roberts added that the hardwired route could have implications far beyond China.

“It’s more likely that this would be a policy that the whole world would share. That’s the bigger risk in my mind. The bigger threat is that industry and law enforcement folks are going to convince the U.S. and everyone else that this is the best way for the Internet to be run.”

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs