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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
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.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs