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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs