The Great Firewall of China is something everyone has surely heard about. Most know it as strict Internet censorship and limited access to foreign websites and apps.
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by Jolie Lenkewicz
Chinese Internet users will not find Google, Facebook or Youtube here, but China has pushed its own version of these websites to its citizens – Baidu, WeChat, Youku Tudou only to name a few. All of these make sure that the users have all what is needed, including video streaming, social networks and more, yet it is a great way to cut them off from foreign sources.
While strict governmental monitoring might be appealing to some, others are trying to find multiple workarounds to be able to access the free Internet, especially the ones that come to travel, work or live in China.
DNS is something that might not really work, as it is one of the easiest methods to change and redirect traffic, but it is still worth a shot. The DNS level block is when Internet Service providers (ISPs) filter user DNS server requests, and if it is seen that a user tries to reach a blocked or restricted website, redirects the said user to another website, making the wanted one inaccessible. Internet users can manually change a DNS server to a custom one and override the default settings. If all is well, the user will bypass the restrictions and will be able to reach the wanted websites without problem. However, the DNS method will only work if other DNS servers are not blocked or if a user will find the server that is not restricted. Smart DNS services are something that can easily help users change the DNS server into one of their own, as they have lists of available working servers in different countries.
SSH tunnel is another method that can help users to filter web traffic and secure it. SSH tunnels need to be set up as well to redirect user traffic to another as well as secure connection. SSH is somewhat similar to a virtual private network (VPN), but it does not have the advanced features of a VPN and the encryption level is quite basic. SSH tunnel helps to bypass geographical restrictions quite easily and while using SSH tunnel is a reliable method to secure the web traffic even a tiny bit, at most times the browsing experience can be severely slowed down.
A proxy server is also similar to a VPN, however, it is not as reliable and secure as a virtual private network. A proxy is something that can help users access websites quickly, without needing to set anything up. Proxies work as websites and can also be downloaded as extensions or plugins. All you need to do is copy and paste the wanted website’s URL into the address line so it will redirect you to the site you want to reach. A proxy is great for unblocking restricted websites, unfortunately, some proxies may be blocked. It is a great solution if you want to access one website without installing additional software or changing your settings.
The Tor browser also helps to filter and redirect your traffic. Tor has its own encryption and is better than all the methods above combined, as they only tunnel the traffic, but do not encrypt it. Moreover, Tor is an open-source browser, meaning it is free for the user to download and use. But it has its downsides as well, one of them being the slow browsing speed. Additionally, Tor should not be used to access sensitive data or for Torrenting. Before using Tor, it is important to do some research, as it has its own set of recommendations on how to use it to truly become anonymous and untraceable.
A virtual private network is the best solution for safe browsing and accessing blocked or geographically restricted content. There are tons of VPNs out there but it is important to note that only a small fraction of them do really work in China. Why is VPN a great method to avoid censorship? What a VPN does is encrypt your traffic and it easily changes your IP location making it seem as if you’re located in another country. A VPN offers numerous servers scattered all around the world in various countries that you can connect to and therefore change your IP address so it would seem that you’re from a country you’re connected to. VPN service providers usually offer very strong encryption, even your Internet Service Provider won’t know what websites you are browsing. VPNs usually have advanced features for better user experience. Some of them include a kill switch (terminating the Internet connection if the VPN disconnects for some reason), P2P servers (used for Torrenting and file-sharing), adblockers, malware blockers and more. VPN is also often used to access Netflix, Hulu, HBO and other popular streaming services.
While these methods do require some research, especially the DNS and the SSH tunnel ones, as you need to know how to change and configure your settings, other ones are a bit easier to use. While using a proxy might be a short-term solution for accessing a few websites, and using Tor has its own set of rules, a VPN service provider is the easy, safe and reliable solution.
Also published on Medium.