VPN in China

by on May 10, 2016 at 8:53 pm in Law, Political Science, Travel, Travels, Web/Tech | Permalink

What is the deal these days?  How well are VPNs working, and which do you recommend?  Can Apple iPhones and iPads still access the “real web” directly through 4G, as was the case as recently as last year?  I thank you in advance for your assistance, it is much appreciated.

1 AndrewL May 10, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Are you asking the internet how to flout the laws of another country that you will be visiting? China should revoke your visa.

2 Will May 10, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Porn uber alles

3 Gary Saturday May 10, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Bananas

4 ZachL May 10, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Someone should revoke your ability to leave comments here.

5 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 12:44 am

It’s not illegal to use VPNs in China.

However, there is presently a law on the table in the USA where anyone using TOR or a VPN would become an automatic subject for 100% invasion of privacy and 100% loss of due process.

It may surprise you, but the USA is rapidly becoming more of a police state than China. And I would know. I’m living in China.

But no need to gather your guns. The structures of democracy are in place to, theoretically, remedy the situation.

(Oh, look. A terrorist! I think one’s hiding up my butt. Better take a close look!)

6 Joane Morgan May 11, 2016 at 6:44 am

I used PureVPN when I visited China, I have connected AU and UK servers. Both works very well.

7 Maynard May 11, 2016 at 8:19 am

**
.

How is one certain that their VPN is working “very well” ?

8 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 7:45 am

Demonstrate that some people are using VPN to be disagreeable with feminists on Twitter and the left would be in favor of the proposed VPN law.

9 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 3:26 pm

People are using VPN to be disagreeable with feminists on Twitter.

Feminists aren’t that dumb. Much as they would LIKE to identify those people, they aren’t willing to welcome the police state to do so.

10 JWatts May 11, 2016 at 6:10 pm

“It’s not illegal to use VPNs in China.”

“Foreign-run VPNs illegal in China: govt
Three overseas VPN service providers, Astrill, Witopia and StrongVPN apologized Thursday that their service to residents in the Chinese mainland has been blocked due to a recent upgrade of the GFW. Astrill claimed that most VPN protocols have been blocked, and that many foreign companies have been influenced.”

11 JWatts May 11, 2016 at 6:10 pm
12 Jeff May 11, 2016 at 11:03 pm

According to your link it is illegal for *foreign companies* to operate a VPN business. It says nothing about whether visiting individuals can make use of one.

13 Axa May 11, 2016 at 5:42 am

From past events, it seems breaking the firewall is not a crime per se. You need to publish “controversial material” and “incite subversion of state power”. The firewall is just a way to prevent innocent but inattentive citizens from breaking the law. So, the crime is in the message, not in the tools used to transfer the message (paper, human voice, internet).

14 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 3:30 pm

I don’t plan to test this, mostly because I don’t think there’s a very good reason to do so, especially considering that I don’t know enough about the system to evaluate whether there may be any “need” to do so (along the principle of “you can’t take down the fence, most certainly not until you can explain why it’s there”)…

But I’m pretty sure as long as that “controversial material” and “inciting subversion of state power” is not targeted to Chinese audiences, I really don’t think they’ll care (much).

15 Douglas Levene May 10, 2016 at 9:11 pm

My VPN still works pretty well although I have to switch servers a couple of times a day due to interference from Party hackers. I put a Chinese sim card in the I-Phone 6 and it works great on 4G. I use the same VPN on my phone and can reach the web, including Twitter and the NYT, no problem. Email me and I’ll send you the name of the VPN I use.

AndrewL – Every foreigner in China uses a VPN. Every single one. Many use more than one VPN so that they always have one that isn’t being blocked by Party hackers. Plenty of Chinese people do, too – and in fact, the Party doesn’t mind all that much – it doesn’t want to keep the elite ignorant of the world, just the masses. In six years in China, I have never heard of anyone , Chinese or foreigner, being prosecuted or punished in any way for using a VPN. The Party’s hackers try to interfere with them, that’s all.

16 Brad May 10, 2016 at 9:21 pm

There are also a lot of companies in China that do quality assurance on phones – including testing whether Facebook and twitter work. It’s a soft regulation.

17 DB May 10, 2016 at 9:23 pm

VPNs in general are still fine. Just download openvpn on your phone. 256 bit encryption seems to need resetting less often, but sometimes 128 bit is fine. Might be with getting an account with a vpn company that targets the China market for better support and reliability, but friends say university run vpns seem to work fine.

The main problem is peering internationally. Chinese isps charge an arm and a leg to peer traffic over the border, which leads to slow connections to any international sites during peak hours. Stick with portals on the US West Coast (best international peering; the oligopolic economics of this are fascinating!), Japan, Hong Kong, or Singapore.

18 PB May 10, 2016 at 9:49 pm

As recently as a month ago, my iPhone did connect to the real web through 4G.

19 Colin May 10, 2016 at 9:54 pm

I was in Beijing last month and my AT&T cell phone with an international data plan worked just fine, enabling me to check Gmail, the NYT and Facebook among others. Actually, I think for whatever reason the only things I had trouble with were Twitter and Google and Apple Maps. Anyway, I had downloaded a VPN app before going there but then ended up never using it.

20 Todd K May 10, 2016 at 9:55 pm

I just hope if Tyler is caught, the Chinese don’t go Singaporean on him.

21 fa May 10, 2016 at 9:56 pm

I was in China (Shanghai and Yunnan) in April and was able to access all websites directly from my phone while roaming (using T-Mobile USA). For WiFi I used a VPN, although I quickly realized that roaming via 3G/4G was faster and more reliable than WiFi+VPN.

22 Kyle Leary May 10, 2016 at 10:06 pm

I am convinced this Chinese private network- a VPN in North America at least, by the way, merely puts a private network onto the internet- I am convinced the Chinese private internet is very difficult to merge with the North America and elsewhere public internet. I do know some cool people, though 😉

23 Peter May 11, 2016 at 12:40 am

When I lived there everyone used Astrill.

24 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 12:54 am

Your top Google hit for “VPN” that is not a listing or third party advertisement should work just fine.

I find I the signal most regularly drops when connected to the USA servers shortly after posting content online that draws attention to things like corruption in America, which are critical of wars, critical of the NSA, etc. Maybe … the Chinese are trying to confuse me? Actually, this has stopped in recent months after writing about this several times.

As an alternative to a VPN you can use Yahoo search, which does not forward to the inferior Chinese version like Bing does, or open a hotmail account and set your account to forward your mail – which is also a good backup in case you have problems with the VPN. Signing in through a VPN is basically like attaching a “spy on me” sign on your forehead, much like it will soon be in the USA if some people get their way. Because surely the real bad guys are actually using means of communication which will be easily monitored if the government can actively spy on every last word anyone says anywhere.

25 Brendo May 11, 2016 at 1:35 am

Coincidentally just read about this shiny new, free VPN from Opera:
http://www.operasoftware.com/press/releases/mobile/2016-05-09
“Free and unlimited VPN app for iPhone and iPad available today”

26 Richard May 11, 2016 at 4:29 am

Going by the experience of me and my colleagues here in China:

Astrill works smoothly for windows and android (after a brief blip during the last People’s Congress), but not for Mac or Iphone.

ExpressVPN is better for Mac and iPhone.

27 felipe May 11, 2016 at 7:31 am

Use the App Betternet. I used, and it worked perfectly.

28 Mark May 11, 2016 at 8:44 am
29 IEIUNUS May 11, 2016 at 8:50 am

PrivateInternetAccess seems to be a very good choice. There’s also TorGuard.

As the other commentators mentioned, Astril, ExpressVPN, and PureVPN are decent vpn service providers, but they, last time I checked, were more expensive than the VPN service providers I mentioned above.

By the way, if you care about security using the internet outside your home network (at coffee shops, hotels, Chine, etc), or you care about your internet service provider (e.g., Comcast, Time Warner, the coffee shops’ internet service providers, the Chinese government, etc.) snooping on your online activities (not to mention the NSA, or any random hacker), you should already be using a VPN. Though, these are not perfect solutions for complete security and anonymity, they are much better than without.

You could also set up your own VPN from home, but this would take much time to learn to do successfully, and probably not as reliable, so I would go with forking over the money for a VPN provider.

(OpenVPN, IPSEC, and PPTP are like VPN protocols, then there are proxy protocols like SOCKS5, HTTP). These tools are installed on servers in different countries by VPN service providers, and you connect through these servers maintained by the VPN/Proxy service provider with OpenVPN software.

Purchase one of the above vpn providers’ VPN packages, use their OpenVPN option (PPTP and i2psec are not as fast and secure as OpenVPN it has been discovered) on one of their Asian servers (Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.–I would probably choose Singapore), and always connect to it with their software that allows for OpenVPN connections when browsing the internet (and, if you can figure it out, have it start every time you start your computer,iphone automatically).

There’s also a thing with OpenVPN with a subprotocol (if you want to call it) for either use of UDP or TCP. Use UDP. That is the faster and not any less secure use of the OpenVPN protocol.

If you’re not computer savvy, try to use their own custom software for either Windows, Apple OS X, iphone, etc, rather than the open source, generic OpenVPN software. The latter requires extra configuration know how, however uncomplicated it may be.

Some of the VPN service providers also have a proxy only package that may be cheaper than their VPN package, but for your purposes, I would stick with the complete VPN package, as your entire connection to the internet should be encrypted (OpenVPN protocol provides the encryption), rather than just your browser.

Also, if you get one of the VPN services above, they provide VPN software at least for Windows, OS X, and Iphone/Android…so do not buy multiple VPN providers, thinking one only provides Iphone software, while another only Windows/OS X, for example. This should be the case for any reputable VPN provider.

Either TorGuard or PrivateInternetAccess, I cannot remember which, if not both of them, offer something along the lines of “Stealth” vpn solutions, on some of their servers, which may help with getting around the Chinese firewall if their non-extrastealthy OpenVPN servers are unconnectable. So, be aware of that.

You can always contact the VPN service providers to ask about being able to connect to their servers in China, they should understand your concerns with the Great FireWall of China.

I hope this helps somewhat. Thanks for your blog!

30 IEIUNUS May 11, 2016 at 9:03 am

By the way, do not use the Opera “VPN”. The Opera “VPN” is not technically a VPN per se, as it only covers the connections made by the browser. However, if you’re on a computer or an iphone, these devices will make connections to the internet through other protocols not used by the browser. Therefore, you leave yourself vulnerable on the connections made to the internet external to the browser.

Steve Gibson, computer programmer, explains it better than I (from his podcast). I am simply a lowly law student.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Gibson_%28computer_programmer%29

Podcast explaining how VPNs work: https://twit.tv/shows/security-now/episodes/400
Podcast explaining Opera’s “VPN” controversy: https://twit.tv/shows/security-now/episodes/557

31 IEIUNUS May 11, 2016 at 9:12 am

I am not a complete moron. But, I wrote that HTTP is a proxy protocol. It is not. It is an internet protocol used for proxies.

Excuse me for the multiple posts. And, thanks again for the blog posts!

32 sb May 11, 2016 at 10:44 am

I recommend using China Mobile Hong Kong (HK subsidiary of China Mobile) visitor data SIM cards. They work on LTE and on the mainland, and go through the HK gateway so you can access the full Internet without VPN. Last I checked there is availability on eBay; I have bought the below card a couple times and always worked fine for me on the mainland.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/China-Mobile-4G-TDD-LTE-10-day-1-5GB-Data-Prepaid-SIM-Card-/152035613232?hash=item2366075a30:g:GHcAAOSwYmZXEMj1

Further info from prepaid-SIM Wikia:

http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/China

“Consider buying a Hong Kong-based SIM and roaming in the mainland with it. Both China Mobile and China Unicom sell dual-number SIMs in Hong Kong with very reasonably priced data packages that allow access to websites ordinarily not allowed (Great Firewall) as well as cheap voice calls and texts.”

33 chris May 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm

I had the same problem last month when I was traveling in China. I wasn’t been able to access a website that I’m administrating ( it’s a london escorts agency). A quick search solved my problem, there are a lot of free VPN services. Anyone who is having this kind of trouble can try bestukvpn.com, it’s free and you don’t have to install any software(work’s with your desktop or mobile device)…

34 Justin May 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm

If VPN doesn’t work, you can always try establishing an SSH tunnel. Same basic idea, route all your web traffic through some other, remote server, over an encrypted channel.

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