CHINA: THE ABC’s – AND FYI’s — of Those Notorious VPNs

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR PAUL BISCHOFF – Cuisine, tech, and business aren’t all that China excels at – it also has one of the world’s premier internet censorship systems. The Great Firewall of China is made up of both technical controls and tight regulations that restrict what its internet users can access, and it also monitors their communications.

Despite the Great Firewall being one of the globe’s most advanced systems, users can still find ways to circumvent it, primarily through VPNs. These services encrypt data between devices and the VPN server, which prevents the Great Firewall from being able to access the contents of the data.

In theory, this means that users can safely visit the open internet and talk freely without having to worry about government monitoring. However, the Great Firewall is constantly improving and is able to block many VPN services from working, leaving their subscribers with no way to access the free web.

Getting past the restrictions is important for many Chinese people, expats, and travelers because it allows them to do a variety of activities that are otherwise restricted. From the relatively boring, such as checking their Facebook messages, to the more extreme, such as organizing political protests, VPNs are used daily by a broad range of people.

Unfortunately, the constant advances of the Great Firewall make it hard for internet users to know which VPN service can grant them the access they need. Comparitech recently launched tests on 59 of the most common VPNs to ascertain which services could currently beat Chinese censorship.

Its results showed that just 24 percent of those tested could make it through reliably (at least six out of seven times, each time to a separate gateway). The successful VPNs were Astrill, ExpressVPN, Hotspot Shield, ibVPN, Ivacy, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, ProtonVPN, PureVPN, SaferVPN, SurfShark, TorGuard, TunnelBear, and WindScribe.

Although the test is a good indication of which providers will be able to connect, it does have its limitations. The 59 VPNs were tested through one ISP via a Shenzen-based server, so those in different areas and those who use other ISPs may end up with varying results.

On top of this, both the Great Firewall and the VPN services are constantly changing, so it’s possible that those that worked at the time of testing may no longer be able to connect, while some of those that previously failed may now be successful.

Guest Contributor Paul Bischoff is a tech journalist, privacy advocate and VPN expert at Comparitech.

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