Wednesday, January 13, 2016

VPN hosted on Microsoft Azure China forced to shut down

What happened?
Many Internet users in China use VPS or SSH to bypass GFW. Technical savvy users prefers to rent a VPS and build their own VPN/SSH rather than buying a commercial product. The dedicated VPS offers more reliable and faster connection and they can share it with their friends and families without additional cost.
But in Jan 2016, Microsoft Azure China issued a statement below, stating that the customers should “conduct self-examinations and rectifications immediately”. According to the statement, MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) identified several Azure customers who build VPN and demanded the shutdown of the service.


What does it mean?


Technical savvy users can choose other VPS providers to host VPN/SSH such as Amazon EC2 or bandwagonhost.com

Active probing can discover VPN/SSH. In Sept, 2015, Tor published an article on GFW's active probing system (Chinese version translated by me). According to the research encrypted connections originating from China to abroad that looks like Tor, VPN or SSH protocols are probed by GFW. This means if a Chinese user establish an encrypted connection to bypass censorship, the GFW will first use statistical principles to roughly identify those suspicious encrypted connection. Then GFW will pretend to be a Chinese client trying to connect to the server, aka probing the server. Based on the server’s response, GFW can know for sure whether the server is used to bypass censorship.

Users of circumvention tools should be aware. Using circumvention tools such as VPN/SSH can help bypass censorship and sometimes even encrypt data, however it cannot hide the fact that the users are subverting censorship and this action by itself might be a red flag to trigger actions.

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