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An In-Depth Look at the Great Firewall of China

Most of us will remember from our history and geography classes that China was home to one of the most jaw-dropping walls ever built - the Great Wall of China. Most history books will most likely neglect to mention China’s new “great wall” in today’s technology. This immense firewall, nicknamed the Golden Shield, acts as one of the largest area firewalls ever constructed.

A Nation-Wide Firewall is Put in Place, but not Necessarily for Security
Interestingly enough, the main purpose of the Golden Shield is to censor information the Chinese government doesn’t wish its citizens to view. This is a very ambitious project - and is a prime example of networking prowess.

The Golden Shield works based on filtering and blocking IP addresses through firewalls. Websites that contain offensive content will have their IP addresses blacklisted - so citizens can’t view the webpage in question. Normally, blacklisting IP addresses would suffice in this situation. However, tools such as proxies may be used to bypass a simple blacklisted IP address. In this case, filtering can be used to ensure no one tries to cheat the system.

Proxies submit data unencrypted - so the Golden Shield takes advantage of this and simply filters out any traffic that violates the blacklist. In fact, the Golden Shield has some of the most expensive and technologically advanced equipment in filtering today. It is estimated that around $800 million has been poured into the project altogether. Despite the vast amount of money being poured into the program, there are still ways to bypass the system.

One of the latest technologies that have become available is Garden Networks. This program uses the latest technology available to effectively bypass the Chinese government’s restrictions. It is estimated around a quarter of a million citizens are using some form of advanced proxy such as this to bypass the nation-wide firewall. This has truly become a cat and mouse game, of which the Chinese government is reluctant to lose.

The Golden Shield Receives Popularity
Google, perhaps the most popular search engine today, found out first hand that the Chinese government was serious about their strict regulations. Google has had to conform to the regulations by not displaying results of blacklisted sites, although Google was very reluctant to do so. This fiasco with Google has led the Golden Shield to become more known globally. With this type of popularity, some of the more questionable restrictions have come to light.

Apparently, the filtering undertaken by the Golden Shield didn’t just take place on internet websites - but on also email and online instant message conversations. The Chinese government has ordered that all email providers use the same filtering in emails that it does in websites. The same has been applied to instant messengers, which are actually required by law to record all conversations for police inspection. Clearly, some of the most advanced filtering techniques in regards to firewalls are put into place here.

With the recent surge in awareness, even more Chinese users are flocking to advanced proxy devices. More and more citizens are getting away with the simple crime of violating censorship laws, thanks to a lack of processing power on behalf of the Chinese government. A firewall may carry out advanced filtering techniques, but they are demanding on system resources. Trying to filter out data based on the estimated 250,000 citizens using a proxy device has become increasingly difficult. For now, it seems as though the Golden Shield isn’t as sturdy as the Chinese government would like it to be.

More Than a Firewall - It’s a Way of Life
The Golden Shield has obviously received a lot of criticism from human rights groups around the globe. What is lesser known about the current system is that the Chinese government actually plans to create one of the most technologically advanced networks known today. Talks about creating an all-purpose network have sprung to light. Face recognition, surveillance, television, credit records, speech recognition, and many other technologies are said to be planned for inclusion in the system. This shifts the sole goal of censorship through a national firewall, to a huge online database that will bring a new kind of authority to the nation of China.

Closing Comments
When troubles with your network have you frustrated, remember that nothing is quite impossible. If censoring an entire nation via intricate firewalls and intrusion detection systems can be done, then surely your own problems with your network security can be tackled.

The great firewall of China remains to be a huge feat in firewall technology - and a source of inspiration to system administrators who need a little more motivation with their own security and firewall problems.

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