When it comes to Internet services, China is notoriously secretive. Many of the websites and services we take for granted in Europe are illegal in China for instance.

To help control access to these services, the Chinese government operates a country-wide content filter nicknamed “The Great Firewall of China”. The filter is used to block access to websites that are deemed to be subversive or unwholesome. In reality, the filter is designed to limit the flow of information from sources like BBC News that may contradict official state media.

A serious problem for foreign visitors

The Great Firewall filters traffic on every internet connection into China so banned sites are blocked for everyone – not just Chinese residents. Which means that tourist are unable to access Instagram, Facebook or YouTube for instance.

The same restrictions also apply to business travellers who may run into problems trying to access the tools they use for work. Services like Google Docs and Dropbox are banned, making it very hard to do business.

Using VPNs to get around the filter

Chinese users can get around the content filter using Virtual Private Network (VPN) services however. A VPN service creates an encrypted tunnel between the user’s computer and a secure server located outside China. All web traffic that passes over the VPN is encrypted so that the Chinese content filter cannot “read” it. The encrypted web traffic can then be used to access banned resources as normal.

It is not uncommon for travel agents and IT managers to recommend users sign up for a VPN service before travelling to China.

Did China just break the VPN workaround?

The Chinese government is well aware that VPNs can be used to circumvent the content filter and has announced plans to block access to these services. In fact the ban was due to come into force back on March 31st this year.

The good news for anyone travelling to China is that the ban does not appear to have been applied after all. Reports from inside the country suggest that VPN connections are still working properly.

A game of cat-and-mouse

China has blocked VPN access on several occasions in the past – but the service providers are generally quick to respond. By reconfiguring their VPN servers, access to the content filter workaround can be restored in a matter of hours or days.

If you are planning a visit to China in the near future, you must ensure you have a suitable VPN installed and configured before you arrive. Otherwise you may find even basic tasks like reading the news, googling for information or sending emails is impossible.

It is worth noting that Panda Dome Premium antivirus subscribers have access to our premium VPN service as standard. So you can travel Beijing and beyond safe in the knowledge that the Great Firewall of China will not affect you at all.

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