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Bob’s Blog » Well Wikipedia is back….but…

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Well Wikipedia is back….but…

4 May, 2008 (12:54) | China, Daily Life, Details, Geek

You may have read about my glee a few days ago, upon discovery of Wikipedia being accessible… however it looks like the Great Firewall of China is able to “filter” certain Wikipedia’s pages about topics, that perhaps the government doesn’t like so much. For the listing compiled by the Washington Post, click here — Hmmm, a few months ago when I posted this link on an older entry, I was able to load this webpage with the “questionable” words/statement…Looks like the firewall has been upgraded to better “review” the webpages before approving/disapproving that they can/can’t be read by the general public…

Generally what seems to be the case, if you were to do a search for that word/statement/phrase, and click on it’s link - not only will the webpage not load, but you’ll also be slapped on the wrist by not being able to load any pages from that website for about 2-5 minutes (for the “first offense”, “further offenses” will be for longer amounts of time - up to an hour or longer). So for example, if I were to read about a renowned sight in China …say this one…then to click on a link on that page about a historical event that happened there (ie a protest that happened 20 years ago - by the way don’t click on this link if your reading this from China) - I will get a page saying there was a time out/page load error and coincidentally the entire site is inaccessible for X amount of time….

Browsing around the internet for some articles about this topic…Here are some excerpts from an interesting article, “The Connection Has Been Reset” by James Fallows on theAtlantic.com

A high level view, beyond the view of “Internet Censorship”

“….Think again of the real importance of

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the Great Firewall. Does the Chinese government really care if a citizen can look up the Tiananmen Square entry on Wikipedia? Of course not.

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Anyone who wants

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that information will get it—by using a proxy server or VPN, by e-mailing to a friend overseas, even by looking at the surprisingly broad array of foreign magazines that arrive, uncensored, in Chinese public libraries.

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What the government cares about is making the quest for information just enough of a nuisance that people generally won’t bother. Most Chinese people, like most Americans, are interested mainly in their own country.

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All around them is more information about China and things Chinese than they could possibly take in. The newsstands are bulging with papers and countless glossy magazines. The bookstores are big, well stocked, and full of patrons, and so are the public libraries. Video stores, with pirated versions of anything.

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Lots of TV channels.

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And of course the Internet, where sites in Chinese and about China constantly proliferate.

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When this much is available inside the Great Firewall, why go to the expense and bother, or incur the possible risk, of trying to look outside

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?

All the technology employed by the Golden Shield, all the marvelous mirrors that help build the Great Firewall—these and other modern achievements matter mainly for an old-fashioned and pre-technological reason. By making the search for external information a nuisance, they drive Chinese people back to an environment in which familiar tools of social control come into play…..”

How the Great Firewall (GFW) works from a General/Semi-Technical Sense:

“…Andrew Lih, a former journalism professor and software engineer now based in Beijing (and author of the forthcoming book The Wikipedia Story), laid out for me the ways in which the GFW can keep a Chinese Internet user from finding desired material on a foreign site. In the few seconds after a user enters a request at the browser, and before something new shows up on the screen, at least four things can go wrong—or be made to go wrong.

The first and bluntest is the “DNS block.” The DNS, or Domain Name System, is in effect the telephone directory of Internet sites.

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Each time you enter a Web address, or URL—www.yahoo.com, let’s say—the DNS looks up the IP address where the site can be found. IP addresses are numbers separated by dots—for example, TheAtlantic.com’s is 38.118.42.200. If the DNS is instructed to give back no address, or a bad address, the user can’t reach the site in question—as a phone user could not make a call if given a bad number. Typing in the URL for the BBC’s main news site often gets the no-address treatment: if you try news.bbc.co.uk, you may get a “Site not found” message on the screen. For two months in 2002, Google’s Chinese site, Google.cn, got a different kind of bad-address treatment, which shunted users to its main competitor, the dominant Chinese search engine, Baidu. Chinese academics complained that this was hampering their work. The government, which does not have to stand for reelection but still tries not to antagonize important groups needlessly, let Google.cn back online. During politically sensitive times, like last fall’s 17th Communist Party Congress, many foreign sites have been temporarily shut down this way.

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Next is the perilous “connect” phase. If the DNS has looked up and provided the right IP address, your computer sends a signal requesting a connection with that remote site.

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While your signal is going out, and as the other system is sending a reply, the surveillance computers within China are looking over your request, which has been mirrored to them. They quickly check a list of forbidden IP sites. If you’re trying to reach one on that blacklist, the Chinese international-gateway servers will interrupt the transmission by sending an Internet “Reset” command both to your computer and to the one you’re trying to reach. Reset is a perfectly routine Internet function, which is used to repair connections that have become unsynchronized. But in this case it’s equivalent to forcing the phones on each end of a conversation to hang up. Instead of the site you want, you usually see an onscreen message beginning “The connection has been reset”; sometimes instead you get “Site not found.” Annoyingly, blogs hosted by the popular system Blogspot are on this IP blacklist.

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For a typical Google-type search, many of the links shown on the results page are from Wikipedia or one

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of these main blog sites.

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You will see these links when you search from inside China, but if you click on them, you won’t get what you want.

The third barrier comes with what Lih calls “URL keyword block.” The numerical Internet address you are trying to reach might not be on the blacklist. But if the words in its URL include forbidden terms, the connection will also be reset.

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(The Uniform Resource Locator is a site’s address in plain English—say, www.microsoft.com—rather than its all-numeric IP address.) The site FalunGong .com appears to have no active content, but even if it did, Internet users in China would not be able to see it. The forbidden list contains words in English, Chinese, and other languages, and is frequently revised—“like, with the name of the latest town with a coal mine disaster,” as Lih put it. Here the GFW’s programming technique is not a reset command but a “black-hole loop,” in which a request for a page is trapped in a sequence of delaying commands. These are the programming equivalent of the old saw about how to keep an idiot busy: you take a piece of paper and write “Please turn over” on each side. When the Firefox browser detects that it is in this kind of loop, it gives an error message saying: “The server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.”

The final step involves the newest and most sophisticated part of the GFW: scanning the actual contents of each page—which stories The New York Times is featuring, what a China-related blog carries in its latest update—to judge its page-by-page acceptability. This again is done with mirrors. When you reach a favorite blog or news site and ask to see particular items, the requested pages come to you—and to the surveillance system at the same time. The GFW scanner checks the content of each item against its list of forbidden terms. If it finds something it doesn’t like, it breaks the connection to the offending site and won’t let you download anything further from it.

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The GFW then imposes a temporary blackout on further “IP1 to IP2” attempts—that is, efforts to establish communications between the user and the offending site.

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Usually the first time-out is for two minutes. If the user tries to reach the site during that time, a five-minute time-out might begin.

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On a third try, the time-out might be 30 minutes or an hour—and so on through an escalating sequence of punishments.

Users who try hard enough or often enough to reach the wrong sites might attract the attention of the authorities. At least in principle, Chinese Internet users must sign in with their real names whenever they go online, even in Internet cafés. When the surveillance system flags an IP address from which a lot of “bad” searches originate, the authorities have a good chance of knowing who is sitting at that machine…….”

All in all, I guess I should just be happy that probably over 99.9% of the content on Wikipedia is probably still available for me to read(or atleast until the end of the Olympics, when all the foreigners leave ;-)) and that it is obvious what content I am not allowed to read (and go read about it through VPN connection :-D)- rather than having content filtered page by page (ie certain passages re-written on the fly) - think we’re a looooong, looooong way from that (at least technically I hope)….

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Comments

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Comment from Sheryl
Time: January 23, 2009, 2:32 am

Where are you these days, BOB ?

Just checking in to say hi and let you know I miss your regular updates on your website.

Sheryl

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