Andy Greenberg of Forbes thinks so. He writes:
In recent months, administrators of services with encrypted connections designed to allow users secure remote access say they’ve seen strange activity coming from China: When a user from within the country attempts to reach a server abroad, a string of seemingly random data hits the destination computer before he or she can connect, sometimes followed by that user’s communication being mysteriously dropped.
The anti-censorship and anonymity service Tor, for instance, has found that many of its “bridge nodes”-privately-placed servers around the world designed to connect users to the rest of Tor’s public network of traffic re-routing computers-have become inaccessible to Chinese users within hours or even minutes of being set up, according to Andrew Lewman, the project’s executive director. Users have told him that other censorship circumvention services like Ultrasurf and Freegate have seen similar problems, he says. “Someone will try to connect, then there’s a weird scan, and the bridge stops working,” says Lewman. “We see weird things all the time, but this is a semi-consistent weird thing, and it’s only coming from China.”
Lewman believes that China’s internet service providers may be testing a new system that, rather than merely block IP addresses or certain Web pages, attempts to identify censorship circumvention tools by preceding a user’s connection to an encrypted service with a probe designed to reveal something about what sort of service the user is accessing. “It’s like if I tell my wife I’m going bowling with my friends, and she calls the bowling alley ahead of time to see if that’s what I’m really doing,” says Lewman. “It’s verifying that you’re asking for what you seem to be asking for.”
An increasing number of Shanghaiist readers have told us in the last few weeks that they are unable to access our site without a VPN. If you are one of them, rest assured you’re not the only frustrated one. We’re looking at setting up a mirror site on this side of the Great Firewall to serve you better. Watch this space.