THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT has made use virtual private networks (VPNs) illegal in a bid to stop people from evading its web surveillance and censorship.
It follows a demand last week that app stores operating in China must register with the government in a move that was justified on the grounds of IT security.
The "clean up" was announced by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which has declared that all unauthorised VPN services - ie: ones without backdoors that the authorities can use to tap communications - are illegal.
The move means that all cable and VPN services in China will need prior government approval, but could also affect businesses designing and manufacturing goods in China, who fear that the campaign may also aid industrial espionage.
The Ministry argues that all internet services must be subject to official government vetting if they are allowed to continue operating.
The campaign was announced yesterday in a notice released by the Ministry and will run until the end of March 2018. The campaign coincides with the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a Party conference that only happens once every five years and which sees power reshuffled among the politicians and functionaries who govern the country.
"China's internet connection service market… has signs of disordered development that requires urgent regulation and governance," a director told a press conference in Beijing on Sunday.
As a result of China's strict web censorship, websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked or restricted. While this has helped rival businesses in China to develop and shielded them from competition, it has also encouraged the development of VPN services that can get around the so-called "Great Firewall of China".
These services are also used by corporates operating in China, both indigenous and foreign, who use them to secure their communications.
China's far-reaching internet censorship and surveillance laws will be ratcheted up this year when a new cyber security law comes into force in June. It will require organisations to undergo official 'security reviews', and for data to be stored on servers in China.
It will also compel organisations in the country to use only home-produced software and may bar offshoring of IT.
And according to the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the laws are so far-reaching that they could threaten foreign companies operating in the country and discourage foreign investment.
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