September 25, 2009, 9:36 AM — Security forces with black masks and machine guns on the streets of China's capital are just the more visible side of a security clampdown in the country this month: there is also its secretive battle to control the Internet.
The heightened security comes ahead of a massive military parade Beijing will hold in the heart of the city next week to celebrate China's 60th anniversary of communist rule, an event the government hopes will showcase the country's development and go untarnished by security threats or shows of dissent. China's newest nuclear missiles will be included in the arsenal of weapons and equipment shown off in the parade, according to state-run media.
Security measures have included a crackdown this month on online tools that help users circumvent the "Great Firewall," the set of technical measures China uses to filter the Internet, according to providers of the tools.
"They put more resources into the blocking," said Bill Xia, president of Dynamic Internet Technology, which makes a widely used anti-censorship program called Freegate.
"It has been getting worse and worse this month," he said.
Many expatriates and savvy locals in China rely on Freegate as well as proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass blocks that China places on Web sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. But accessing some of those tools has become more difficult in recent weeks.
China has always blocked IP (Internet Protocol) addresses it believes are used by Freegate, which routes users' communication through foreign IP addresses to grant access to Web sites blocked in China. But this month it became more aggressive and began blocking a wider range of IP addresses, risking taking down unrelated targets in order to hit more Freegate users, Xia said. The moves have left most users unable to use the program, prompting Xia's company to ready an updated version of Freegate that will be available in a few days.
China also cranked up its efforts to stifle Freegate ahead of another sensitive date this year: the 20th anniversary of its bloody crackdown on student democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.
Measures China uses to limit access to certain Web sites include altering entries in the DNS (domain name system), which translates URLs like www.google.com into the numeric IP addresses used to relay information online, and resetting a computer's connection when it tries to visit a banned site. The country's police force also patrols the Internet for sensitive or pornographic content.