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Greatfire.org leaps great firewall by mirroring Reuters in AWS and Google

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Non-profit anti-censorship body GreatFire.org has created a mirrored site that allows users in China to view the recently blocked Reuters site, in a move which could take down thousands of websites in the PRC if the authorities decide to play hardball.

Reuters China and the local language version of the Wall Street Journal were blocked by the Great Firewall last week in another sign of the Communist Party’s increasingly tough stance on censorship.

However, perpetual thorn-in-the-side of Beijing, GreatFire.org, has now mirrored the Reuters site using Amazon Web Services, therefore allowing users to view it without the need for circumvention tools like VPNs which it said can require “technical savvy” to set up.

It used the same technique to mirror its FreeWeibo.com site which helps micro-bloggers recover censored weibo posts, co-founder Charlie Smith wrote in a blog post.

That mirrored site, for the record, uses both AWS and Google.

Blocking the relevant domains, Smith continued, would create a significant backlash of the kind seen when the authorities blocked Github:

With our new mirror sites, the GFW cannot block FreeWeibo.com any longer without causing significant collateral damage which would also cause significant economic fallout in China.

Our mirror sites are unique because rather than using our own domains, we use a subpath of Amazon and Google’s domains which support HTTPS access. This means that GFW cannot block our mirror websites without blocking the domain of Amazon or Google entirely, namely “s3.amazonaws.com” and “commondatastorage.googleapis.com”.

The idea here, as Open Internet Tools Project concluded in a recent report, to make “crucial business activity inseparable from internet freedom”.

In this way, China faces a choice: take down Amazon and Google domains and the thousands of Chinese sites that rely on them, put pressure on the web giants to block GreatFire.org’s mirrored sites willingly, or do nothing.

As long as we’re just talking about a handful of mirrored sites here it’s unlikely that Beijing will go for the nuclear option, but as always it’s a numbers game. If site mirroring becomes a popular method of bypassing the Great Firewall, and if netizens in greater numbers flock to such sites, AWS and Google may find themselves both on the wrong side of an uncompromising line in the sand. ®

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