On China's heavily censored web, many web users depend on Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and proxy servers to access blocked sites such as Facebook and YouTube. However, most of non-commercial proxy access points are blocked once the Chinese government identifies their existence. In fact, most of the public access points on Tor, part of a vast volunteer network that conceals a user's location, are blocked in China.
Joining the fight against censorship is a new circumvention software called Lantern, which launched recently. Using peer-to-peer technology, the software allows users to invite friends into a “trust network” and enables members of the same network who have VPN or free Internet access to share their Internet connection with their friends. This “trust network” makes it difficult for the government to discover individual access points as the network is dispersed and distributed. So far the majority of the users and traffic come from within China.
The makers of the free software released a video to explain how the program works, seen above.
Jian Alan Huang, a software engineer, shared the user information of the new software with his friends in Twitter:
— Jian Alan Huang (@hnjhj) November 30, 2013
The number of #Lantern's users has reached 10,000. About 7,500 come from China, which means 75 percent of its total users. Taking a look at its traffic, 90 percent come from China. My estimation is that about 1,500 users overseas are providing their network to help Chinese netizens to circumvent censorship. Only 1,000 users come from other regions.
Alan is among one of the users providing network access to his friends in mainland China:
— Jian Alan Huang (@hnjhj) November 25, 2013
I am planning to turn on an old computer only for the purpose of sharing. For those who want to get access to the other side of the Wall via #Lantern, please add me.
Many users shared their review on the new tool. Editor of ChinaChange.org Yaxue Cao reminded his friends that #Lantern cannot counter surveillance:
灯笼 （Lantern）是一个为击败互联网审查而共同努力的世界人群网络。灯笼是同伴与同伴间绕开“围墙”的一种新软件。安装和分享这个新软件，从墙内获得被审查和阻挡的墙外信息。 灯笼旨在提供准入，无法保障你不受监控。反监控使用Tor. http://t.co/hSrfFC1zZl
— Yaxue Cao (@YaxueCao) November 26, 2013
Lantern is a network target at defeating Internet censorship. It is a new software for friends to work together to get around the Wall. By installing and sharing this software, you can get access to censored information from outside the Great Firewall. However, Lantern only offers you an open door, it won't protect you from surveillance. If you need to prevent surveillance, you have to use Tor.
@wenyunchao, a Chinese activist based in US, has some suggestions to make:
建议 #Lantern 能有同时有提供连接和使用连接模式，墙外有很多用户想翻回中国看一些网络资源，如果能双向提供，相信可以吸引更多的墙外节点。同时建议能增加共享带宽设置，例如，我愿意分享30%的带宽给不是好友的用户。
— 北风（温云超, Yunchao Wen） (@wenyunchao) November 24, 2013
I suggest that #Lantern provide a mutual connection mode as some users from outside China also want to get access to information in mainland China [that are blocked from foreign IP visits]. I believe this would attract more users from outside China to get connected to their friends on the inside. Also, if possible, the user should be able to set broadband traffic preferences. For example, they can choose to allocate 30 percent of their broadband to acquaintances.
@zuihulu and @MyDF explained why they chose Lantern as circumvention tool. @zuihulu pointed out that the software icon of Lantern light is very symbolic:
— 醉葫芦 (@zuihulu) November 30, 2013
I have tried the tool for two days. The stability and speed is not as good as commercial VPNs or SSH. But lighting up the Lantern while going online this winter, with a bit of candle light shining from the computer monitor, I feel warmer inside.
— MyDF (@MyDF) December 1, 2013
#Lantern is the most warm-hearted collective action in the history of circumvention. The video is very touching. The interface is pretty and friends are working together. When the software is running, you can see a curve drawn across two continents [friend's network], you won't feel lonely this winter.
With the Great Firewall on Sina Weibo, the most popular microblogging website in China, there is little discussion about the new software there. Ken Wang managed to introduce the new tool to his friends by avoiding the use of sensitive words:
Introduced a new Internet project called Lantern. It is a project sponsored by Google Ideas. It is an initiative to break through the XXX [Great Firewall deleted by Ken Wang to prevent censorship] by building a P2P trusted network. The mechanism is similar to BitTorrent. Computers from a liberated area running the Lantern program can serve as proxy for computers from occupied area. To protect the safety of the proxy, users are only connected to their friends’ networks.