Apple iOS 9 may make it easier for iPhone users in China to bypass internet censorship
An update to Apple's mobile operating system could make it easier for users in China to bypass internet filtering and censorship.
The latest version of the operating system for iPhones and iPads, iOS 9, includes a change to how app developers can implement virtual private network (VPN) protocols on Apple devices. The update was released to developers on Monday, and will become widely available later this year.
VPNs are the primary means by which internet users in China bypass the so-called Great Firewall (GFW), which blocks access to Twitter, Facebook, and the South China Morning Post among thousands of other websites.
At the beginning of this year, Beijing clamped down on VPN usage in mainland China, leading to complaints from many internet users and entrepreneurs and forcing VPN providers to find new ways of bypassing restrictions.
The primary means by which censors detect and block VPN traffic is by using deep packet inspection (DPI), which examines the data being sent across the network to see if it matches a certain profile, such as a VPN protocol.
VPN providers have gotten around this packet sniffing to a degree by adding another layer of encryption to their protocols to mask the traffic and ensure it is not recognisable via DPI.
— Larry Salibra (@larrysalibra) June 9, 2015
This technique has just received a boost from Apple, according to Larry Salibra, founder and chief executive of Hong Kong-based software testing platform Pay4Bugs.
"Before iOS 9, [Apple] only supported a few well known, standard VPN protocols in its built in app which are well known and easy for the GFW to detect, degrade and/or block," he said.
The update means that custom VPN protocols designed to bypass Chinese internet blocking will now have "first class support" in iOS.
Salibra was quick to point out however, that the change was likely not motivated by a desire to help Chinese dissidents avoid the censors.
"Security and privacy have become a huge priority in the technology industry since the Snowden revelations," he said. "It is entirely possible that Apple is offering this feature in response to security demands from their corporate customers."
Apple did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
Watch: Apple unveils new music streaming service and 24-hour radio