Thousands of websites are no longer accessible from China after the country’s censorship authorities blocked a major hosting and cloud services company. According to internet freedom watchdog GreatFire.org , the EdgeCast content delivery network (CDN), which “provides cloud services to thousands of websites and apps in China”, has been partially blocked by the so-called Great Firewall. The websites of a number of major international companies have been affected by the block, including The Atlantic , Sony Mobile, and websites related to the Firefox web browser. “We have been hearing from our CDN and monitoring partners throughout the industry and our own customers that more sites, CDNs and networks are being filtered or blocked by the Great Firewall of China,” EdgeCast said in a statement posted on its website. “This week we’ve seen the filtering escalate with an increasing number of popular web properties impacted and even one of our many domains being partially blocked … with no rhyme or reason as to why.” The blocking of a major CDN such as EdgeCast marks a significant escalation in the efforts of Chinese censors to keep the country’s internet free of unwanted outside influence. “Taking down so many sites in one go will have a huge economic impact - online commerce, trade, even academia will all be affected by this,” Charlie Smith, founder of GreatFire, told the South China Morning Post . “While the economic cost is huge, the authorities are also risking upsetting Chinese netizens who suddenly wake up to find out that they cannot access a plethora of websites.” Free speech activists and anti-censorship groups such as GreatFire have been utilising cloud services like EdgeCast’s to create mirrors of sensitive information which cannot be blocked , such as an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) report on the use of offshore tax havens by Chinese businessmen and officials. The report was uploaded to Amazon’s cloud servers, which, because of their design and encryption, are impossible to block on an individual website or page basis. Blocking the entire cloud domain would cause significant harm to the businesses of the thousands of Chinese websites, including major corporations, who Amazon says depend on its services for database management and other cloud computing. “[The Great Firewall] cannot distinguish traffic to our mirror sites and other traffic to the cloud provider which means they cannot block access to our mirror sites without blocking access to all the sites hosted by the CDN,” GreatFire said in a blog post. “We have acknowledged all along that our method of using ‘collateral freedom’ hinges on the gamble that the Chinese authorities will not block access to global CDNs because they understand the value of China being integrated with the global internet.” “However […] the authorities are doing just that – attempting to cut China off from the global internet.” Smith was confident that the workaround will continue to function “until the Chinese authorities decide that they will create a national LAN and entirely cut off access to the global internet for users inside China.” “Obviously, that would be a fairly major decision for the authorities - this action would likely create social unrest like they have never seen before.” The blocking comes at an ironic time for China as the World Internet Conference opened in Zhejiang province on Tuesday . Scheduled talks include “An interconnected world shared and governed by all” and “Cross-border e-commerce and economic globalisation”. “Internet freedom is under attack by governments across the world. Now China appears eager to promote its own domestic internet rules as a model for global regulation. This should send a chill down the spine of anyone that values online freedom,” William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said about the conference. “China’s internet model is one of extreme control and suppression. The authorities use an army of censors to target individuals and imprison many activists solely for exercising their right to free expression online.” The Great Firewall blocks hundreds of thousands of websites, including Twitter and Facebook. The South China Morning Post and its Chinese sister site Nanzao.com have been blocked since the beginning of the Occupy Central pro-democracy protests in September.