“…The more they stay the same.” Or so says the French Proverb (“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”). Don’t laugh; it’s all true: “history would be more interesting if it were not so repetitious.” (I have no idea where that last quotation comes from, but I love it!) Watching the interaction—or lack thereof—between VPN and “The Great Chinese Firewall” goes a long way toward proving my point.
As all of us who watch the Discovery Channel know, the Great Wall of China was built during the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor ofChina, about 2,000 or so years ago. Then as now, Chinese authorities feared incursions from beyond their borders; then it was marauding bands of savage horsemen from the steppes preying on China’s wealthy cities; now the fear is that uncensored information will undermine the pillars of the empire.
As only those lonely souls among us who have time to keep up with the turbulent world of technical acronyms might have reason to know, “VPN” stands for “Virtual Private Network,” a method of using public telecommunications infrastructure in such a fashion as to mimic the many advantages of private secured lines without incurring the disadvantage of vastly higher operating expenses. And while private lines would be easily discoverable, virtual private networks “hide in plain sight” amid the overwhelming confusion of public infrastructure.
Just as fearsome barbarian tribesmen once rode fleet ponies along the Great Wall looking for weak spots allowing them access to the dazzling cities beyond, today’s barbarians thwart Chinese officialdom’s attempts at censorship by “tunneling” under the aptly named “Great Chinese Firewall” with discrete packets of encrypted code, decipherable only within the secure confines of individual virtual private networks.
In spite of their swift ponies and cleverness, the earlier barbarians often fell afoul of the Chinese Empire’s guardians. Then as now they were numerous, devoted to the empire, and technologically sophisticated; it was after all, the Chinese that developed gunpowder and used primitive rockets to frighten their enemies’ horses. Today’s Chinese censors are proving equally difficult to deal with—at first unable to cope with the innocent-looking, discrete packets of code, they finally developed methods in the last few years of isolating and terminating them before they reached their intended destinations. Equally adept, the virtual private networks changed their methodology to find other means of continuing contact with their clients beyond the wall.
Great Wall. Great Chinese Firewall. Words, nothing but words involved with similar human interactions several thousand years apart. As it says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
As should be made obvious by the accompanying photo, Mike Nardine (aka Cheap Mike) is plain vanilla and old as dirt. He has been writing since before the invention of the electric typewriter. His first computer was a 1kb Sinclair; his love-affair with computers began with a Kaypro. He has sold short stories to women’s magazines and has published several books, which are available in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Mr. Nardine has also written a whole slug of book reviews, play reviews, news articles, and consumer-tech stuff for various ezines and The Reader Weekly of Duluth, Minnesota. He presently lives in Rochester, Minnesota with his wife of many years and a fifteen-year-old Jack Russel Terrier named Chloe. Still writing as he circles the drain, he also sells domains and web hosting at CheapMikes.com.
Email Mr. Nardine at firstname.lastname@example.org.