Apple unveiled the next generation of iOS this week, and while many of us here in the US are stoked about features like Power Save Mode, smarter Siri search, and improved Maps, users in China are getting excited about one new feature that went virtually unmentioned: VPN.
iOS 9 contains big changes to how app developers can implement virtual private network (VPN) protocols on Apple devices. That’s not very exciting for most users, but could be a saving grace in China where Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are all blocked.
Beijing started cracking down on VPN usage in mainland China earlier this year, forcing VPN providers to find new ways of sneaking past restrictions. Censors detect and block VPN traffic using deep packet inspection to snuff out access to blocked websites.
To try to get around the packet sniffing, VPN providers in China have added an extra layer of encryption to mask their traffic, and Apple is giving that method of evasion a boost in iOS 9 by adding Network Extension Points. According to Larry Salibra, founder of Hong Kong-based software firm Pay4Bugs, the addition means custom VPN protocols designed to bypass Chinese Internet blocking will now have “first class support.”
— Larry Salibra (@larrysalibra) June 9, 2015
“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 the Great Firewall to detect, degrade and/or block,” Salibra told SCMP.
The changes could be a boon to Chinese dissidents looking to avoid censors and access more information. However, it’s Apple likely made the changes due to security demands of corporate customers more than its desire to bring down the Great Firewall.