T-Mobile Caught Using Great Firewall of China Techniques to Block Secure Email and VPNs

By Sam Gibbs on at

The cheaper arm of Everything Everywhere, T-Mobile, has apparently been blocking secure email and VPN access with techniques akin to the Great Firewall of China, leaving people fat out of luck for email over 3G.

The network, like many others, blocks insecure access to mail servers as a way to prevent spam being sent anonymously across its network. According Mike Cardwell, a security researcher who discovered the blockade, T-Mobile’s been using packet-injection techniques similar to the ones China uses to control the internet, disrupting secure connections to all mail servers other than its own. For a couple of weeks the network was blocking all secure connections, leaving some non-BlackBerry users out of luck for email without an explanation.

That error only seemed to rear its ugly head on PAYG plans, possibly because contracts can’t be taken out anonymously like pre-pay can, but has apparently been corrected now. That didn’t explain the blockade of VPNs however, which are often a crucial part of remote working these days. That is down to the age of the plan you happened to be on. The mobile provider’s tariffs used to explicitly prohibit the use of VPNs, and they still will if you start breaching its fair-use policy.

Whether or not this was an “error” or a deliberate policy, it’s a bit scary to think we’re not above using tactics like the Chinese government does to control the country's internet access. What with ISPs being forced to prevent access to certain sites and mobile networks blocking secure email -- our freedom to access what we want, when we want, seems scarily easy to disrupt. Let’s not turn into China, OK Britain? I like my unfiltered and as-secure-as-I-want-it-to-be access just the way it is now, thanks. [The Register, Mike Cardwell via Boing Boing]

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