• Virtual Private Networks are used mostly to avoid censorship.

Virtual Private Networks are used mostly to avoid censorship. (Photo : Reuters)

China blocked one of the few avenues available for its citizens to access the Internet, People Daily newspaper reported.

China said that it is "upgrading" the Great Firewall--China's Internet censorship program--to close the unregistered Virtual Private Networks (VPN) services inside the nation, the newspaper added.

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VPN is the way for 1.3 billion citizens in China to access the Internet by creating a private channel that bypasses the censorship.

The companies and individuals that subscribe to VPN services are required to register with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, according to the Chinese law.

Qin An, a cybersecurity expert at the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, said that blocking VPN services is related to China's ability of network governance.

"Authorities apparently cannot ignore those services as they affect our cyberspace sovereignty. For instance, a shortcut has to be blocked since it could be used for some ulterior purposes although it might affect others who use it in a right way," said Qin.

Three overseas VPN service providers such Astrill, Witopia and StrongVPN apologized Thursday that their service to residents in the Chinese mainland has been blocked due to a recent upgrade of the GFW. Astrill claimed that most VPN protocols have been blocked, and that many foreign companies have been influenced, the Global Times reported.

Astrill, one the most popular VPN providers, tweeted that "due to increased censorship in China," VPN usage on Apple devices was being blocked "in almost real-time."

The company also added that the increased censorship "is just a way for China to say 'we don't want you here,'" according to their Twitter account.

Some Astrill VPN users said that the firewall update has also led to a price increase of VPN services. One said that another VPN service he bought a week ago increased its price by 60 yuan ($9.6) to 240 yuan per year.