“I hope we put ourselves out of business,” said Charlie Smith, the pseudonymous head of Great Fire. And he was serious. After all this Chinese Internet monitoring watchdog GreatFire.org is no ordinary case.
Started in 2011 by three anonymous individuals tired of China’s approach to the internet, it initially tracked the effects of the country’s censorship system on websites. Over time, it has risen to become perhaps the most trusted authority on the subject.
The Great Fire site itself is censorship database. Visitors to input a URL to determine if the website is blocked in China. It is available in English and Chinese, and periodically tests its collection of over 100,000 URLs to produce a history of the availability/restriction for each one. A hugely useful resource in its own right, GreatFire has come to mean a lot more than just checks. These days, the three founders document new instances of internet restrictions and foul play in China via the organization’s blog and @greatfirechina Twitter account.
Great Fire is regularly referenced by Reuters, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other global media — including TechCrunch, of course. Stories it has dug up have included apparent attacks on Apple’s iCloud service, the blocking of Instagram and messaging apps, restrictions on Google services (of course) and — most recently — details of a man-in-the-middle attack on Microsoft Outlook users in China.
That’s made the site — and its founders — a go-to resource for media, activists and anyone with an interest in the internet in China.
“In terms of blogging, we’ve amazed ourselves,” said Smith. Smith highlighted the recent Microsoft attack and the role that Great Fire played publicizing it.
The story began like many others with a post on the Great Fire blog. That was picked up by media which gave the finding a global platform and attention. Microsoft entered the scene when it confirmed that “a small number of customers [were] impacted by malicious routing to a server impersonating Outlook.com” — and suddenly what was initially a small discovery had become a topic in media across the world, China included.
“It got me thinking, if we weren’t around who would’ve exposed that? It’s a serious thing,” Smith said.
Source: TC by Jon Russell 30 March 2015