News / Asia

Massive Internet Outage Sparks Great Firewall Scrutiny in China

The Chinese-language homepage for Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a company that sells anti-censorship web services tailored for Chinese users.
The Chinese-language homepage for Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a company that sells anti-censorship web services tailored for Chinese users.
Reuters
Human error likely caused a glitch in China's Great Firewall that saw millions of Internet users ironically rerouted to the homepage of a U.S.-based company which helps people evade Beijing's web censorship, sources told Reuters.
 
Hundreds of millions of people attempting to visit China's most popular websites on Tuesday afternoon found themselves redirected to Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a company that sells anti-censorship web services tailored for Chinese users.
 
The official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday quoted experts as saying that the malfunction could have been the result of a hacking attack. Domestic media was full of speculation along those lines.
 
DIT is tied to the Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned in China which has been blamed for past hacking attacks.
 
During a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said he had “noted” reports of Falun Gong involvement, but said he did not know who was responsible.
 
“I don't know who did this or where it came from, but what I want to point out is this reminds us once again that maintaining internet security needs strengthened international cooperation. This again shows that China is a victim of hacking,” said Qin.
 
However, sources familiar with the Chinese government's web management operations told Reuters that a hacking attack was not to blame for the malfunction. They declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
 
Instead, they said, the incident may have been the result of an engineering mistake made while making changes to the “Great Firewall” system the Communist Party uses to block websites it deems undesirable - such as the DIT site.
 
Mystery over how it happened
 
The state-run China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said in a microblog post that the outage, which lasted for several hours, was due to a malfunction in China's top-level domain name root servers.
 
These servers administer the country's Domain Name Service (DNS), which matches alphabetic domain names with a database of numeric IP addresses of computers hosting different websites, a sort of reference directory for the entire internet.
 
Instead of matching the names of popular Chinese websites with their proper IP addresses, Chinese DNS servers instead redirected users trying to access websites not ending with the “.cn” suffix to the IP address associated with DIT's homepage.
 
It was unclear why users were being directed to the DIT site specifically.
 
Independent tests showed that the source of the malfunction originated from within China, and specifically from the Great Firewall servers themselves.
 
“Our investigation shows very clearly that DNS exclusion happened at servers inside of China,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley School of Information in the U.S. and an expert on China's Internet controls.
 
“It all points to the Great Firewall, because that's where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks [in China]. But how that happened or why that happened we're not sure. It's definitely not the Great Firewall's normal behavior,” said Xiao.
 
Checks by DIT suggested a similar root cause for the overwhelming amount of traffic trying to reach the site, said Bill Xia, DIT's founder and a member of the Falun Gong.
 
“For such a large scale attack just targeting users in China, it can only be done by the Great Firewall,” Xia said.
 
“It's even clearer this is not an attack of all the Domain Name Servers in the world, but the same as the DNS hijacking technologies used by the Chinese government to block websites they don't want,” he continued.
 
The outage, which began around 3:15 pm local time, redirected roughly 1 million requests per second to the DIT site, said Xia.
 
Chinese web service providers have struggled to overcome recurrent performance bottlenecks in the country's massive but often rickety data network. The need to continuously censor domestic content and block foreign websites only complicates the matter.
 
In addition to fending off hacking attacks, network providers face challenges finding experienced server administrators and dealing with government bureaucracies. Frequently, authorities have overlapping jurisdictions over different aspects of Internet services.

You May Like

Ukraine President Appeals for More US Support

Speaking before Congress ahead of meeting with President Obama, Petro Poroshenko urges lawmakers to back Ukraine in its quest for freedom and democracy More

Photogallery Global Audience Watches as Scots Go to Polls

People were almost equally divided over a vote for independence, watched closely by Britain's allies, investors and restive regions at home and abroad More

China to Invest $20B in India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high-profile visit More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid