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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs