The internet service in China crashed Tuesday affecting 500 million users or half of Asia’s internet users who failed to connect to the web. Many blamed the government for this massive breakdown of the country’s internet service which lasted for eight hours. Users were unable to access websites ending in .net, .com or .org and were instead directed to a website owned by Sophidea Incorporated located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, U.S.A.
US-based Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a company specializing in developing technology meant to evade censorship in the web blamed the Chinese government for the massive internet outage. According to DIT, “In 2002, China started to use DNS hijacking technology to block websites.” This DNS hijacking system is the cause of the problem, the company added. DIT as a company also manages a tool designed to bypass China’s internet censors. DNS or the domain name system is an addressing protocol that allows computers to look for websites on the internet.
Internet users in China were instead sent to an IP address operated by DIT called Sophidea Inc. Its IP address – 188.8.131.52 is also linked to dongtaiwang.com, a news website of the Falun Gong members. Falun Gong is a religious group banned in China in 1990 and the government branded the group as an “evil cult”. According to Greatfire.com, a group which tracks China’s web censorship activities, reported that web access in the country is strictly monitored by the government using an online censorship system known as the Great Firewall.
Appearing on Greatfire.com’s website, “We have conclusive evidence that this outage was caused by the Great Firewall.” The group also claimed that this incident is considered as the largest internet breakdown in the country.
DNS hijacking is practiced by Chinese authorities where they intercept transmissions between computers directing users away from banned online sites and instead sends users to a wrong web address. DIT added that this kind of an attack requires the attacker to monitor frequently all the traffic of targeted users. In order to suppress information and websites Chinese authorities deem critical of the government, it even blocks popular sites like Facebook and Twitter.
According to technology experts, one theory on why this incident happened lies on the fact that Chinese censors tried to prevent traffic to Sophidea’s websites because these are being used to evade the Great Firewall yet due to an error, the system mistakenly redirected traffic to said web address.
The clients of DIT include: the Epoch Times, a newspaper identified with the Falun Gong movement, Radio Free Asia, Human Rights in China and the Voice of America. According to Bill Xia, founder of DIT and a follower of Falun Gong the problem can be traced to the “misconfiguration” in the country’s firewall which controls traffic among the varied internet service providers in China.
However, in a report by Xinhua, China’s news agency mentioned that this can be a case of hacking. The China Internet Network Information Centre supported such conclusion and the breakdown was caused by a “root server for top-level domain names.”
According to Compuware internet analyst Heiko Specht, whatever the cause of this internet service crash in China which affected half of Asia’s internet users, one thing is certain. And this is with regard to the Chinese internet users’ and corporations’ trust in the internet now hangs in doubt. Chinese web users no longer place much trust in the internet, added Specht.
By Roberto I. Belda