Fast Company

China Behind Yesterday's YouTube, Facebook, Twitter Outage

china firewall

While the World is pondering the complex final moves in the cultural conflict between Google and China's censors, the story has has taken a completely bizarre twist: For some reason, China's censorship firewall went briefly world-wide.

This seems to be an event that you'd dismiss as part of the twisty background plot in a James Bond movie, but it did happen: During the week, sysadmins around the World noticed that traffic that should have been happily flowing to sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook was instead being diverted to servers inside China, where it fell subject to the country's tough Great Firewall censorship regime. The result was that certain users around the globe got the same "service not available messages" that the Chinese would get, or were diverted to Chinese alternatives.

Think that's impossible, that China's green dam couldn't possibly grow outside China's borders and fence off other parts of the free-thinking, free-wheeling Internet World? Well you're wrong, it can. The alert began to be raised on Wednesday, when a techie at Chile's Domain Name System (DNS) registry first noticed the Chinese diverts--DNS being one of the core systems that helps the Net connect up across the World. A global conversation among people in similar roles quickly sprang up as more and more people reported the same bizarre events.

The root of the problem was finally traced to the I Root Server in Sweden, which was, it seems the chief culprit. The servers operators, Netnod/Autonomica, have denied responsibility--they are "currently investigating" but note that they do not "intercept, interfere, rewrite or otherwise alter" the traffic running through their systems.

Of course, given the censor-loving ways of the Chinese authorities, and the fact that the Google affair is still unraveling, the finger of suspicion is pointing very firmly in China's direction. Who else would stand to gain, at this particular moment, from demonstrating that global Net traffic could effectively be hijacked at a moment's notice? That's a powerful political message, along the lines of "don't meddle in our affairs, Mr President. There will be consequences." China's state-run media has already accused Google of running a political agenda, and acting on behalf of the U.S. government.

China's own Internet Network Information Center has, of course, denied any responsibility in meddling with the i Root code...but that doesn't rule out behind-the-scenes meddling by government-sanctioned hacker-types. There has, for example, been a long standing suspicion that Chinese authorities routinely spoof or meddle with DNS code for their own purposes, so it's not beyond belief that something similar has gone on here.

But apart from the gentle political threat, what has China to gain from doing this? Not much. If it's true that the "hijacking" of these sites is an official political gambit, then everyone else in the World will think much less of China, and governments will be quickly angered. This raises the thought that another player, perhaps based in the West and with interests in souring Sino-Western relations, was behind the affair. We simply don't know yet. But it certainly seems like China's tussle with the World over Net freedoms has plenty more 007-like plot-twists to go through yet.

[Via CNET]

To keep up with this news and more as it unfolds, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too.

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6 Comments

  • slowpoison

    Oh c'mmon! I'm all for China bashing... but at least be logical with your title. Your title first blames China for the attacks but the article later states "This raises the thought that another player, perhaps based in the West and with interests in souring Sino-Western relations, was behind the affair." So, you're not sure?

    It's understood that the redirects were to Chinese servers. But I'm sorry... doesn't justify the title. This article is an entree of sensationalism served with lame journalism as a side.

    --
    TechTeeter

  • Vishal Verma

    Oh c'mmon! I'm all for China bashing... but at least be logical with your title. Your title first blames China for the attacks but the article later states "This raises the thought that another player, perhaps based in the West and with interests in souring Sino-Western relations, was behind the affair." So, you're not sure?

    It's understood that the redirects were to Chinese servers. But I'm sorry... doesn't justify the title. This article is an entree of sensationalism served with lame journalism as a side.

    --
    TechTeeter

  • Tim Johnson

    Unless I am missing something, there is nothing in this article that does anything more than arouse suspicion of the Chinese. And I certainly would not put something like this past them. But you offer a few alternative theories in the article, and cite the denials from all concerned. What you don't do is offer any specific "proof" or even strong evidence to support your rather inflammatory headline. This is irresponsible, and if China was a company or an individual, it might be grounds for a slander suit.

    --
    Tim Johnson, President
    Coactive Brand Lab
    Brand Designer, Marketing and Communications Expert

    www.coactivebrandlab.com

  • Chris Reich

    When newly powerful nations begin to test the resolve of other nations, it's time to really pay attention. The Dragon is loose and so far getting his way.

    Chris Reich
    www.TeachU.com

  • Kit Eaton

    @Alex You're right of course: the Net, while benefitting from some of the goodness of a distributed architecture, does suffer from a couple of weak points that could have serious impact if attacked. And it's far scarier stuff than people realize

  • Alexander Hoffmann

    This is scary stuff, but quite logical.
    It easier to attack and take-over a few important junctions of the internet, than attempting to attack several (well) guarded sites at once.