Oops! Sensitive U.S. Govt Websites Rerouted Via China

18 minutes of “sensitive” Internet traffic rerouted via China last April. A flaw of the system, or a data hijack?


An embarrassing disclosure has alerted world governments to the fact that all the online security in the world won’t necessarily keep your secret stuff secret. Traffic destined for a bunch of sensitive websites, including ones belonging to the U.S. government, was rerouted through Chinese webspace earlier this year. You reckon the DoD is worried?

Back in April, China Telecom sent incorrect routing information for 18 minutes allowing the leak to take place. The Government itself claims not to be alarmed by what happened on April 8–for an explanation of how this cyber version of the old hat-on-a-stick trick happened in layman’s terms, look here–but during those 18 minutes, 15% of the world’s Internet traffic was sucked up by China Telecom.

Although it’s not clear whether the boo-boo was malicious or actually just something that occasionally happens (“a flaw in the way the Internet operates,” according to one security expert) and let’s not say anything more about it, shall we-type behavior, some security experts think that the glitch wasn’t a glitch, but an information hijack. “This is one of the biggest hijacks–if not the biggest hijack–we have ever seen,” the VP of threat research at McAfee, Dmitri Alperovitch, told the National Defense Magazine blog. “What  happened to the traffic while it was in China? No one knows. Imagine the capability and capacity that is built into their networks. I’m not sure there was anyone else in the world who could have taken on that much traffic without breaking a sweat.”

If this is an example of Sino cyber-trickery, then it’s astonishing that it didn’t make headlines earlier. “It did not make mainstream news because it is so esoteric and hard to understand,” said Alperovitch, adding that the flaw doesn’t come under the aegis of cyberattacks, as no hacking or shutting down of sites was involved. “But it is pretty disconcerting.”

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.