On Tuesday afternoon in China, the internet effectively shut down for more than two-thirds of the country's over 500 million internet users and remained inaccessible for up to eight hours.
At the same time, a tiny shell company located in a residential home in Cheyenne, Wyoming had its servers flooded with Chinese IP requests, likely crashing in less than a millisecond. Other Chinese internet surfers were redirected to a blank website from a group called Dynamic Internet Technology. What may be the largest internet failure in history is being blamed on hackers by an official Chinese state agency, but is probably a result of China's "Great Firewall."
The weird turn of events reads like a technological comedy, where the majority of the world's internet traffic is suddenly misrouted and, embarrassed, the officials that caused the mishap blames an improbable hack attack.
China Blames Hackers
The China Internet Information Center (CNNIC), the official agency in charge of the internet in China, reported on its SinaWeibo account that the failure was caused by a problem with the top-level domain name root servers (DNS), and other official Chinese government sources called the series of mistakes an attack.
Qin Gang, spokesperson for China's foreign ministry according to Tech Times, stated, "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."
But if hacking were to blame, the attack would be one of the most improbable in history, according to the chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association Lento Yip, who spoke to Bloomberg. "You cannot hack all the DNS servers in China," Yip said by phone. "If it was DNS contamination it should have been isolated, it should have been a few cases instead of the whole Internet becoming inaccessible."
Backfire in the Great Firewall
China's internet outage, in which about three-quarters of the country's domain-name system servers routed its traffic to servers in Wyoming and belonging to the Dynamic Internet Technology, now appears to be a result of China's internet censorship system -- often called "The Great Firewall" -- backfiring.
China polices its citizens' internet, blocking western websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as major western media outlets, from reaching Chinese internet users. It also polices the online speech of Chinese internet users. It's all an attempt to impede any unfavorable views or dissent about the Chinese government from getting a voice within the country. Related Site
In the case of China's internet crash, China's control of internet traffic seems to have subverted itself through human error. Both the Wyoming server and Dynamic Internet Technology specialize in rerouting internet traffic from one website to another. In the case of the Wyoming shell company, the purpose is to mask a person's whereabouts, possibly for the purpose of sending spam. For Dynamic Internet Technology, it's to help those in China who want to slip China's internet censorship and access the greater internet.
Basically, it now seems that an attempt to configure the Great Firewall to block rerouting services, the China Internet Information Center instead accidentlly rerouted the majority of Chinese internet traffic to those addresses. The massive failure is good example of the advantages of a diffuse, decentralized and sometimes-chaotic structure of the greater internet, as well as yet another reason why internet censorship doesn't work.