Report States China Hijacked 15% of Internet, China Rejects Allegations

John Markoff writes on the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s (USCC) annual report to Congress. The report suggests as much as 15 percent of the world’s Web traffic was rerouted through China Telecom for 18 minutes. From the New York Times:

An annual report to Congress touched off a round of speculation Wednesday about the motives of a small Chinese Internet service provider that briefly rerouted as much as 15 percent of the world’s Web traffic on two occasions last spring.

The report, by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, noted that the service provider, IDC China Telecommunication, broadcast inaccurate Web traffic routes for about 18 minutes on April 8. That information was then retransmitted by China’s state-owned China Telecommunications, effectively forcing data from the United States and other countries to pass through Chinese computer servers. A similar episode in March drew less attention.

The report said the move affected data traveling over both the government and military networks of the United States, including information from the Senate, the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, the secretary of defense’s office, NASA, the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as from many American companies.

The incidents, which were widely reported when they occurred, were never explained, although Chinese engineering managers said that the routing errors were accidental.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei responded to the report today [CN]. A summary of his remarks, in English via Reuters:

“This report ignores the facts, is full of Cold War thinking and political bias,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement carried on the ministry’s Website (www.mfa.gov.cn).

Hong did not say which specific parts of the report China found so objectionable.

“We advise this so-called committee to stop interfering in China’s internal politics, and do more things that are conducive to Sino-U.S. mutual trust and cooperation,” he added.

Dmitri Alperovitch, vice president of threat research for the cyber security firm McAfee, spoke with NPR about the possible significance of the USCC report.

[Host Melissa] BLOCK: Now, we are calling it a hijacking, the panel called it a hijacking. We should say China Telecom says there was no hijacking. How do you explain that?

Mr. ALPEROVITCH: Well, the hijacking is actually a technical term, so it just means that the traffic was rerouted through China. So that’s sort of an undisputable fact that was observed by many people around the world. Whether it was intentional or not is, of course, a point of some debate. It’s impossible to prove it without some information being provided by China Telecom. But it’s just a lot of things are unknown at this point.

Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, doubts the purported magnitude of the Internet affected by the rerouting. At Computerworld:

Talk that China hijacked 15% of the Internet earlier this year is overblown, a researcher said today.

“There’s been some confusion over routing versus traffic,” Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, said in an interview today. “While maybe 10% to 15% of the routes to other peers may have been diverted, a lot of those routes didn’t propagate.”

Instead of the widely-reported 15%, Labovitz estimated that the actual amount of Internet traffic affected by the April 2010 incident was much lower, on the order of just 0.015%.

November 19, 2010 5:40 PM
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