Who’s Behind the “Biggest Cyberattack” in China’s History
Image Credit: flickr/Tricia Wang 王圣捷

Who’s Behind the “Biggest Cyberattack” in China’s History


In what is being called the "biggest cyberattack in its history", China’s internet was brought down by widespread distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on Sunday.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, no one is quite sure where the attacks came from, but the timing is certainly interesting from a number of standpoints. Furthermore, some reports are saying that the attack was so simple that it could have involved hundreds of hackers or a single individual with a really big botnet.

Regardless of whether it was angry "internet freedom" hackers or domestic showboaters, people will be keen to find out who took down the Middle Kingdom's Internet during the controversial Bo Xilai trial.

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The damage was relatively minimal, with a number of .cn sites down. By very early Monday morning, China's Internet authorities had begun restoring the websites that were taken down in the attacks.

DDoS attacks usually inundate servers with high levels of activity from many computers–not necessarily many users. A botnet(s) enables hackers to send many requests at once, which, as CloudFare’s Chief Executive of Matthew Prince points out to The Wall Street Journal, could be the result of one very determined hacker.

In the midst of the Bo Xilai trial, the government is hoping to control the online chatter while Chinese netizens are seeking to be heard. Meanwhile, hackers around the world have protested China's recent crackdown on online dissent. As such, trying to pinpoint the origin of this unclaimed DDoS hack is a mind-boggling affair.

The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), located in Beijing's Zhongguancun, announced the attack, adding that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology launched the "Domain Name System Security Specific Contingency Plan." The attack, which resulted in a 32 percent drop in traffic, raised a number of eyebrows. The CNNIC has said it will update the public on who is responsible for the incident soon.

China has had the internet and media on lockdown for quite some time over the trial of its wayward party official. Search terms for Bo Xilai are heavily blocked on the country's Twitter-like microblogging platform, Weibo, and media have been led by the nose to what language they can use to report on Bo and the trial.

Indeed, no one in the equation lacks motive. CNN quoted one netizen as saying, "Saw this news and laughed. On every 'festive occasion' doesn't China's Internet become paralyzed?" 

China and the U.S. have been sparring over cyberattacks all year, a conversation that became decidedly one-sided once Edward Snowden took the focus off of China's considerable hacking operations against The New York Times and other American companies. Over the summer, China has found the courage to become very highhanded with online security rhetoric, a posturing that is likely to continue if it finds a U.S. hand in this attack.

Tyler Roney is a Beijing-based columnist for China Power and an editor of the magazine, The World of Chinese.

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