Chinese Internet Rocked by Cyberattack

Distributed denial of service attack takes down part of .cn domain

2 min read

Willie Jones covers transportation for IEEE Spectrum, and the history of technology for The Institute.

Chinese Internet Rocked by Cyberattack

China’s Internet infrastructure was temporarily rocked by a distributed denial of service attack that began at about 2 a.m. local time on Sunday and lasted for roughly four hours. The incident, which was initially reported by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), a government-linked agency, is being called the “largest ever” cyberattack targeting websites using the country’s .cn URL extension. Though details about the number of affected users have been hard to come by, CNNIC apologized to users for the outage, saying that “the resolution of some websites was affected, leading visits to become slow or interrupted.” The best explanation offered so far is that the attacks crippled a database that converts a website’s URL into the series of numbers (its IP address) that servers and other computers read. The entire .cn network wasn’t felled because some Internet service providers store their own copies of these databases.

A Wall Street Journal report notes that the attack made a serious dent in Chinese Web traffic. Matthew Prince, CEO of Internet security firm CloudFlare told the WSJ that his company observed a 32 percent drop in traffic on Chinese domains. But Prince was quick to note that although the attack affected a large swath of the country, the entity behind it was probably not another country. “I don’t know how big the ‘pipes’ of .cn are,” Prince told the Wall Street Journal, “but it is not necessarily correct to infer that the attacker in this case had a significant amount of technical sophistication or resources. It may have well have been a single individual.”

That reasoning stands in stark contrast to the standard China-blaming reaction to attacks on U.S. and Western European Internet resources or the theft of information stored on computers in those regions. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, there was an air of schadenfreude from some observers. Bill Brenner of cloud-service provider Akami told the Wall Street Journal that “the event was particularly ironic considering that China is responsible for the majority of the world’s online ‘attack traffic.’” Brenner pointed to Akami’s 2013 ‘State of the Internet’ report, which noted that 34 percent of global attacks originated from China, with the U.S. coming third with 8.3 percent.

For its part, the CNNIC, rather than pointing fingers, said it will be working with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to shore up the nation’s Internet “service capabilities.”

Photo: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo

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