Hundreds of millions of Internet users in China were unexpectedly shown a way to overcome the communist country’s strict firewalls on Tuesday afternoon.
The users were simply attempting to access some of the country’s most popular websites. When they typed in the addresses, they were automatically redirected to the homepage of Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a U.S. company that sells anti-censorship technology that allows Chinese citizens to get around the so-called Great Firewall.
It is unclear whether the situation was the work of savvy hackers or the result of some kind of glitch in the Great Firewall.
Reuters reports that DIT has ties to the Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned in China that has been blamed for past hacking attacks.
“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," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a daily news briefing.
The state-run China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said “the attack” on the country’s Internet is under investigation, the official CCTV broadcaster wrote on its microblog on Wednesday.
However, sources familiar with the Chinese government’s web management operations told Reuters that a hacking attack was not to blame for the malfunction. They declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
They said the incident may have been the result of an engineering mistake made while making changes to the Great Firewall.
“Our investigation shows very clearly that DNS exclusion happened at servers inside of China,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at UC Berkeley School of Information and an expert on China’s Internet controls.
“It all points to the Great Firewall, because that’s where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks [in China]. But how that happened or why that happened we’re not sure. It’s definitely not the Great Firewall’s normal behavior.”
Checks by DIT suggested a similar root cause for the overwhelming amount of traffic trying to reach the site, said Bill Xia, DIT’s founder and a member of the Falun Gong.
The outage, which began around 3:15 pm local time Tuesday, redirected roughly 1 million requests per second to the DIT site, said Xia.