Earlier this term I wrote a blog post called “Cyber Censorship Threatens Chinese Businesses” about Chinese government’s intervention on limiting information accessed by Chinese citizens. More specifically, Internet users can no longer employ VPN (virtual private networks) to evade the government filters and restrictions (a.k.a. the Great Firewall).
Recently there has been a wave of internet attacks on foreign websites used by the Chinese to access content that is blocked by the government. On March 17, the Great Firewall started to be used by unidentified hackers to hijack traffic and redirect it to sites set up by Greatfire.org, an activist outfit that helps users in China to access normally blocked content (including the Chinese-language New York Times). Then on March 26 GitHub, an American-based website for programmers, began to suffer “its biggest ever denial-of-service attack”. Both attacks intercepted foreign traffic entering China that was meant for Baidu, China’s largest search engine, and sent it to the targeted American sites. (Baidu has said it was not involved and is “determined” to prevent a repeat.) The immediate aim of such attacks is to bring down the targeted website, depriving Chinese users of access to copies of blocked sites. In the long term, such attacks may discourage foreign internet firms from hosting the “mirror” sites.
It seems impossible to identify the attackers, but my doubt is the Chinese government has a play in it. In January, the regulator of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said Greatfire.org was run by “anti-China” foreign forces. After the attacks, on March 31, Greatfire.org put the blame on CAC, claiming that the Great Firewall could not have been used without its approval or that of Lu Wei, the minister in charge. The Economist indeed sought comment from CAC via the fax, its preferred means of communication, but has received no reply.