Cyber attacks to limit information access of Chinese users

Published on Author taa16

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, 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 was run by “anti-China” foreign forces. After the attacks, on March 31, 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.


5 Responses to Cyber attacks to limit information access of Chinese users

  1. I am not entirely sure of the technical details but it seems that internet access is getting easier to find and harder to selectively censor. I wonder how long China can sustain their grasp on internet information.

  2. Of course there are blowback issues politically. I mean to say, how long can they sustain it technologically?

  3. Regarding censorship, my East Asian politics professor recently told us a story of her colleague showing her Chinese students a picture of the Tiananmen Square protest. A lot of students had no idea about the event, and they were very curious “Oh what is that?”, “Where was this photo taken?”, etc. Even though it neither was a survey nor substantially represented a fact, it’s surprising how China keeps such information hidden from its citizens.

  4. Andd GitHub is reported to be back today. “The company said Tuesday on its status page that their efforts to mitigate the attack were effective and service was stable. The attacks also appeared to be decreasing in intensity, according to one person watching them.” (Wall Street Journal)
    CAC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

  5. DOS attacks (in another post on this same story I didn’t have the jargon right) are not constant things, they’re a nuisance when effective but certainly are a signal.

    My hunch — I don’t know how to look for relevant data — is that the number of users sophisticated enough to use GitHub is modest. Maybe I’m wrong. So is this more than a cat-and-mouse game among techies?

    As to Christian’s comment, I think the effectiveness of the Great Firewall is better than a year ago.

    Ahn’s comment on lack of knowledge inside China is certainly on target: history really is taboo. Even if Mao is viewed with ambivalence, what is called the Chinese Communist Party is still in power, and their claim to legitimacy is not in the veracity of Marxist-Leninist dogma, or in bringing “clean” government, but in their revolutionary heritage. So the Cultural Revolution and the Three Lean Years remain sensitive topics, Tiananmen taboo. Who fought the Japanese how hard where and when, why it was the Russians and not the CCP that accepted the Japanese surrender in Manchuria, those remain taboo. Studying the history of Central Asia can get you imprisoned — I know someone who suffered that way.