US traffic hijacked by Chinese ISP, censorship worrying

Some US web traffic was hijacked and wrongly rerouted through China Telecom, it was revealed today in a report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which also criticises China’s long-stand policy of censorship of the internet.

The Commission’s 2010 Annual Report to Congress highlighted an incident which occurred earlier this year where internet traffic from the US was taken over, or in the words of the report “hijacked”, by Chinese ISPs.

The event took place for a short period of 18 minutes on April 8 and affected several key US government websites, such as Senate, NASA, the Office of the Secretary of Defence, and army, navy and air force websites, as well as those by commercial companies like Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo, and IBM.

The hijack affected as much as 15 percent of the internet’s websites, revealing just how pervasive the short-term problem really was.

The suggestion, while not explicit, is that the unauthorised and inappropriate access to this traffic was not accidental, but intentional, and that it may have been designed to grab intelligence data held in certain parts of the websites.

The report also mentioned other attempts by people and organisations in China to hack American and other countries’ computers and networks. The report found that there is a continuing trend of state support for this kind of activity as part of larger programmes of internet-based reconnaissance.

The Commission also noted China’s continuing attempts “to tighten its control on the internet”. It said that many hoped that the internet would help liberalise Chinese society, but this was being held back by what the Commission called “networked authoritarianism”.

The report cites Google’s conflicts with China over censorship earlier this year and backs a recent report by Google this week that argues against internet censorship, which Google believes impedes free trade. 

Google called for the World Trade Organisation to look into countries’ censorship policies, which are endemic in around 40 countries, which the report says is a tenfold increase over the last ten year.

Since many of the private companies in China that enforce censorship regulations, like Baidu, are heavily funded by US investors, the Commission said there are implications for Americans which need to be considered, such as the attack on Google’s network by Chinese hackers earlier this year.

The Commission recommended that the US review its current policies and bring censorship and online security to the forefront of talks with the Chinese government in efforts to encourage more online freedom and better protection against hacks and exploits.