China Denies Claims of Hijacking Internet Traffic

Dennis Faas's picture

For eighteen minutes in April, around 15 per cent of all Internet traffic was incorrectly routed through Chinese-controlled servers. Nobody knows what was behind the move, but a US government agency suspects foul play.

According to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the incident involves servers belonging to China Telecom. That's the largest telecommunications company in China; it used to be government controlled but is now partially independent.

The incident, which the commission described as "hijacking", involves the way Internet traffic travels between the computers where web pages are physically stored and the computer the site visitor is using. This traffic passes through multiple servers around the world, each of which posts constant updates relating to its current workload. Data doesn't always travel along the most direct geographic route between the two machines, but rather is automatically sent through the most efficient route by favoring servers that aren't busy, thus avoiding delays.

Bogus Routing Advice

During the 18-minute period, it appears the servers operated by China Telecom sent out false information about how busy they were. Other servers around the world automatically took this information as true and began routing data through China, even though in reality there was no need for the data to take that route. Eventually, almost one-sixth of all traffic on the Internet was making the bogus detour.

According to the commission's report, some of the diverted traffic included data going to and from a range of American government and military websites, plus some major US companies. (Source:

Malicious Act or Mere Mistake?

The report is quick to point out that there's no way of knowing if this was done deliberately and, if so, whether those responsible were able to access or even manipulate any of the data. One security expert told the commission he believed it was possible the idea may have been to misdirect such a vast amount of information that it made it easy to hide a specific attack or spying attempt.

For its part, China Telecom has denied that there was any effort on their part to force the traffic to route through its servers. A spokesman called claims to the contrary "completely groundless." (Source:

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