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Major security breach! Did China highjack global internet data?

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Headlined to H4 12/5/10

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As a lot of people are now aware, China's political and economic power has been gaining strength over the last few years. In fact, China is expected to surpass the US economy within the next ten years to become the largest and most powerful economy in the world (some say sooner than that).

This is a pretty scary scenario. With all the insistence that socialism doesn't work, who would've thought that this political system would kick capitalism to the curb?

Well to be honest, China isn't really socialist. It's an authoritarian regime that pretends to espouse socialism. Not that makes anyone feel better.

Scared yet? Well, it gets worse.

Last Friday, I was astonished to learn via the PBS Newshour that China diverted at least 15% of the internet traffic of the entire world for 18 long minutes last April. As explained in the piece, it was most likely done on purpose.

You see, every time you hit 'send' on your Goofmail, the internet automatically finds the shortest and most efficient path for your message to take to your recipient. Routers scattered throughout the globe are used to guide these shortest paths. On that alarming day in April, the national telecommunication company owned by the Chinese Government sent a fake signal to anywhere between 35,000 to 50,000 servers around the world, saying, in effect, "hey, guys! Over here!" and making it look like the shortest paths passed through China Telecom's servers or routers. Suddenly there was a wolf on the way to Grandma's house.

What this means is that a significant percentage (I'm guessing millions of emails and instant messages, here) of internet traffic was diverted towards China Telecom before being rerouted to its intended destinations. Even though the traffic was not routed along the shortest path, so little time (less than half a second) was added to journey that it would've been difficult, if not impossible, to notice anything had happened.

As you can imagine, this scared the hell out of a lot of information technology professionals, as well as members of the federal government (see the report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which describes this major security breach). Who knows how many classified e-mails, IMs and other kinds of external communications may have been copied and subsequently analyzed by the Chinese Government? And we're not just talking the Pentagon or CIA here--this was the entire world. This also means that the same government may now know the password to your bank account, what you wrote to your kids, which porn sites you visited or the secret affair you have with your administrative assistant. Lovely, eh?

Was this internet high-jacking a fluke? A test run for future data collection activities? Or a plan for a complete takeover of the internet sometime in the near future? You might remember that China conducted several cyber attacks on Google accounts last year. They are certainly ready for cyber warfare (as discussed in the piece).

Scared? Yeah, I am... or at least very concerned.

Note: I tried embeding the video, but it did not work. You can see the video here: China's Internet 'Hijacking' Creates Worries for Security Experts

This article was cross-posted at Open Salon.
 

 

Dominique is an Associate Professor in the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University. His research work aims at reducing the negative effects associated with motor vehicle crashes. When he's not developing mathematical and (more...)
 
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