China's mysterious Internet outage; speculation over a 'kill switch'

China's mysterious Internet outage; speculation over a 'kill switch'

Summary: Temporary blackouts leave China's Internet users unable to access many Chinese Web sites as well as other unblocked foreign sites. Chinese Telecoms deny any network issues.

TOPICS: Browser, Outage, China

At approximately 11am local time yesterday, Internet users around China reported significant Internet blackouts. Not only were they unable to access some Chinese sites, but also many foreign Web sites that had not previously been blocked.

The issue was not isolated to China. Web users in Hong Kong and Japan also reported issues with accessing Chinese sites. A number of explanations immediately came to light, with the most viable cause being the 8.7 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia on Wednesday, that might have damaged undersea cables.

However, reports from China's major telecommunication companies -- China Telecom and Unicom -- suggest that this was not the case. China Telecom confirmed that the earthquake had not interfered with the underwater cables in any way.

Both companies also shot down theories that the outage could have been caused by some sort of blip in the system, with Telecom insisting that there was no issue with their network. As all Chinese Internet traffic passes through the two networks' infrastructure to get overseas, this had seemed like a likely culprit.

With the mystery of what happened  becoming murkier, many have been speculating as to what could have caused the blackout.

It was arguably far too quick to be a response to Anonymous' war rally against China's Great Firewall, which even they admitted will take time to crack.

Others have suggested that the temporary outage might have been a test run of an emergency 'kill switch', in case extreme measures need to be taken in the ongoing crackdown of the Chinese Internet.

According to Tech in Asia, VPNs that had previously allowed Internet users to get around the Great Firewall were down, but that smaller VPN providers seemed to be unscathed. This could suggest a deliberate targeting of such services, but at the moment, we can only speculate.

Admittedly, it does seem as though such a 'kill switch' would be extreme and far-fetched. However, the absence of clearer explanations lends the theory some credibility. China's Ministy of Industry and Information Technology has been silent over the blackout, and so have much of the state-run media.

China Daily, People's Daily and Xinhua, some of China's major news publications are continuing to cover the growing 'rumours' issue, but not the blackout.

It could be relatively insignificant, but as Wall Street Journal's Josh Chin points out, "the episode did illustrate just how jumpy China watchers and China Internet users have become in recent days."

Image source: Kai Hendry/


Topics: Browser, Outage, China

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  • They have to test it out before attacking Taiwan & The Phillipines

    That's when it's going to be needed the most.
  • And you're surprised?

    Totalitarian governments, and totalitarians around the world have been frothing at the mouth to get their hands on an internet kill switch. Presidents Bush AND Obama have repeatedly tried to get one legally, albeit un-Constitutionally; and it seems reasonable to speculate that the Executive Branch has installed one or a close facsimile without our knowledge or permission.
    • Absolutely!

      How many of us would be surprised to learn that the blackout was indeed due to a Chinese government "kill-switch"? Not many. And yet, we are much too naive about the potential of our own government to do the same. The Constitution cannot protect us when those who have vowed to uphold it circumvent it or ignore it altogether -- and get away with it. George Washington succinctly said that "Government is force." The people who gravitate to political power are the same no matter where on earth they are. They are motivated by the desire to control others. That our government is more "free" than China has much more to do with our heritage, culture, and traditions than with the nature of the individuals themselves. We should take a lesson from this and understand that if the Chinese government has the technology to pull the "kill-switch" there, our government also has the technology to do it here.
      sissy sue
  • Only a rumour?

    For goodness' sake - not too much chat about a kill switch please, as our esteemed and highly trusted (!) UK government may get ideas! Oh.....wait - they have already with a ginormous monitoring plan that will cost (us) millions and do absolutely nothing to stop terrorism. Just another way of controlling the net and what people do on it. This is really getting way beyond a joke.
    • Don't worry - its not the same "kill switch" that they normally use

      this one they're talking about here just shuts down the internet in China.
      William Farrel
    • Kill Switch

      DO NOT.... DO NOT... be surprised when it happens in the UK as well as the US when it all goes down. Why do you think Cameron was here sucking up to obummer. Just getting all of THEIR ducks in row.
  • temp spam blackout

    Temporary blackouts leave China???s Internet users unable to access many Chinese Web sites as well as other unblocked foreign sites. Chinese Telecoms deny any network issues.

    Thats why chineese related spam stopped for that period of time. (my webserver gets hounded by chinese ips)
  • Huawei, likely suspect

    Another indication of the Australian wisdom that banned Huawei from involvement in NBN, and Britain's lack of it for allowing Huawei in. The father of the "Great Firewall", Fang Binxing, has close ties to Huawei.
  • Love sugarmommy chinese

    I find a hot place where???=== CougarFlirts???. c 'o 'M ' ===??? you meet sexy and rich OLDER WOMEN. I would say dating a rich cougar is great not only because she is your lover but she would also have that motherly instinct with you as well and be able to comfort you like a younger women may not be able to.Plus there would be no games like their could be with younger women.Also their sexual experience is invaluable in bed trust me and they tend to be secure and set in their lives.Just my opinion but a rich older women is great and that's nothing against younger women. I am dating hot rich cougar on this website:=== ???=== CougarFlirts???. c 'o 'M ' ===???==members on this website are real with photos and details..Well, you do not have to be lonely
  • maybe the North korean "rocket" did hit somehting ?

    It landed in the yellow sea, an area where a cable from china connects it to the global web is probable. The rocket fails then sinks to the bottom of yelow sea and explodes thus destroying a fiber cable.
    • ...For real?

      Unless North Korea have some how developed the -awesomeness- and inexplicable fortune of 'The A-Team' AND learnt how to travel back in time using the failed launch of a rocket....then no. No I don't think it was the rocket.
    • nkorea

      Bakabaka...the nKorea rocket engine and first stage is from the same place used by all of their larger rockets...they are from SCUD missiles made in Russia. They have no guidance control (what rocket scientist call GNC). Effectively, their device was nothing more than an oversized bottle rocket... its failure was most likely due to their second stage (made in nKorea) falling apart. What took nkorea's rocket down was.....nkorean engineering!
  • Do a web search for ZDNet's own article

    About Microsoft sharing source code with China posing a risk...

    (can't post URL for some reason)
  • great

    my classmate's sister-in-law made $15275 a week ago. she is working on the laptop and bought a $420600 condo. All she did was get fortunate and set to work the clues exposed on this web site
  • bunk

    As the author of Cinchrep, an SEO tool, I can tell you that it would be very hard if not impossible for China to turn the internet off with some kind of ominous kill switch because of the number of proxy servers in China. These servers are, in some cases, hard-connect into Russia and India...their server IP addresses change so often it would be nearly impossible for china to find them all.
    • Take out the backbone providers, thus leaving "local" traffic only

      Control the backbone providers and the killswitch becomes a reality.
      Any "hard connection" to an outside country could be viewed as a security risk, allowing for gov. intervention. However, a smart despot would not take said connections out, instead he would monitor them to see what his enemies are doing. Plus the gov. officials need a way out independent of the population. Its the only way there propaganda can be out before the "real" news comes in.

      So again, hard connections will not go down, simply because they are being used by the government. All they have to do is pretend to be against them and the government will always have this method of observation. With this tech they can "herd" everyone to these very servers you talk about, and once there, they would be compleatly open to investigation, and all they have to play is the "defense/security" card.
  • Get Ready For It

    Any doubt that Comrade Obama and his band of totalitarians will do the same to America when he has "more flexibility"?
    William Penn
  • I live in China

    I live here. It was real. for about 2 hours we could not get out.

    No proxy servers No VPN... only Chinese "safe" sites.

    The Gov. doe snot want to 'protect you' they want to control you.

    Wake up folks....The USA does not need any thing like this!
    • "safe sites?"

      Let me guess....local traffic only.....almost like you did not have a backbone provider for your internet hmmmm?
  • Lay this at the feet of...

    ...the Internet's inventor.

    Albert Gore, Jr., sex-crazed poodle, just having a little fun between having his adductors worked and his second chakra released.
    Iambic PentaMaster