China websites suffer breach in suspected attack

Online users in the country were redirected to a webpage operated by a U.S. tech company which clients include The Epoch Times, a newspaper run by the Falun Gong religious group which is outlawed in China.

Several websites in China on Tuesday afternoon were redirected to a blank webpage operated by a U.S. technology company, in what was suspected to be a DNS attack.

Online users in the country were unable to access any website hosted on the mainland or overseas with top-level domains such as ".com", ".net", and ".org", according to a South China Morning Post (SCMP) report, which cited incidents reported by several major ISPs (internet service providers). Web addresses ending in the ".cn" country code were unaffected. 

The problem was resolved within an hour, but continued to affect online users who accessed cached copies of the webpages.

Affected users were redirected to a website operated by Dynamic Internet Technology, a U.S. company that provides a software tool, called Freegate, which allows online users to access websites blocked by their governments, such as China, Syria, and Vietnam. According to the company's website, its clients include The Epoch Times, a newspaper run by the Falun Gong religious group, which is banned in China, as well as Radio Free Asia and Human Rights In China. 

Dynamic Internet Technology's president, Bill Xia, confirmed it owned the web address of the redirected site, but insisted the incident was the result of the Chinese government's online filtering system which backfired. Xia told SCMP: "We noticed a sudden increase of traffic and suspected we were under attack. Our security system has activated a protection mechanism so visitors to the address are not able to see anything."

He suggested a DNS malfunction or operator error might have redirected online users to banned IP addresses such as his company's, pointing to a 2002 incident during which visitors to Sina's website were redirected to Falun Gong's website. "I guess [Beijing's]…DNS hijacking backfired again," Xia said.

IT security vendors suggested the incident could have been a cyberattack, while a local ISP described the scale of it as unprecedented for mainland China. 

According to other local reports, the problem affected root gTLD servers in China which served up to two-third of websites in the country, but did not affected overseas online users. 

The Chinese government just this week mandated that online users register with their real names before they are allowed to upload videos  to local video websites, expanding further controls on the types of content posted online. In 2012, it ordered microbloggers or weibo users to  register their accounts with their real names , and last year extended this requirement to include  prepaid mobile Internet cards and fixed-line phone services

China's online population has  climbed to over 618 million , with almost 250 million accessing the Web to watch or download video content via their smartphones.