Newspaper article International New York Times

Experts Suspect Great Firewall in Crash of Web in China ; Traffic Is Redirected to U.S. Internet Sites during the Breakdown

Newspaper article International New York Times

Experts Suspect Great Firewall in Crash of Web in China ; Traffic Is Redirected to U.S. Internet Sites during the Breakdown

Article excerpt

On Tuesday, China's 500 million Internet users were unable to load websites for eight hours.

The story behind what may have been the biggest Internet failure in history involves an unlikely cast of characters, including a little-known company in a drab brick building in Wyoming and the world's most elite army of Internet censors a continent away in China.

On Tuesday, China's 500 million Internet users were unable to load websites for eight hours. Nearly every Chinese Internet user and Internet company was affected, including major companies like Baidu and Sina.com.

Technology experts say China's own Great Firewall -- that vast collection of censors and snooping technology used to control Internet traffic in and out of China -- was most likely to blame, mistakenly redirecting the country's traffic to several sites normally blocked inside China, some connected to a company based in the Wyoming building.

The Chinese authorities put a premium on control. The censors police access to the Internet to smother any hint of antigovernment sentiment, jail dissidents and journalists, blacklist major websites like Facebook and Twitter, and block access to media outlets for unfavorable coverage of China's leaders. But the strange story of the downtime Tuesday shows that sometimes their efforts can backfire.

The China Internet Network Information Center, a state agency that deals with Internet affairs, said it had traced the problem to the country's domain name system. One of China's biggest antivirus software vendors, Qihoo 360 Technology, said the problems affected about three-quarters of the country's domain-name system servers.

"I have never seen a bigger outage," said Heiko Specht, an Internet analyst at Compuware, a technology company in Detroit.

Those domain-name servers, which act like an Internet switchboard, routed traffic from some of China's most popular sites to an Internet address that, according to records, is registered to Sophidea, a company based, at least on paper, in that Wyoming building, in Cheyenne.

With half the world's Internet traffic flooding Sophidea's Internet address, Mr. Specht said he believed that it would have taken less than a millisecond for the company's servers to crash.

Until last year, Sophidea was based in a brick house on a residential block of Cheyenne. The house, and its former tenant, a business called Wyoming Corporate Services, were the subject of a lengthy article by Reuters in 2011 that found that about 2,000 business entities had been registered to the home. Among them were a company controlled by an imprisoned former prime minister of Ukraine, the owner of a company charged with helping online poker operators evade online gambling bans and an entity that was banned from government contract work after selling counterfeit truck parts to the Pentagon. …

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