China Appears to Attack GitHub by Diverting Web Traffic

30 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

An onslaught of internet traffic paralyses US coding website.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the ongoing cyber assault directed massive volumes of traffic from China’s popular Baidu search engine to GitHub, paralyzing GitHub’s website in what appears to be an attempt to shut down anti-censorship tools. HONG KONG — The Chinese government has long used a sophisticated set of Internet filters known as the Great Firewall as a barrier to prevent its citizens from obtaining access to foreign websites with information it deems threatening.Online code repository GitHub continues to face a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Monday, which the company reported is the largest attack in GitHub.com’s history.As a cyber attack on GitHub enters its fourth day, the company said the nature of the threat “has evolved” and that the coding site is continuing its battle to counter the threat.

Citing unnamed security experts, the Journal said traffic was directed specifically to two GitHub pages with links to websites that are banned in China—one from Greatfire.org that helps users circumvent government censorship, the other the New York Times’ Chinese-language site. The attack began on Thursday and still continues, according to GitHub’s status page and Twitter accounts, though the company says now that all its systems are reporting at 100%. The attack on San Francisco-based GitHub, a service used by programmers and major tech firms worldwide to develop software, appears to underscore how China’s internet censors increasingly reach outside the country to clamp down on content they find objectionable.

As of press time, Greatfire’s website was reporting a connection error; the company has asked Twitter users to send samples of the code behind the attack. The attacks appear to hijack ad and analytics traffic intended for Baidu, China’s largest search company, and then send that traffic to smaller websites in what is known as a distributed denial of service or DDoS attack. In a blog post from last week, GitHub said there were a number of vectors being used in this attack, including some new and sophisticated techniques that involved using the web browsers of unsuspecting users to flood the GitHub site with traffic. Then, in a tweet this morning from the GitHub status account, the company said: While GitHub has not gone down, its status page indicates that the response time of the site has started to slow over the past six hours. The aggressive new strategy shows vividly how Beijing is struggling to balance its desire to control the flow of information online with the aim of encouraging the growth of its tech sector.

Specifically, security experts report that the attackers were redirecting search traffic from overseas users of the Chinese search engine Baidu, and were targeting two pages in particular. A bit closer to home, Rutgers University in New Jersey said it is also battling a DDoS attack, which possibly originated in Ukraine, NBC New York reported. Because GitHub is fully encrypted, China’s domestic web filters cannot distinguish between pages that host code useful to programmers and code that circumvents censorship. In 2013, when the government fully blocked GitHub, it caused an outcry among China’s many computer engineers, leading to the site’s subsequent unblocking.

While GitHub didn’t confirm which pages were under attack, it did say in its blog post that: “based on reports we’ve received, we believe the intent of this attack is to convince us to remove a specific class of content.” Baidu, meanwhile, has denied that its systems have been compromised and denied involvement in the attack. “After careful inspection by Baidu’s security engineers, we have ruled out the possibility of security problems or hacker attacks on our own products,” a statement provided by the company offered. Security experts told The WSJ that the attack appeared to be linked to Chinese authorities because the hackers were able to manipulate the traffic at a high level of China’s internet infrastructure, meaning it had to come from someone who had the ability to tamper with all the traffic coming into the country. In particular, because the traffic comes from real users scattered across the globe, instead of a concentrated network of infected computers, it is hard to sort the real traffic from the fake. Though experts said they could not be certain who was behind the attacks, the fact that traffic is being diverted at the gateway between China and the greater Internet points to the government. In a statement, Kaiser Kuo, a Baidu spokesman, said the company found no security breaches and was working with other organizations to get to the bottom of the attack.

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