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Chinese interference with Web traffic examined in U.S. government report

November 18, 2010 | 10:31 am

A string of incidents involving rerouted Internet data and overreaching firewalls stemming from China could have “a number of serious implications,” according to an annual report on the U.S. relationship with China.

The 12-member United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its report to Congress that while researchers couldn’t conclude “whether the actions were intentional,” they warned that future episodes “could possibly be used for malicious purposes.”

The report referred to two incidents last spring, including one when as much as 15% of the international Web traffic was rerouted for several minutes through small Internet service provider IDC China Telecommunication.

In pages 241 through 244 of the massive report, the commission details how data from U.S. government and military networks were temporarily hijacked and forced through Chinese computer servers.

Information from the Senate, the Department of Commerce, the Army, NASA, and companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft was affected.

A similar incident occurred over several days starting March 24, demonstrating that “China has the ability to substantially manipulate data flows on the Internet,” according to the report.

At the time, the Chinese Internet censorship system –- known as “the Great Firewall" -– kept Chilean and American users from accessing Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other social networking sites often blocked within Chinese borders.

Instead, users were redirected to incorrect or nonexistent servers, illustrating the “ripple effects … from China’s elaborate censorship activities,” the report said.

Though Chinese officials said the reroutings were accidents, the report speculated that similar incidents could result in secret surveillance on specific users or sites or even be used as a shield to conceal targeted attacks.

Beijing-based China Telecom Corp. denied it hijacked Internet traffic in an e-mail to Bloomberg.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

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