A team from the University of Toronto, Canada, claims that China’s use of the “Great Cannon” provides evidence of a “significant escalation in state-level information control.” The university’s Citizen Lab posted a report on its website this Friday, according to Bloomberg Business.
China: From defensive to offensive cyber systems
The researchers claim that the system was used in recent attacks on GitHub Inc. and servers that handle traffic for GreatFire.org. The communist government of China already blocks access to foreign websites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter using a defensive system called the Great Firewall. Authorities are determined to block the flow of information that could damage the government and incite opposition.
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Now it appears that China is moving from simply blocking information to actively disrupting internet traffic outside of its borders. “The Great Cannon is not simply an extension of the Great Firewall, but a distinct attack tool,” said researchers led by Bill Marczak and Nicholas Weaver.
Despite evidence to the contrary, China’s foreign ministry, defense ministry and Internet regulator have all consistently denied that the nation is responsible for carrying out cyber attacks. Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, even told journalists that the country is “one of the major victims” of cyber attacks.
Github: the first victim of the Great Cannon?
Last month, San Francisco-based service Github reported that it had experienced its biggest-ever distributed denial of service attacks. The company puts programmers and tech companies in touch with each other to facilitate the sharing of ideas for software development.
Two Github pages displayed links to sites which are banned in China, and reports have since claimed that this may have made them a target for a cyber attack. An article in the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous cybersecurity experts as saying that the attack may have originated in China, using overseas users of China’s biggest search engine, Baidu, to overwhelm the Github pages.
China is thought to be a major source of cyber attacks around the world, and has been accused of industrial espionage among other offensive cyber initiatives. It is feared that the U.S. and other Western nations simply do not have the capabilities to win a cyber war against China, and upgrading those capabilities has increasingly become a priority.