A Chinese ISP momentarily hijacks the Internet

Traffic for 10 percent of the Internet, including to the sites of Dell, Apple, Starbucks and CNN, was redirected to China

For the second time in two weeks, bad networking information spreading from China has disrupted the Internet.

On Thursday morning, bad routing data from a small Chinese ISP called IDC China Telecommunication was re-transmitted by China's state-owned China Telecommunications, and then spread around the Internet, affecting Internet service providers such as AT&T, Level3, Deutsche Telekom, Qwest Communications and Telefonica.

"There are a large number of ISPs who accepted these routes all over the world," said Martin A. Brown, technical lead at Internet monitoring firm Renesys.

According to Brown, the incident started just before 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Thursday and lasted about 20 minutes. During that time IDC China Telecommunication transmitted bad routing information for between 32,000 and 37,000 networks, redirecting them to IDC China Telecommunication instead of their rightful owners.

These networks included about 8,000 U.S. networks including those operated by Dell, CNN, Starbucks and Apple. More than 8,500 Chinese networks,1,100 in Australia and 230 owned by France Telecom were also affected.

The bad routes may have simply caused all Internet traffic to these networks to not get through, or they could have been used to redirect traffic to malicious computers in China.

While the incident appears to have been an accident, it underscores the weakness of the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), a critical, but obscure, protocol used to bind the Internet together.

BGP data is used by routers to tell them how to route traffic over the Internet. Typically smaller service providers "announce" BGP routes for the networks they control, and that information is ultimately centralized and then shared between larger providers. That's where the problems started on Thursday. For some reason, IDC China Telecommunication announced routes for tens of thousands of networks -- about 10 percent of the Internet. Typically this small ISP announces about 30 routes.

That bad information was then accepted by the larger China Telecommunications, which shared the data with other major ISPs. Within minutes the bad data had spread around the globe.

ISPs may have accepted the hijacked route information, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a lot of Web surfers got redirected. It's common for routers to learn several BGP routes, and then route traffic to what they consider the best route. Often they choose the shortest route available. So most routers in the U.S. would have routed traffic to Apple's servers, for example, instead of IDC China Telecommunication.

"I don't believe there was really widespread impact, but some people must have noticed it," said Andree Toonk, founder and lead developer of BGPmon.net, a BGP monitoring service that has been tracking the situation. "Many people probably didn't prefer the path because they had a better path."

There may have been more disruptions in Asia, however, where the IDC China Telecommunication route would have seemed shorter, but users were definitely affected, Brown said. "We saw routers in Belgium, Indonesia, Portugal, Thailand and the U.S. -- to name a few -- which were selecting these false routes," he said.

Arbor Networks Chief Security Officer Danny McPherson believes that a large number of users were probably affected, even if only for a short time. Worse, the tens of thousands of bad routes may have just been a cover for a single targeted attack, he said.

IDC China Telecommunication could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Because so many Chinese networks were also disrupted by the incident, security experts believe that it was probably unintentional.

This isn't the first time that bad BGP routes have caused problems on the Internet.

Two weeks ago a bad BGP route from China leaked out and redirected some Chilean Internet traffic to a root DNS (Domain Name System) server in China. And two years ago, bad BGP routing information from Pakistan caused YouTube to temporarily disappear from the Internet.

Speaking about Thursday's incident, OpenDNS CEO David Ulevitch said, "It's not clear whether it's deliberate, but it's serious."

"These things highlight just how fragile BGP is," he added.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags ChinaISP

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments


Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >


Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >


Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >


Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?