A new report released this month by Citizen Lab explains how China has been using an aggressive tool to block even more websites from being viewed in the country. For years China has attempted to control the internet and deny its citizens access to the internet and access to particular content online.
Distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks have been launched against sites such as GitHub.org, and GreatFire.org which has tried to replicate some of the sites already blocked by Chinese censors. Citizen Lab has named the new censoring tool the ‘Great Cannon’ which is separate but co-ordinated with the Great Firewall of China. The Great Firewall, also known as the Golden Shield Project, is a large and widespread censoring and surveillance project which began operation in 2003. The Great Firewall’s aim is to create a huge online database and surveillance network which encompasses credit records, ID details, internet surveillance, speech recognition and CCTV, and which has now branched out to include new DDOS attacks.
The Great Cannon uses man-in-the-middle techniques to hijack traffic to or from an individual IP address, and can replace unencrypted content. The attack on programming site GitHub earlier this year lasted for several days and resulted in large amounts of ‘bad traffic’ being redirected towards its servers through altered scripts distributed by the Chinese search engine Baidu. Greatfire.org tracks and comments on the Great Firewall’s activities as well as helping Chinese users around the censorship, and also received a large attack this March. China’s Great Cannon targeted malicious code at internet users around the world in order to launch cyber attacks on the site.
It seems that China does not wish to try to keep the new and worrying Great Cannon censoring tool a secret, maybe in part to send a message to the rest of the world. China has decided to use this weapon to attack computers and servers outside the country in order to try to force cooperation with its government’s policies. These types of attacks use the devices and networks of foreign citizens in an unauthorised way which contravenes many domestic laws and has created worry and confusion across the world.
The Great Cannon has the ability to target and attack websites and servers, so it may too have the ability to insert malware into the computers of people which are unwittingly communicating with Chinese servers. The US’s formerly secret NSA program QUANTUM also has this capability, but the US had tried to hide their own weapon whereas China seems to want to let the world know what it can do.
While the world is in disapproval of the Great Firewall’s techniques of blocking sites from Chinese citizens such as news sites that appear critical of China, sites about the Dalai Llama, anything deemed as obscenity and most blogging sites, that China is now looking to force its censorship policy on other countries and parts of the internet currently out of its control.
A number of operations have been set up in order to try to find out more about the Great Firewall of China, most notably GitHub’s Mongol project which detects routers that block connections going out of China. Google have also been called upon to release information collected as part of their systems in China that detected which external websites were accessible from inside the country.
It is unclear what new tools China may bring into its Great Firewall of China arsenal, nor what attack the Great Cannon may be used for next. However, further action including foreign citizens will surely be condemned.