China Denies Web Hijacking Claim

Diversion underscores growing number of attacks on vulnerable U.S. networks.
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Pedestrians walk past a China Telecom branch office building in Xinjiang, Nov. 18, 2010.
Pedestrians walk past a China Telecom branch office building in Xinjiang, Nov. 18, 2010.

State-owned telecommunications provider China Telecom has denied claims in a U.S.-commissioned security report that its servers rerouted U.S. Internet traffic for a brief period last year.

According to the report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional panel, the rerouting began at a smaller Chinese Internet service provider called IDC China Telecommunication before being propagated by China Telecom.

"China Telecom has never done such an act," senior information officer Wang Yongzhen told reporters in a statement.

The report alleged that traffic from websites including that of the U.S. military were hijacked and routed through its servers for 18 minutes on April 8.

It said the U.S. government should formally investigate the "volume and seriousness of exploitations and attacks" aimed at its sensitive military and diplomatic information.

Wang said China Telecom has always abided by and strictly followed relevant international regulations and standards for Internet operations.

"These reports by foreign media are completely groundless," his statement said.

Addresses compromised?

The report said that around 15 percent of global Internet traffic was routed through Chinese servers during the brief period, making the Internet addresses of anyone sending e-mail during that time visible to anyone observing.

Such data would be crucial to the design of a cyberattack virus like the Stuxnet worm, which was an apparent high-level attempt by a government to disable Iran's nuclear program.

Wang was speaking on behalf of the Hong Kong-listed arm of China Telecom, one of the country's major telecommunications operators.

However, neither its state-controlled parent company nor foreign ministry officials have commented so far.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman declined comment when asked about the charge at a regular press briefing.

More attacks likely

According to Web security company McAfee, the world will likely see a rise in cyberattacks with political objectives, with China reputedly a leading player in online assaults on foreign networks.

It named as potential targets the White House, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, and Department of Defense.

Former U.S. intelligence chief Michael McConnell told lawmakers in February that the United States would lose a cyberwar if it fought one today, because the United States is failing to effectively mitigate the risk.

Internet giant Google said earlier this year that it had become the target of a series of sophisticated assaults on its networks which it had traced to China.

The attacks were followed by Google's exit from China-hosted search engine services, with users redirected to the company's Hong Kong search page instead.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie





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