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China's Great Cannon

| By: Dan McDevitt

China has unleashed a new Internet weapon dubbed the "Great Cannon."

China’s Great Cannon

Taking a step beyond censoring online content, China has unleashed a new Internet weapon dubbed the “Great Cannon” capable of sustained, large-scale distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. When deployed, the Great Cannon can hijack and redirect millions of unassuming Internet users’ traffic to assail websites, as observed recently with the five-day DDoS attacks on Open Technology Fund (OTF)-supported GreatFire.org and the open-source coding site GitHub, a new Citizen Lab report finds.

Current OTF Information Controls Fellow Bill Marczak was a lead author of the report, which provides a detailed taxonomy of the recent attacks. Visitors to websites containing popular Chinese search engine Baidu’s analytics code were unknowingly enlisted to attack GreatFire.org and GitHub when they were purposefully sent malicious code.

Citizen Lab’s report identifies the Chinese government as the perpetrator of the “man-in-the-middle” style attacks, noting that the Great Cannon appears to work in tandem with China’s “Great Firewall” – the term used to describe China’s elaborate and effective Internet censorship system.

China has long been among the most egregious state Internet censors, employing its Great Firewall to block Chinese netizens from accessing the free and open Internet. But the Great Cannon signifies a marked shift in China’s Internet censorship efforts from maintaining a defensive barrier to mounting an aggressive offense: “The operational deployment of the Great Cannon represents a significant escalation in state-level information control: the normalization of widespread use of an attack tool to enforce censorship by weaponizing users.”

Read the full Citizen Lab report.

Coverage from New York Times, Washington Post, Ars Technica, Motherboard, Foreign Policy, and Wired.