If you were attempting to access any Web site with a .cn domain extension over the weekend, you were probably unable to do so. Beginning Sunday morning and continuing into Monday, China's official domain extension came under a distributed denial-of-service attack, causing many Chinese Web sites to become impossible to reach.
The DDoS attack was so significant that it seems to have been the largest one ever recorded and at this writing was only partially fixed. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, which manages the .cn country domain, an attack occurred at 2 a.m. Sunday and then again at 4 a.m.
Largest Attack In History
China has not experienced a larger attack against its domain extension, according to the center that manages it. Although the attack could easily have been related to political tension and issues regarding Internet censorship, a definitive motivation has yet to be determined.
Millions of Internet users in China and abroad have been affected by the outage, and the Chinese government has apologized. These types of distributed denial-of-service attacks do not actually involve any sort of hacking into the target, instead working by overwhelming a network and causing it to become slow or completely inactive. Often they do enlist an army of unwitting accomplices, or bots, which are computers that can be controlled remotely via malware.
Hacker groups such as Anonymous have made these types of readily available attacks popular since they require just a small group of relatively inexperienced people to carry them out. A crackdown on political commentators from the Chinese government has caused a surge in botnet and trojan attacks, according to official statistics. Many of these attacks have been coming from other Asian countries as well as from the United States.
Result of Censorship?
The most obvious explanation as to why such a large attack would be carried out against China is that it is in response to China's Internet censorship. When talking with the media, CloudFlare's Chief Executive Matthew Prince noted a 32 percent traffic drop during the outage and said the attack could have been carried out by just one person.
Some are pointing to the trial of Bo Xilai as a potential instigator for the attack against China's domain services. The trial against the former Communist Party leader has brought to light details regarding the man's lifestyle and corruption which has angered Chinese citizens.
A rise in attacks originating from the United States has been tied to allegations which have named the Chinese government as promoting and sponsoring attacks against American Web sites and services. This denial-of-service attack could easily have been a retaliation for the thousands of potential attacks originating in China that U.S. sites deal with every day.
China has been taking steps to secure its network from botnets and trojans but most analysts agree that a denial-of-service attack is simply too difficult to prevent altogether.