updated 5:10 p.m. 4.Aug.99.PDT
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ISPs Accuse China of Infowar
by Oscar S. Cisneros
12:00 p.m. 30.Jul.99.PDT
Two Canadian ISPs said Friday that their networks were attacked this week by Chinese government crackers with a political agenda.
"The hack attempts I could trace [originated with] Chinese government offices in Beijing," said Eric Weigel, director of Bestnet Internet, a Hamilton, Ontario-based ISP.
Weigel said he suspected that the "denial of service" attack, which ended at 4 a.m. EST Friday, was motivated by his organization's hosting a Web site for a religious group outlawed in China.
See also: Indonesia, Ireland in Info War?
"I know the Chinese government doesn't like the Falundafa Gong religion. They've arrested some people, but I don't know if anybody's been shot."
The Chinese government last week banned the "wheel of law," or Falun Gong, sect, stating that the group corrupted people's minds, disrupted social order, and sabotaged stability. The nation's state-run television network launched a negative media blitz against Falun Gong.
The group, which claims more than 2 million members, advocates meditation and exercise. In April, in a protest at Beijing's Zhongnanhai leadership compound, more than 10,000 Falun Gong members demanded protection for their religion. The government responded by destroying more than a million of the sect's books, tapes, and CDs.
If Weigel's hunch is correct, that fury has now extended into the world of the Internet.
"The Chinese government didn't even phone me up and say, 'Please remove this site,'" Weigel said. "That's pretty rude."
Weigel said he traced the hack attacks back to the Beijing Application Institute for Information Technology and the Information Center of Xin An Beijing.
The attackers used two common techniques to take on Bestnet and Nebula Internet Services, a smaller ISP in the nearby town of Burlington: They attempted to penetrate the ISPs' systems and also to flood their servers with incomplete requests for data -- a technique that overwhelms a Web server such that it is unable to serve up a Web site (in this case, Falun Gong's).
Neither effort was successful at Bestnet, Weigel said. But the denial of service attack did thwart Nebula Internet Services, which hosted Falun Gong's site until last week.
"They didn't have enough bandwidth to handle them, plus they're using a Windows machine," said Weigel. "I couldn't even copy the site using FTP -- they had to physically bring the files on a hard drive."
Nebula's owner, Greg Alexander, said that the attacks started a month ago and coincided with media reports of a government crackdown on the sect.
"The Chinese government has called the Falun Gong an enemy of the state and so we assumed that it's the Chinese government," he said. "They actually swamped our lines for two days -- we were maxed right out."
Alexander also said a US Department of Transportation official contacted him to ask about an attack on a server at the Federal Aviation Administration. The unnamed official told him that the "probe" of the FAA's server originated from one of Nebula's machines. Alexander added that the specific IP address was at the time assigned to Falun Gong.
"We didn't have control of our own IP address," he said.
The Department of Transportation could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon. Alexander speculated that if someone made the attack look as if it originated from Falun Gong's IP address, they did so to make "the US government think that these people are bad people."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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