Wen Yuqing | Radio Free Asia
Reuters’ news website was apparently blocked in China on Friday, a day after a massive cyberattack hit an overseas-based anti-censorship site targeting the country’s “Great Firewall” of blocks, filters and human monitoring.
The company’s news content was inaccessible starting late on Thursday in both English and Chinese, although dedicated financial news and data feeds to Chinese clients continued, it said in a news item about the stoppage.
The news websites of Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are all already blocked by the Great Firewall, which limits what the average Chinese Internet user can see online.
“Reuters is committed to practicing fair and accurate journalism worldwide,” the news service quoted its own spokeswoman as saying. “We recognize the great importance of news about China to all our customers, and we hope that our sites will be restored in China soon.”
An Internet user who frequently circumvents Chinese web censorship to browse overseas websites, and who asked to be identified by a nickname, Xiao Biao, said he was unable to load the Reuters new site or those of the other media organizations on Friday.
He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party fears the consequences if its entire population has access to a variety of different opinions.
“The pages won’t load…and they keep refreshing constantly, so that it’s impossible to see any content at all,” he said while trying to view Reuters’ Chinese-language news site.
“Now it is saying that there is no response from the server, and that it is unable to load the page.”
He added: “I was able to load The Wall Street Journal’s Chinese-language website, however.”
Threatened by media reports
According to Xiao Biao, the government feels threatened by any media reports not strictly controlled by the state.
“In order to rule, they shut off a diversity of voices so as to keep the population in ignorance of news and views from outside China,” he said.
A Shanghai-based netizen surnamed Shi said she frequently tries to access overseas news sites, but is forced to give up.
“Every time I try to read the CNN website, it takes a very long time to open the page, which makes me lose patience,” she said.
“CNN’s video keeps buffering the whole time so you really can’t watch them,” Shi said. “That’s why I don’t visit it anymore.”
Guangdong-based netizen Jia Pin said China-based web users who want to read overseas news sites need to set up circumvention tools on their computer.
“You have to go over the wall to see sites like that,” Jia said, in a reference to the Great Firewall.
The blockage of Reuters’ sites came a day after overseas-based anti-censorship site GreatFire.org announced it had been flooded with a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.
“This tactic is used to bring down web pages by flooding them with lots of requests—at the time of writing they number 2.6 billion requests per hour,” the group said in a statement on its official blog on Thursday.
“This kind of attack is aggressive and is an exhibition of censorship by brute force,” it said, adding that the attack had sent its bills with service provider Amazon up to some U.S. $30,000 per day.
The attack, which began Mar. 17, came after Chinese Internet officials expressed annoyance over the group’s activities, calling it “an anti-China website set up by an overseas anti-China organization.”
The group has used a mirror-website technique to “liberate” several blocked news websites and make them accessible to visitors from China, it said.
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia, another frequent user of circumvention techniques, said no sooner do users find a way to “climb the wall,” than the authorities find a way to target them with further blocking techniques.
“The bad guys get an upgrade, and then the good guys get an upgrade as well,” Hu said. “It’s a constant process…of escalation, of cat and mouse.”
He said it was unclear exactly what technique is being used to block the Reuters site.
“They are probably blocking Reuters for a while in retaliation for a recent piece of reporting they did,” Hu said.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Great Firewall has got an upgrade or that VPNs or other circumvention tools won’t work anymore.”
Accusations of Cyberattacks
China and the United States have repeatedly traded accusations of cyberattacks.
In particular, China has denied claims that its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cyberspace unit in Shanghai was behind a series of hacker attacks on U.S. corporate networks in recent years.
On Friday, the country’s defense ministry denied fresh allegations in London’s Financial Times that the PLA’s secretive Unit 61398 had attacked Register.com.
“The relevant criticism that China’s military participated in Internet hacking is to play the same old tune and is totally baseless,” the ministry said in a fax to Reuters.
“The Chinese government has all along resolutely opposed and dealt with in accordance with the law Internet hacking and other relevant criminal activities, and the Chinese military has never been involved in or participated in any activities to steal commercial secrets online,” it added.
In 2014, China recorded 4,761 IP addresses in the United States that had taken control of 5,580 Chinese websites through backdoor programs, allowing remote access to a computer, official media reported.
The defense ministry statement called on the U.S. to “give a clear explanation” of the findings.
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