Google unblocked again - was it a mistake or a test?

The DNS poisoning that was imposed on most Google websites yesterday appears to have been lifted. The blocking was likely reversed some time this morning. Due to the nature of DNS there is a delay before this trickles down to every ISP and every computer so if you still cannot access Google in China it's likely just a question of time. You can also try to flush your DNS cache and it should work again.

Even though the blocking of Google Search may only have lasted for 12 hours or so, it was likely the single one decision by the Great Firewall authorities affecting the most users ever. So what really happened? Here are some theories:

1. Was it a mistake?

The blocking of the worlds number one (and Chinas number two) search engine took place on a Friday night. It's possible that someone simply pressed the wrong button and accidentally DNS poisoned the wrong website. Perhaps they only meant to block mail.google.com. If it was a mistake, that would explain why it was seemingly reversed this morning. In that case, at least one employee of the Golden Shield Project must have lost their job today. However, there's one reason to believe this is not the case. The authorities didn't just block access to google.com or all subdomains that belong to it (such as mail.google.com, play.google.com, maps.google.com etc). They also DNS poisoned google.com.hk and google-analytics.com. This can't be done by accidentally hitting one button - you have to launch three separate actions. So if it wasn't a mistake, what could have happened?

2. Were the authorities testing the public opinion?

We've argued before that the authorites have stayed away from blocking access to GMail only because they are afraid of the reaction if they would cut it off completely. However, they have taken actions to make it slow and unstable. In March, 2011, it seemed like they were going to block GMail but then they backed down. Could it be that this quick decision to reverse the blocking of Google was a similar test of the publics reaction? You can read comments by Sina Weibo users here. Clearly people were unhappy to find their access to Google, GMail etc cut off. Many blamed the ongoing Party Congress. Perhaps the authorities read these reactions and decided that people were too upset?

Interestingly, Sina Weibo did not block searches for Google. Neither have they, as it appears, deleted any messages referring to Google recently. Perhaps this was deliberate, if they wanted to measure the reactions. Perhaps they will now evaluate how strongly people feel about having access to Google, and reach a conclusion of whether to permantently block it in the future.

3. Were the authorities testing the "block Google" button?

Another possibility is that this was a test of a new "block Google" button. The authorities may want to know that, if they so wish, they can easily order the blocking of all Google services in China. If this was indeed such a test, the timing seems convenient (Friday night, when international businesses are closed).

Anyhow, what's the situation now?

Whatever you make of the last 24 hours, it seems we're now back to where we started. That is, Google isn't universally blocked, but many individual Google services are censored, fully or from time to time. In particular, access to GMail is shaky, probably because one or more of it's IP addresses are blocked.

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Fri, Mar 27, 2015

CNNIC censored Google and Mozilla’s posts about CNNIC CA

This week, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains, the root CA of which is CNNIC. Google and Mozilla both publicly disclosed this security incident and published blog posts(Google, Mozilla). However, Chinese translations of Google’s and Mozilla's blog posts were censored on the Chinese Internet.

  • William Long is a prominent Chinese blogger on IT and tech. He translated Google’s security post without adding any personal opinions. The Chinese blogpost ranked #1 when searching CNNIC MITM in Chinese on Google and Baidu. He tweeted that he received a phone call from propaganda department demanding the post to be removed immediately. The post http://www.williamlong.info/archives/4183.html was deleted. Google cache is still available.

Wed, Mar 25, 2015

Evidence shows CNNIC and CAC behind MITM attacks

Since 2013, we have repeatedly called on major software vendors to revoke CNNIC-issued certificates. Most notably, we raised this issue when we reported on the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on Google, Microsoft’s Outlook, Apple, Yahoo and Github. Mainstream media have reported about these security vulnerabilities before and on March 24, Ars Technica reported on Google’s announcement that they have definitive evidence that CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) was behind a new MITM attack on Google.

From our October, 2014 blog post:

Thu, Mar 19, 2015

We are under attack

We are under attack and we need help.

Likely in response to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), we’ve experienced our first ever 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. Websites are not equipped to handle that kind of volume so they usually “break” and go offline.

This kind of attack is aggressive and is an exhibition of censorship by brute force. Attackers resort to tactics like this when they are left with no other options.

We are not equipped to handle a DDoS attack of this magnitude and we need help. Some background:

  • The attack started on March 17 and we are receiving up to 2.6 billion requests per hour which is about 2500 times more than normal levels.

Thu, Mar 12, 2015

Collateral Freedom and the not-so-Great Firewall

Recognizing that the authorities have been hesitant to crackdown on our method of circumvention, we have accelerated our expansion of the development of collateral freedom, in three key areas.

Mon, Jan 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Lu Wei and the Cyberspace Administration of China

January 26, 2015

Beijing, China

 

Mr. Lu Wei

Director of the Cyberspace Administration of the People’s Republic of China 中央网络安全和信息化领导小组办公室主任

Director of the State Internet Information Office 国家互联网信息办公室主任

Deputy Director of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party 中共中央宣传部副部长

Cyberspace Administration of China,

Floor 1, Building 1,

Software Park, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

4 South 4th Street, Zhongguancun,

Beijing, China, 100190

 

Dear Mr. Lu,

On January 22, 2015, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is under your direct control, wrote a response to a story we published about an MITM attack on Microsoft. In the post, your colleague, Jiang Jun, labelled our accusations as "groundless" and  "unsupported speculation, a pure slanderous act by overseas anti-China forces".

We at GreatFire.org take great offense to these comments and we will refute them in this letter.

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Comments

There could of course be another option: your initial report was wrong.

The initial report was, indeed, 100% correct. When i lost all access to Google HK and Gmail last night, I went straight to Google UK and searched for any lastest info. This site was the only one to supply any news, and furthermore, I was amazed at how quickly such a detailed account of the situation had been provided. I have bookemarked this site; it will be extremely useful to me in my future life in China. Thanks, Greatfire Org, for quickly advising us 'just how it is', in a clear and simple way. :)

@Fons Tuinstra, Please notice that even Google ackonwledges this block, refer to its transparency report. https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/traffic/?r=CN&l=EVERYTHING&csd...

Well, Google Docs is STILL blocked in Ningbo, China, as of November 12. Incredibly annoying as I use it as a teaching tool.

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