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Mon, Jan 19, 2015

Outlook grim - Chinese authorities attack Microsoft

On January 17, we received reports that Microsoft’s email system, Outlook (which was merged with Hotmail in 2013), was subjected to a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack in China.

The following screenshot shows what happens when a Chinese user accesses Outlook via an email client (in this case, Ice-dove):

We have tested Outlook to verify the attack and have produced the same results. IMAP and SMTP for Outlook were under a MITM attack. Do note however that the web interfaces (https://outlook.com and https://login.live.com/ ) were not affected. The attack lasted for about a day and has now ceased.

This form of attack is especially devious because the warning messages users receive from their email clients are much less noticeable than the warning messages delivered to modern browsers (see screenshot at the end of this post for comparison).

(Sample error message from default iPhone mail client)

Fri, Jan 09, 2015

GFW upgrade fail - visitors to blocked sites redirected to porn

In the past, the Chinese authorities’ DNS poisoning system would direct Chinese internet users who were trying to access Facebook, Twitter and other blocked websites (without the use of a circumvention tool) to a set of fake IP addresses that are blocked in China or are non-existent. After waiting for some time, Chinese internet users would receive a timeout message if they were trying to access a blocked site.

However, with the new DNS poisoning system, in addition to those IP addresses used before, the Chinese authorities are using real IP addresses that actually host websites and are accessible in China. For example, https://support.dnspod.cn/Tools/tools/ shows that if a user tries to access Facebook from China, they might instead land on a random web page, e.g. http://178.62.75.99

Below is a screenshot by a Chinese user when he was trying to access our GreatFire.org website which was blocked in China. He was redirected to a goverment site in Korea. In essense, GFW is sending Chinese users to DDOS the Korea government's website.

One Chinese Internet user reported to us that when he tried to access Facebook in China, he was sent to a Russian website, unrelated to Facebook. Another user tweeted that he was redirected to an German adult site when he tried to access a website for a VPN.

某墙你这什么意思,DNS 污染返回给我一个德国工口站的 IP,满屏很黄很暴力弹弹弹(

— nil (@xierch) January 4, 2015

Wed, Dec 31, 2014

CNNIC leadership change coincides with blocking of Gmail

On December 26, 2014, in an announcement posted on their website, a new chairperson for CNNIC was directly appointed by the Cyberspace Administration of China. The announcement of this appointment coincided with the complete blocking of Gmail.

Cyberspace Administration of China (中央网信办) is chaired by Lu Wei, “China’s web doorkeeper”. Lu Wei is also the vice chair of the Central Propaganda Department, according to his official resume.

chair.png

This office is directly responsible for the blocking of Gmail and other websites including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

CNNIC is China’s certification authority and operates the country’s domain name registry. 

What are certificates used for?

Certificates are used primarily to verify the identity of a person or device, authenticate a service, or encrypt files. 

What is a certification authority (CA)?  

Tue, Dec 30, 2014

Gmail completely blocked in China

All Google products in China have been severely disrupted since June of this year and Chinese users have not been able to access Gmail via its web interface since the summer. However, email protocols such as IMAP, SMTP and POP3 had been accessible but are not anymore. These protocols are used in the default email app on iPhone, Microsoft Outlook on PC and many more email clients.

On December 26, GFW started to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail. These IP addresses are used by IMAP/SMTP/POP3. Chinese users now have no way of accessing Gmail behind the GFW. Before, they could still send or receive emails via email clients even though Gmail's web interface was not accessible. 

Google's own traffic chart shows a sharp decline of Chinese traffic to Gmail. 

Below is a ping request to the Gmail SMTP server, which is completely inaccessible in China.

 

Mon, Nov 24, 2014

GreatFire.org unblocks BBC Chinese

We are delighted to announce that GreatFire.org is now delivering uncensored, Chinese-language information from the BBC to Chinese netizens behind the great firewall.

The BBC’s Chinese language news website was blocked in China shortly after its launch. Users in China have been able to access content using VPNs. The BBC has also recommended the Psiphon app as a circumvention tool.

The Greatfire.org initiative, with the BBC’s support, makes the content available to users who just want the content to work, without needing special tools.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 14.14.11.png

This initiative coincides with the run up to the local elections in Taiwan. This gives Chinese netizens a rare opportunity to glimpse how their cross straits cousins elect local officials in a transparent and open democratic process.

Tue, Nov 18, 2014

HSBC corporate banking blocked in China; in and outbound finance impacted

The censorship authorities in China have blocked access to HSBC’s corporate banking portal, HSBCnet, casting a large shadow over the the ability for both foreign and domestic companies to conduct day-to-day business inside the country.

What happened?

On October 23, 2014 users started to report that they had trouble accessing the online corporate banking service at global behemoth HSBC.

The bank itself was forced to add a note on its website acknowledging a problem:

Important Message: Customers logging in from China

Dear HSBCnet User

China just blocked thousands of websites

The Chinese censorship authorities have DNS poisoned *edgecastcdn.net, which means all subdomains of edgecastcdn.net are blocked in China. EdgeCast is one of the largest Content Delivery Networks (CDN) in the world and provides its cloud services to thousands of websites and apps in China.

We have acknowledged all along that our method of unblocking websites using “collateral freedom” hinges on the gamble that the Chinese authorities will not block access to global CDNs because they understand the value of China being integrated with the global internet. However, we can now reveal publicly that the authorities are doing just that - attempting to cut China off from the global internet.

We have seen instances of “collateral damage” due to “collateral freedom” over the past few days and have received emails from some smaller website owners wondering why their non-sensitive sites are being blocked by the great firewall.

What's going on?

The disruption to EdgeCast’s service was noted by the company on their website on November 14, 2014, although we noticed a problem on November 12 and the first poisoning on the 13th. The company's status update still appears on their site:

Tue, Oct 28, 2014

Apple and Microsoft trust Chinese government to protect your communication

Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple continue to trust CNNIC, putting user data at risk everywhere.

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