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Is Big Brother Watching?

November 16, 2010

Well maybe not Big Brother of Orwellian fame but it seems in April this year, China decided to have a peek at what’s going on in the world. For 18 minutes, China’s state-controlled telecommunications company managed to hijack 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic, including data from U.S. military, civilian organizations and those of other U.S. allies, including Australia and Japan. The scary part is, noone noticed.

How is this possible? Well apparently the telephone giants of the world work on a system based on trust, somewhat ironic really. Machine-to-machine interfaces send out messages to the Internet informing other service providers that they are the fastest and most efficient way for data packets to travel. For 18 minutes April 8, China Telecom Corp. told many ISPs of the world that its routes were the best paths to send traffic.

That’s OK, the important data would have been encrypted, right? Well… Internet encryption depends on two keys. One key is private and not shared, and the other is public, and is embedded in most computer operating systems. Unknown to most computer users, Microsoft, Apple and other software makers embed the public certificates in their operating systems. They also trust that this system won’t be abused.

Among the certificates is one from the China Internet Information Center, an arm of the China’s Ministry of Information and Industry.

No one outside of China can say what they did with the data or even why they did it. Did they decrypt and analyse or simply see whether it could be done?

McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated Internet security company, as briefed U.S. government officials on the incident, but they were not alarmed.

The best part is, according to McAfee, “It can happen again. They can do it tomorrow or they can do it in an hour. And the same problem will occur again.”

For more details, see

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