A technical error by China’s largest telecommunications provider caused web traffic from US government websites to be rerouted through the Asian country, an official US report claims.
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report, obtained by Reuters news agency, says that the incident was caused by state-owned China Telecom sending ‘incorrect routing information’.
Websites affected by the incident, which occurred in April and lasted for 18 minutes, included those operated by the US Senate, space agency NASA, and the Office of the Secretary of Defence.
The Commission’s report does not go so far as to suggest that China Telecom’s actions were deliberate. "Evidence related to this incident does not clearly indicate whether it was perpetrated intentionally and, if so, to what ends," the report reads. "However, computer security researchers have noted that the capability could enable severe malicious activities."
It also claims that 28% of global phishing emails originate from China, some of which have "compelling links to the Chinese government".
China Telecom denies any involvement in the rerouting incident. "The spokesman of China Telecom Corporation Limited denied any hijack of Internet traffic," the company said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
In January of this year, search engine company Google revealed that it and other major US corporations had been the victim of a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" originating from China. The attack exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and is believed to have been aimed at accessing the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.
The combination of that attack and China’s Internet censorship policy led Google to pull out of the country altogether. Several national governments temporarily ceased using the Internet Explorer browser after news of the security breach broke.