HONG KONG — The Chinese government has long used a sophisticated set of Internet filters known as the Great Firewall as a barrier to prevent its citizens from obtaining access to foreign websites with information it deems threatening.
But in a recent series of attacks on websites that try to help Internet users in China circumvent this censorship, the Great Firewall appears to have been used instead as a weapon, diverting a portion of the torrents of Internet traffic that flow through it to overload targeted websites.
In doing so, the Chinese government is taking advantage of and damaging one of China’s own Internet companies: Baidu. The attacks appear to hijack ad and analytics traffic intended for Baidu, China’s largest search company, and then send that traffic to smaller websites in what is known as a distributed denial of service or DDoS attack. The huge flow of traffic has the effect of crashing the sites.
The aggressive new strategy shows vividly how Beijing is struggling to balance its desire to control the flow of information online with the aim of encouraging the growth of its tech sector.