Information Warfare: Another Chinese Defeat

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January 26, 2014: For over a decade China has been at war with a banned Chinese religious group (Falungong) and has been losing. The latest defeat occurred on January 21st when millions of Chinese Internet users were redirected to a site connected with banned (and persecuted) religious group Falungong. There users were shown how they could easily get around the heavy Chinese government censorship of the Internet. It was believed this is yet another Falungong hack, something the government vehemently denied. But as far back as 2002 China has had problems with Falungong hacking. Back then cable TV signals were hijacked and then in June Falungong hijacked satellite TV signals and replaced government programming with Falungong material. Since then Falungong has been a major problem for the Internet censorship bureaucracy. The latest stunt involved exploiting flaws in the Great Firewall (the nickname for the Chinese Internet censorship system) and DNS (Domain Name Server) system that controls all Internet traffic.

China does not like to admit that they are being hacked by a bunch of persecuted religious enthusiasts. Instead China blames the United States. There is some truth to that, as back in 2010 the U.S. government donated $1.5 million to an Internet freedom group GIFC (Global Internet Freedom Consortium), whose main function is producing software that enables Chinese Internet users to get around Chinese government censoring software. GIFC is one of several similar groups. But what really got the Chinese steamed and angry at the United States is that GIFC is supported and heavily staffed by members of Falungong.

The Chinese government sees religion as a constant threat. While Chinese are free to worship anyway they want, the government picks religious leaders, and imposes discipline. Thus the ongoing war against Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism. Both of these religions refuse to accept government control and are persecuted for it. But the persecution has not wiped out these two movements and this government officials know this sets a dangerous example for other Chinese. Throughout Chinese history, governments have been overthrown by religious movements that harnessed and directed mass discontent. Falungong has used hacking and Internet based efforts to embarrass the government and keeps getting away with it in a very visible way.

Falungong has actually eased back on the high profile hacks. Despite that they still get into the news. The most famous incident of this occurred in 2011 when a Chinese state-owned TV network broadcast a documentary on hacking. It seemed to be the usual government-approved drivel, except for one six second bit that showed a screen shot of a program that was apparently designed to control attacks on other websites. In this case, it was a Falungong website. By 2011 the Chinese government had been at war with Falungong for twelve years, but has never admitted to making attacks via the Internet. This video clip, showing some software that was several years old, said otherwise. Apparently while the hacking show was being put together, some classified video clips of Chinese Cyber War operations got mixed in with all the other “hacking” stuff available. It looked cool, so the director (probably unemployed by the time the broadcast ended) just stuck it in there.

China has consistently denied that it is engaging in offensive Cyber War, but the evidence that they are doing it just keeps building up. These six seconds of video is just another bit of it. Falungong fights back, despite regular government announcements that Falungong has been crushed and is no longer a threat.

 

 


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