On Friday morning, news reports surfaced that China had acquired an Internet cannon. And … wait: What is this about China having an Internet cannon?
If you feel terrifyingly out of the loop, take a deep breath and read the following to learn more about what an Internet cannon is and what it can do.
What is an Internet cannon?
More commonly known in the hacker community as a Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC or WebLOIC), an Internet cannon is a type of computer program used to force traffic overloads (or denial-of-service) onto targeted websites. It uses the Internet to blast out cyberattacks. It’s not a literal cannon.
So even though you read “Internet cannon” and were probably imagining something like this:
it actually looks more like this:
Why does China have one?
A new report and analysis claims that China is using what is being termed the “Great Cannon,” ostensibly a type of LOIC, to force an overflow of Web traffic and malicious code onto sites its government wishes to squash in the name of censorship. (If a website is overwhelmed by traffic, real or manufactured, no one will be able to visit it.) The new cybertool is being used in conjunction with its “Great Firewall,” which already blocks access to sites like Facebook and Twitter on Chinese networks.
Denial-of-service attacks on two GitHub project pages last month are now being credited to China’s Great Cannon. The GitHub pages were hosting Chinese censorship circumvention projects run by the anonymous, presumably Chinese activist site GreatFire.org.
Jeesh. That sounds terrible. What kind of country would build such a heinous cyberweapon?
Well, the United States has a similar program.
According to the New York Times, information provided in the Edward Snowden leaks outlines U.S. government systems that can intercept and redirect Internet traffic to a site of their choosing.
Of course, we don’t know of any instances where the U.S. has used an Internet cannon-type attack in domestic censorship.
“The N.S.A. and its partners appear to use the programs for targeted surveillance, whereas China appears to use the Great Cannon for an aggressive form of censorship,” the Times piece explains.
Should the fact that China is using an Internet cannon scare me?
Though Friday’s New York Times piece called the Great Cannon a “powerful new weapon,” developers are calling it “OLD!” They say the tool has been “used by script kiddies and activists for the past four or so years.”
Essentially any site is and has been vulnerable to attacks of this nature (though greater encryption can help better protect against them). So no one should be any more afraid of it happening today than ever before. The only difference now is that, if the Chinese government is found to be attacking U.S.-hosted sites, we could have an international cyberdispute on our hands.
The last time we saw one of those, a very subpar movie made headlines all around the world and raked in an undeservingly large amount of money. A replay of something like that would be much scarier than your favorite website getting knocked offline for half a day.
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