2 min read

Schwartz On Security: China's Internet Hijacking Misread

Core Internet security concerns aren't as sexy as hyping Chinese attacks, but concern over the potential assault is misplaced and distracts from the need to fix what's really broken.
Later that day, Dmitri Alperovitch, McAfee's vice president of threat research -- one of the experts originally quoted over the alleged "15% of the Internet was hijacked by China" episode -- said that National Defense and other outlets had misinterpreted his original assessment.

"There is absolutely no proof that this was an intentional attack. Routing hijacks happen fairly frequently and most of them are accidental [in] nature," he clarified.

Likewise, in a later, more in-depth analysis, Arbor Networks' Craig Labovitz reported seeing nothing characteristic of an actual hijack. Of course, that doesn't mean that China didn't actually attack the U.S., hiding the rerouting of a few machines with a smokescreen of "thousands of bogus routes," he said. "Or maybe, of course, this was just a typo in a configuration file."

Who can tell? In fact, no one, and that gets to a fundamental problem with the Internet: We often don't know if someone is trying to attack us, and when we do think it's the case, the ease of spoofing packets means that we'll probably never trace attacks back to the real perpetrators.

Furthermore, concern over the potential Chinese attack is misplaced, said Labovitz, since "inadvertent BGP route leaks and intentional hijacks have been part and parcel of Internet routing for the last 20 years," referring to the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) used to exchange routing information between routers.

Accordingly, rather than interpreting esoteric Internet traffic routing patterns as signs of malfeasance, he suggests getting to the root of the issue. Such as tackling security issues in BGP, encouraging adoption of the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) to protect against data spoofing, and focusing efforts on blocking distributed denial-of-service attacks.

Addressing core Internet security concerns isn't as sexy as screaming about Chinese attacks. But in both the short and long run, fixing what's broken with core aspects of the Internet would prevent having to worry in the first place, or potentially misplaced military attacks. Just think how much more secure we'd feel.