Compuware Flags Massive, Mysterious Chinese Internet Outage

[Updated 1/23/14, 12:55 p.m. See below.] It was roughly 3 p.m. in China on Tuesday when Heiko Specht, a Compuware performance specialist based in Munich, noticed a huge drop-off in Chinese Web traffic going to .com, .net, and .org domains.

Detroit-based Compuware has monitors all over the globe for just such an event; according to company officials, Compuware is responsible for keeping tabs on 13 of the 20 most-trafficked websites in the world. For instance, a company like Amazon will hire Compuware to make sure its site is loading correctly for users, whether they’re sitting in Duluth, Detroit, Dusseldorf, or Dakar. Or, as it turns out, China.

According to a New York Times report Wednesday, the reason for the drop-off was that, for eight hours Tuesday, a massive portion of Chinese Internet traffic was rerouted to a 1,700-square-foot house in Wyoming. The Times has since updated its report to say the physical location that the Chinese Internet traffic was sent to is unclear, but that the Internet address in question is registered to a company with ties to the Wyoming location. Why the event happened is still a matter of debate. [This paragraph was updated to reflect the Times correction.]

The China Internet Network Information Center, a state-run agency that deals with Internet affairs, told the Times it had traced the problem to the country’s domain name system (DNS). Compuware officials said another popular theory is that the outage was the result of a malware attack. The outage didn’t seem to affect websites ending in .cn, China’s national domain name, which has led others to speculate that this was a “Great Firewall” exercise conducted by the Chinese government that went sideways.

“It’s crazy that one DNS issue could have such an impact,” Specht said in an e-mail today. “When you consider the population affected, this was one of the biggest outages we’ve ever seen, with one seventh of global Internet users impacted. However, the impact wasn’t just on Chinese Internet users; companies around the world could have lost potentially millions in online sales during this eight-hour period.”

In a company memo from Specht analyzing the outage, he pointed out that though the international press response to the situation was “cool,” Chinese Internet users, already wary of the limits placed on their browsing by the government, “went mad.” He added, “I suspect it will take weeks to recover completely from this Internet earthquake.”

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