People attempting to visit China's most popular websites late Tuesday found themselves redirected to Dynamic Internet Technology, a U.S. company that sells anti-censorship web services tailored for Chinese users wanting to evade Beijing's web censorship, News24.com reported.
China's state-run Xinhua news agency quoted experts as saying that the malfunction could have been the result of a hacking attack.
"I don't know who did this or where it came from, but what I want to point out is this reminds us once again that maintaining Internet security needs strengthened international co-operation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said. "This again shows that China is a victim of hacking."
However, sources familiar with the government's web oversight operations said a hacking attack was not to blame for the malfunction; rather, they said, the glitch may have been caused by an engineering mistake made while updating the "Great Firewall" system the Communist Party uses to block websites it deems undesirable.
Experts in the United States agreed, suggesting the problem was with China's Domain Name Service, which matches alphabetic domain names with a database of numeric IP addresses of computers hosting different websites.
"Our investigation shows very clearly that DNS exclusion happened at servers inside of China," Xiao Qiang at the UC Berkeley School of Information and an expert on China's Internet controls said.
"It all points to the Great Firewall, because that's where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks (in China). But how that happened or why that happened we're not sure. It's definitely not the Great Firewall's normal behavior."