Internet surfers end up in Cheyenne, Wyoming after Chinese censors hit wrong key

'If you monkey with a system that’s supposed to provide global connectivity, it’s very easy to make mistakes'

For one afternoon this week, the internet capital of the world was no longer San Francisco, Stockholm or Seoul, but Cheyenne, Wyoming, a modest city of 60,000 inhabitants.

In what The New York Times has described as potentially the biggest internet failure in history, as many as three-quarters of China’s 500 million web users were left with blank screens from 3.15pm local time on Tuesday. Some were unable to load websites for up to eight hours.

It is now thought the outage was the fault of the Chinese government’s cyber-security apparatus – known as the “Great Firewall” – which mistakenly diverted traffic to web addresses it would normally block. Several of those sites were registered to a business in an unremarkable two-storey building on Pioneer Avenue in Cheyenne.

The Great Firewall is meant to keep Chinese web users away from content critical of the Beijing government. Yet many get round it by using a foreign IP address – a service offered by several companies outside China, including Sophidea, the firm registered at Pioneer Avenue. Experts believe the Chinese authorities were trying to block these services, but instead flooded them with traffic, causing them to crash.

James Lewis, a cyber-security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, said such errors were not new. “The Pakistanis tried to block YouTube in Pakistan and instead blocked it in large portions of the world,” he said.

“The Chinese once ‘accidentally’ misrouted 15 per cent of the world’s internet traffic through a Chinese server. If you monkey with a system that’s supposed to provide global connectivity, it’s very easy to make mistakes.”

Pioneer Avenue is the official home of around 8,000 companies, all under the aegis of Wyoming Corporate Services, a “mass-incorporator” allowing clients to create shell companies with an on-paper home in a state with a favourable regulatory system, such as Wyoming. The Chinese web traffic was not sent to Pioneer Avenue itself, but to Sophidea’s servers, whose location remains a mystery – the company and its owners are not publicly listed.

Dynamic Internet Technology, which helps Chinese users access anti-government content, also reported a surge of traffic. Bill Xia, its founder, told The Wall Street Journal, “It was hundreds of thousands of users per second. They were sending [all of] China to us.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?