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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable