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China Experiences Brief Internet Blip -- But Was That Anything?


As we wrote earlier today, there was something wrong on the internet today. Many people in China (including our own Charlie in Beijing, and Steven down near Shanghai) complained that they couldn’t access websites based outside of China. Strangely, many foreign users were also reporting that they couldn’t access China-based websites.

We still don’t know exactly what happened, but thankfully things came back to normal in the afternoon. Besides the microblog chatter, the blip appears to have gone largely unnoticed in the press so far (WSJ's Josh Chin blogged about it) – and maybe that’s not so bad, because after all, maybe this wasn’t anything.

Charlie pointed towards a microblog message from a management-level Sohu employee who said that China Telecom was experiencing a problem which cut off access to sites in Hong Kong, Japan, America, Korea, Australia, and Singapore. But China Unicom users were affected by the outage as well. Other users on other providers saw issues too.

There is also the theory that today’s outage might have been the test of a giant internet kill switch, one put forth by many today – some in jest, some in earnest. David Wertime of the excellent Tea Leaf Nation blog wrote about a similar outage that prompted discussion just a week back.

The outage also seemed to affect VPNs, with users in China reporting that most of the big VPN services wouldn't connect during the outage. Some users with more obscure VPN providers, however, reported no issues with their connections, indicating that popular VPN services might have been a target in and of themselves.

While we can't conclude too much from today, I am pretty certain that we need to come up with a better way of collecting and organizing outage reports. might be ok if anyone used it, but hardly anyone did today.

In an effort to find out a little more about what was happening today, we polled some of our readers/followers to see if they could help perform a short accessibility test on ten nine [1] Chinese websites. Between the the hours of 12 noon and 4pm (times below are given in Japan standard time, where I am located), we had the following responses, which are presented in a table below. It’s not in any way insightful in helping find out what caused of the problem, but it is somewhat more tangible evidence that there was a indeed a real problem accessing sites from outside China, and from a wide range of countries.

Timestamp In which country are you located? (which country's IP address are you on) Which of the following Chinese 10 websites are INACCESSIBLE from where you are? (outside of China) Are you having any problems accessing international websites not based in China? Any comments?
4/12/2012 13:16:48 Australia,,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:16:49 United States,,,,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:16:57 Australia, No  
4/12/2012 13:17:10 United States No On corp. VPN from within China (Shanghai)
4/12/2012 13:17:59 Australia,,,,, No From Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles
4/12/2012 13:18:07 United States, No Haven't test all of them.
4/12/2012 13:18:29 Canada,, No  
4/12/2012 13:18:38 Australia No  
4/12/2012 13:18:50 Taiwan,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:18:54 Australia,,,,, No Even websites of international organisations, i.e. UNICEF China, will not load.
4/12/2012 13:20:32 United States,,, No "nanfang daily is loading really slow. loads but searches fail"
4/12/2012 13:23:23 United States,, No  
4/12/2012 13:23:25 Other,, No  
4/12/2012 13:23:46 United States,,,,,,,, No Renren works though
4/12/2012 13:24:18 Australia,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:24:53 Japan Yes
4/12/2012 13:25:22 United States,,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:26:01 United States, No  
4/12/2012 13:28:07 United States Yes  
4/12/2012 13:29:01 United States,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:31:06 Canada No it was very slow or not even access to the sites memtioned , but just now is all accessable now .
4/12/2012 13:33:19 United States No is slow as well.
4/12/2012 13:36:52 Other,,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:38:09 United States,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 13:39:02 Germany No  
4/12/2012 13:43:06 United States No I selected Taobao because it required I check a box but Taobao's loading with no problems. All appears to be working right now. All the 10 Chinese web sites listed loaded just fine.
4/12/2012 13:48:52 Japan No  
4/12/2012 13:51:53 Singapore,,,,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 14:16:19 Australia,,,,,,,, No  
4/12/2012 14:17:30 Australia No  
4/12/2012 14:21:53 Singapore,,, No "The rest I didn't test. Thank you. Jack WBR
4/12/2012 16:10:11 Australia Yes  
4/12/2012 16:13:57 Other,,,,,,,, No
  1. I somewhat arbitrarily chose 10 websites, trying to pick some social sites, some government sites, some portals, forums – but in my haste I added, which appears to be inaccessible even now that the outage is over! I’ve removed mentions of that site in the reports above.  ↩