China’s Great Cannon Fires on Hong Kong Protesters

A Chinese government-backed DDoS operation has been resurrected to disrupt pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong, according to AT&T Cybersecurity.

The firm revealed in a new blog post yesterday that it spotted activity from the so-called “Great Cannon” starting on August 31, with the most recent DDoS attempts coming on November 25.

Specifically, it was observed trying to take offline the LIHKG website, which is used by Hong Kongers to share info and plan protests across the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China wracked by unrest over the past few months.

The Great Cannon works by intercepting traffic from websites hosted in China and inserting malicious JavaScript in legitimate analytics scripts, thereby forcing users’ machines to covertly make requests against targeted sites.

The code not only attempts to repeatedly request the LIHKG home page but also multiple sites and memes that appear on the forum, so as to blend in with normal traffic, according to Chris Doman of AT&T Cybersecurity’s Alien Vault business.

“It is unlikely these sites will be seriously impacted. Partly due to LIHKG sitting behind an anti-DDoS service, and partly due to some bugs in the malicious JavaScript code that we won’t discuss here,” he explained.

“Still, it is disturbing to see an attack tool with the potential power of the Great Cannon used more regularly, and again causing collateral damage to US-based services.”

The tool itself first came to prominence around four years ago when it was used to target anti-censorship organization Greatfire.org. The researchers that revealed the cannon for the first time claimed it was co-located with China’s notorious Great Firewall censorship infrastructure.

Global anger spread after the Great Cannon was then turned on developer site Github, which at the time hosted anti-censorship tools.

Researchers warned that the same tool could very easily be repurposed to deliver malware rather than DDoS attacks.

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?