Peru in 2020 began requiring any foreign fishing boat entering its ports to use a vessel monitoring system allowing its activities to be tracked in real time 24 hours a day. The equipment, which tracks a vessel’s geographic position and fishing activity through a proprietary satellite communication system, sought to provide authorities with visibility into several hundred Chinese squid vessels that every year amass off the west coast of South America.
Instead of increasing oversight, the new Peruvian regulations appear to have driven Chinese ships away from the country’s ports—and kept crews made up of impoverished Filipinos and Indonesians at sea for longer periods, exposing them to abuse, according to new research published by Peruvian fishing consultancy Artisonal.
Two things to note here. One is that the Peruvian law was easy to hack, which China promptly did. The second is that no nation-state has the proper regulatory footprint to manage the world’s oceans. These are global issues, and need global solutions. Of course, our current society is terrible at global solutions—to anything.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.
Global organizations have always strived to provide a consistent app experience for their Internet users all over the world. Cloudflare has helped in this endeavor with our mission to help build a better Internet. In 2021, we announced an upgraded Cloudflare China Network, in partnership with JD Cloud to help improve performance for users in China. With this option, Cloudflare customers can serve cached content locally within China without all requests having to go to a data center outside of China. This results in significant performance benefits for end users, but requests to the origin still need to travel overseas.
We wanted to go a step further to solve this problem. In early 2023, we launched China Express, a suite of connectivity and performance offerings in partnership with China Mobile International (CMI), CBC Tech and Niaoyun. One of the services available through China Express is Private Link, which is an optimized, high-quality circuit for overseas connectivity. Offered by our local partners, a more reliable and high performance connection from China to the global internet.
A real world example
“Acme Corp” is a global Online Shopping Platform business that serves lots of direct to consumer brands, transacting primarily over e-commerce channels. Web performance for them directly translates to customer engagement and suppliers and revenue. With 90% of their suppliers in mainland China and online stores serving the consumers out of China, Acme Corp had enabled the Cloudflare China Network to help accelerate performance and improve suppliers’ experience of Store Backend systems with the suppliers. While their suppliers had a great experience with static content, they still had challenges with dynamic content. They experienced performance bottlenecks and high packet loss on their origin requests. This manifested as an intermittent timeout issue on their origin pull requests.
This is an expected issue with cross-border network congestion and the vagaries of ISP routing in and out of China. Coming out of the pandemic, the business needed to rapidly evolve and direct suppliers’ dynamic content to global consumers, which meant they couldn’t cache as much content statically within the country. This led to increasing user experience issues and increased the administrative burden on the IT teams.
China Express to the rescue
The organization wanted a solution that would improve cross-border performance and reduce the number of timeouts experienced during origin pull requests. They wanted to avoid the administrative complexity of using a private line through a third-party vendor which had the potential to increase the chance for human error.
The organization chose a private link service through Cloudflare’s local partner CMI. The preliminary design looked like this.
Eyeballs in mainland China land on a Cloudflare China Network data center within mainland China.
Statically cached content is delivered directly out of one of the 30 data centers within China
Origin pull requests for dynamic content are routed through tunnel to the partner data center in Hong Kong
From the partner data center, these requests arrive at the origin server
Workers in China Data Center fall back to user through China Express while required, otherwise go through the public Internet
China Express removes the timeout issue, and the performance doubles in peak time!
When we dive into the peak hour data analysis during 20:00 – 02:00 +1 CST (China Standard Time) by 5 Mins
Number of Runs
Average Response (ms)
Average Load (ms)
Test w/China Express (CMI AAS)
Test w/o China Express (CMI AAS) (Public line ONLY)
% of performance increase
China Express is a great solution for global organizations looking to improve stability and performance for users in mainland China. In conjunction with our in-country China Network data centers, this can make measurable improvements in app stability and performance and reduce the administrative burden for IT teams. If you’d like to learn more, talk to one of our experts who can discuss your specific needs and propose a tailored solution.
Here’s a piece of Chinese malware that infects SonicWall security appliances and survives firmware updates.
On Thursday, security firm Mandiant published a report that said threat actors with a suspected nexus to China were engaged in a campaign to maintain long-term persistence by running malware on unpatched SonicWall SMA appliances. The campaign was notable for the ability of the malware to remain on the devices even after its firmware received new firmware.
“The attackers put significant effort into the stability and persistence of their tooling,” Mandiant researchers Daniel Lee, Stephen Eckels, and Ben Read wrote. “This allows their access to the network to persist through firmware updates and maintain a foothold on the network through the SonicWall Device.”
To achieve this persistence, the malware checks for available firmware upgrades every 10 seconds. When an update becomes available, the malware copies the archived file for backup, unzips it, mounts it, and then copies the entire package of malicious files to it. The malware also adds a backdoor root user to the mounted file. Then, the malware rezips the file so it’s ready for installation.
“The technique is not especially sophisticated, but it does show considerable effort on the part of the attacker to understand the appliance update cycle, then develop and test a method for persistence,” the researchers wrote.
Hacker “Capture the Flag” has been a mainstay at hacker gatherings since the mid-1990s. It’s like the outdoor game, but played on computer networks. Teams of hackers defend their own computers while attacking other teams’. It’s a controlled setting for what computer hackers do in real life: finding and fixing vulnerabilities in their own systems and exploiting them in others’. It’s the software vulnerability lifecycle.
These days, dozens of teams from around the world compete in weekend-long marathon events held all over the world. People train for months. Winning is a big deal. If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s pretty much the most fun you can possibly have on the Internet without committing multiple felonies.
In 2016, DARPA ran a similarly styled event for artificial intelligence (AI). One hundred teams entered their systems into the Cyber Grand Challenge. After completing qualifying rounds, seven finalists competed at the DEFCON hacker convention in Las Vegas. The competition occurred in a specially designed test environment filled with custom software that had never been analyzed or tested. The AIs were given 10 hours to find vulnerabilities to exploit against the other AIs in the competition and to patch themselves against exploitation. A system called Mayhem, created by a team of Carnegie-Mellon computer security researchers, won. The researchers have since commercialized the technology, which is now busily defending networks for customers like the U.S. Department of Defense.
There was a traditional human–team capture-the-flag event at DEFCON that same year. Mayhem was invited to participate. It came in last overall, but it didn’t come in last in every category all of the time.
I figured it was only a matter of time. It would be the same story we’ve seen in so many other areas of AI: the games of chess and go, X-ray and disease diagnostics, writing fake news. AIs would improve every year because all of the core technologies are continually improving. Humans would largely stay the same because we remain humans even as our tools improve. Eventually, the AIs would routinely beat the humans. I guessed that it would take about a decade.
But now, five years later, I have no idea if that prediction is still on track. Inexplicably, DARPA never repeated the event. Research on the individual components of the software vulnerability lifecycle does continue. There’s an enormous amount of work being done on automatic vulnerability finding. Going through software code line by line is exactly the sort of tedious problem at which machine learning systems excel, if they can only be taught how to recognize a vulnerability. There is also work on automatic vulnerability exploitation and lots on automatic update and patching. Still, there is something uniquely powerful about a competition that puts all of the components together and tests them against others.
To see that in action, you have to go to China. Since 2017, China has held at least seven of these competitions—called Robot Hacking Games—many with multiple qualifying rounds. The first included one team each from the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. The rest have been Chinese only: teams from Chinese universities, teams from companies like Baidu and Tencent, teams from the military. Rules seem to vary. Sometimes human–AI hybrid teams compete.
Details of these events are few. They’re Chinese language only, which naturally limits what the West knows about them. I didn’t even know they existed until Dakota Cary, a research analyst at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology and a Chinese speaker, wrote a report about them a few months ago. And they’re increasingly hosted by the People’s Liberation Army, which presumably controls how much detail becomes public.
Some things we can infer. In 2016, none of the Cyber Grand Challenge teams used modern machine learning techniques. Certainly most of the Robot Hacking Games entrants are using them today. And the competitions encourage collaboration as well as competition between the teams. Presumably that accelerates advances in the field.
None of this is to say that real robot hackers are poised to attack us today, but I wish I could predict with some certainty when that day will come. In 2018, I wrote about how AI could change the attack/defense balance in cybersecurity. I said that it is impossible to know which side would benefit more but predicted that the technologies would benefit the defense more, at least in the short term. I wrote: “Defense is currently in a worse position than offense precisely because of the human components. Present-day attacks pit the relative advantages of computers and humans against the relative weaknesses of computers and humans. Computers moving into what are traditionally human areas will rebalance that equation.”
Unfortunately, it’s the People’s Liberation Army and not DARPA that will be the first to learn if I am right or wrong and how soon it matters.
This essay originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of IEEE Security & Privacy.
From an article about Zheng Xiaoqing, an American convicted of spying for China:
According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment, the US citizen hid confidential files stolen from his employers in the binary code of a digital photograph of a sunset, which Mr Zheng then mailed to himself.
Cloudflare has been helping global organizations offer their users a consistent experience all over the world. This includes mainland China, a market our global customers cannot ignore but that continues to be challenging for infrastructure teams trying to ensure performance, security and reliability for their applications and users both in and outside mainland China. We are excited to announce China Express — a new suite of capabilities and best practices in partnership with our partners China Mobile International (CMI) and CBC Tech — that help address some of these performance challenges and ensure a consistent experience for customers and employees everywhere.
Cloudflare has been providing Application Services to users in mainland China since 2015, improving performance and security using in-country data centers and caching. Today, we have a presence in 30 cities in mainland China thanks to our strategic partnership with JD Cloud. While this delivers significant performance improvements, some requests still need to go back to the origin servers which may live outside mainland China. With limited international Internet gateways and restrictive cross-border regulations, international traffic has a very high latency and packet drop rate in and out of China. This results in inconsistent cached content within China and a poor experience for users trying to access dynamic content that requires frequent access to the origin.
Last month, we expanded our Cloudflare One, Zero Trust network-as-a-service platform to users and organizations in China with additional connectivity options. This has received tremendous interest from customers, so we’re looking at what else we could do to further improve the user experience for customers with employees or offices in China.
What is China Express?
China Express is a suite of connectivity and performance offerings designed to simplify connectivity and improve performance for users in China. To understand these better, let’s take an example of Acme Corp, a global company with offices in Shanghai and Beijing — with origin data centers in London and Ashburn. And let’s see how we can help their infrastructure teams better serve employees and users in mainland China.
China Express Premium DIA
Premium Dedicated Internet Access, is an optimized, high-quality public Internet circuit for cross-border connectivity provided by our local partners CMI and CBC Tech. With this service, traffic from mainland China will arrive at our partner data center in Hong Kong, using a fixed NAT IP. Customers do not worry about compliance issues because their traffic still goes through the public Internet with all regulatory controls in place.
Acme Corp can use Premium DIA to improve origin performance for their Cloudflare service in mainland China. Requests to the origin data centers in Ashburn and London would traverse the Premium DIA connection, which offers more bandwidth and lower packet loss resulting in more than a 60% improvement in performance.
Acme employees in mainland China would also see an improvement while accessing SaaS applications such as Microsoft 365 over the Internet when these apps are delivered from outside China. They would also notice an improvement in Internet speed in general.
China Express Private Link
While Premium DIA offers Acme performance improvements over the public Internet, they may want to keep some mission-critical application traffic on a private network for security reasons. Private link offers a dedicated private tunnel between Acme’s locations in China and their data centers outside of China. Private Link can also be used to establish dedicated private connectivity to SaaS data centers like Salesforce.
Private Link is a highly regulated area in China and depending on your use case, there might be additional requirements from our partners to implement it.
China Express Travel SIM
Acme Corp might have employees visiting China on a regular basis and need access to their corporate apps on their mobile devices including phones and tablets. Their IT teams not only have to procure and provision mobile Internet connectivity for their users, but also enforce consistent Zero Trust security controls.
Cloudflare is pleased to announce that the Travel SIM provided by Cloudflare’s partner CMI automatically provides network connectivity and can be used together with the Cloudflare WARP Client on mobile devices to provide Cloudflare’s suite of Zero Trust security services. Using the same Zero Trust profiles assigned to the user, the WARP client will automatically use the available 4G LTE network and establish a WireGuard tunnel to the closest Cloudflare data center outside of China. The data connection can also be shared with other devices using the hotspot function on the mobile device.
With the Travel SIM, users can enjoy the same Cloudflare global service as the rest of the world when traveling to China. And IT and security teams no longer need to worry about purchasing or deploying additional Zero Trust seats and device clients to ensure the employees’ Internet connection and the security policy enforcement.
China Express — Extending Cloudflare One to China
As mentioned in a previous blog post, we are extending Cloudflare One, our zero trust network-as-a-service product, to mainland China through our strategic partnerships. Acme Corp will now be able to ensure their employees both inside and outside China will be able to use consistent zero trust security policy using the Cloudflare WARP device client. In addition, they will be able to connect their physical offices in China to their global private WAN using Magic WAN with consistent security policies applied globally.
Get started today
Cloudflare is excited to work with our partners to help our customers solve connectivity and performance challenges in mainland China. All the above solutions are easy and fast to deploy and are available now. If you’d like to get started, contact us here or reach out to your account team.
A group of Chinese researchers have just published a paper claiming that they can—although they have not yet done so—break 2048-bit RSA. This is something to take seriously. It might not be correct, but it’s not obviously wrong.
We have long known from Shor’s algorithm that factoring with a quantum computer is easy. But it takes a big quantum computer, on the orders of millions of qbits, to factor anything resembling the key sizes we use today. What the researchers have done is combine classical lattice reduction factoring techniques with a quantum approximate optimization algorithm. This means that they only need a quantum computer with 372 qbits, which is well within what’s possible today. (The IBM Osprey is a 433-qbit quantum computer, for example. Others are on their way as well.)
The Chinese group didn’t have that large a quantum computer to work with. They were able to factor 48-bit numbers using a 10-qbit quantum computer. And while there are always potential problems when scaling something like this up by a factor of 50, there are no obvious barriers.
Honestly, most of the paper is over my head—both the lattice-reduction math and the quantum physics. And there’s the nagging question of why the Chinese government didn’t classify this research. But…wow…maybe…and yikes! Or not.
Abstract: Shor’s algorithm has seriously challenged information security based on public key cryptosystems. However, to break the widely used RSA-2048 scheme, one needs millions of physical qubits, which is far beyond current technical capabilities. Here, we report a universal quantum algorithm for integer factorization by combining the classical lattice reduction with a quantum approximate optimization algorithm (QAOA). The number of qubits required is O(logN/loglogN ), which is sublinear in the bit length of the integer N , making it the most qubit-saving factorization algorithm to date. We demonstrate the algorithm experimentally by factoring integers up to 48 bits with 10 superconducting qubits, the largest integer factored on a quantum device. We estimate that a quantum circuit with 372 physical qubits and a depth of thousands is necessary to challenge RSA-2048 using our algorithm. Our study shows great promise in expediting the application of current noisy quantum computers, and paves the way to factor large integers of realistic cryptographic significance.
In email, Roger Grimes told me: “Apparently what happened is another guy who had previously announced he was able to break traditional asymmetric encryption using classical computers…but reviewers found a flaw in his algorithm and that guy had to retract his paper. But this Chinese team realized that the step that killed the whole thing could be solved by small quantum computers. So they tested and it worked.”
EDITED TO ADD: One of the issues with the algorithm is that it relies on a recent factoring paper by Claus Schnorr. It’s a controversial paper; and despite the “this destroys the RSA cryptosystem” claim in the abstract, it does nothing of the sort. Schnorr’s algorithm works well with smaller moduli—around the same order as ones the Chinese group has tested—but falls apart at larger sizes. At this point, nobody understands why. The Chinese paper claims that their quantum techniques get around this limitation (I think that’s what’s behind Grimes’s comment) but don’t give any details—and they haven’t tested it with larger moduli. So if it’s true that the Chinese paper depends on this Schnorr technique that doesn’t scale, the techniques in this Chinese paper won’t scale, either. (On the other hand, if it does scale then I think it also breaks a bunch of lattice-based public-key cryptosystems.)
I am much less worried that this technique will work now. But this is something the IBM quantum computing people can test right now.
EDITED TO ADD (1/4): A reporter just asked me my gut feel about this. I replied that I don’t think this will break RSA. Several times a year the cryptography community received “breakthroughs” from people outside the community. That’s why we created the RSA Factoring Challenge: to force people to provide proofs of their claims. In general, the smart bet is on the new techniques not working. But someday, that bet will be wrong. Is it today? Probably not. But it could be. We’re in the worst possible position right now: we don’t have the facts to know. Someone needs to implement the quantum algorithm and see.
EDITED TO ADD (1/5): Scott Aaronson’s take is a “no”:
In the new paper, the authors spend page after page saying-without-saying that it might soon become possible to break RSA-2048, using a NISQ (i.e., non-fault-tolerant) quantum computer. They do so via two time-tested strategems:
the detailed exploration of irrelevancies (mostly, optimization of the number of qubits, while ignoring the number of gates), and
complete silence about the one crucial point.
Then, finally, they come clean about the one crucial point in a single sentence of the Conclusion section:
It should be pointed out that the quantum speedup of the algorithm is unclear due to the ambiguous convergence of QAOA.
“Unclear” is an understatement here. It seems to me that a miracle would be required for the approach here to yield any benefit at all, compared to just running the classical Schnorr’s algorithm on your laptop. And if the latter were able to break RSA, it would’ve already done so.
All told, this is one of the most actively misleading quantum computing papers I’ve seen in 25 years, and I’ve seen … many.
EDITED TO ADD (1/7): More commentary. Again: no need to panic.
IT teams have historically faced challenges with performance, security, and reliability for employees and network resources in mainland China. Today, along with our strategic partners, we’re excited to announce expansion of our Cloudflare One product suite to tackle these problems, with the goal of creating the best SASE experience for users and organizations in China.
Cloudflare One, our comprehensive SASE platform, allows organizations to connect any source or destination and apply single-pass security policies from one unified control plane. Cloudflare One is built on our global network, which spans 275 cities across the globe and is within 50ms of 95% of the world’s Internet-connected population. Our ability to serve users extremely close to wherever they’re working—whether that’s in a corporate office, their home, or a coffee shop—has been a key reason customers choose our platform since day one.
In 2015, we extended our Application Services portfolio to cities in mainland China; in 2020, we expanded these capabilities to offer better performance and security through our strategic partnership with JD Cloud. Today, we’re unveiling our latest steps in this journey: extending the capabilities of Cloudflare One to users and organizations in mainland China, through additional strategic partnerships. Let’s break down a few ways you can achieve better connectivity, security, and performance for your China network and users with Cloudflare One.
Accelerating traffic from China networks to private or public resources outside of China through China partner networks
Performance and reliability for traffic flows across the mainland China border have been a consistent challenge for IT teams within multinational organizations. Packets crossing the China border often experience reachability, congestion, loss, and latency challenges on their way to an origin server outside of China (and vice versa on the return path). Security and IT teams can also struggle to enforce consistent policies across this traffic, since many aspects of China networking are often treated separately from the rest of an organization’s global network because of their unique challenges.
Cloudflare is excited to address these challenges with our strategic China partners, combining our network infrastructure to deliver a better end-to-end experience to customers. Here’s an example architecture demonstrating the optimized packet flow with our partners and Cloudflare together:
Acme Corp, a multinational organization, has offices in Shanghai and Beijing. Users in those offices need to reach resources hosted in Acme’s data centers in Ashburn and London, as well as SaaS applications like Jira and Workday. Acme procures last mile connectivity at each office in mainland China from Cloudflare’s China partners.
Cloudflare’s partners route local traffic to its destination within China, and global traffic across a secure link to the closest available Cloudflare data center on the other side of the Chinese border.
At that data center, Cloudflare enforces a full stack of security functions across the traffic including network firewall-as-a-service and Secure Web Gateway policies. The traffic is then routed to its destination, whether that’s another connected location on Acme’s private network (via Anycast GRE or IPsec tunnel or direct connection) or a resource on the public Internet, across an optimized middle-mile path. Acme can choose whether Internet-bound traffic egresses from a shared or dedicated Cloudflare-owned IP pool.
Return traffic back to Acme’s connected network location in China takes the opposite path: source → Cloudflare’s network (where, again, security policies are applied) → Partner network → Acme local network.
Cloudflare and our partners are excited to help customers solve challenges with cross-border performance and security. This solution is easy to deploy and available now – reach out to your account team to get started today.
Enforcing uniform security policy across remote China user traffic
The same challenges that impact connectivity from China-based networks reaching out to global resources also impact remote users working in China. Expanding on the network connectivity solution we just described, we’re looking forward to improving user connectivity to cross-border resources by adapting our device client (WARP). This solution will also allow security teams to enforce consistent policy across devices connecting to corporate resources, rather than managing separate security stacks for users inside and outside of China.
Acme Corp has users that are either based in or traveling to China for business and need to access corporate resources that are hosted beyond China, without necessarily being physically in an Acme office in order to enable this access. Acme uses an MDM provider to install the WARP client on company-managed devices and enroll them in Acme’s Cloudflare Zero Trust organization. Within China, the WARP client utilizes Cloudflare’s China partner networks to establish the same Wireguard tunnel to the nearest Cloudflare point of presence outside of mainland China. Cloudflare’s partners act as the carrier of our customers’ IP traffic through their acceleration service and the content remains secure inside WARP.
Just as with traffic routed via our partners to Cloudflare at the network layer, WARP client traffic arriving at its first stop outside of China is filtered through Gateway and Access policies. Acme’s IT administrators can choose to enforce the same, or additional policies for device traffic from China vs other global locations. This setup makes life easier for Acme’s IT and security teams – they only need to worry about installing and managing a single device client in order to grant access and control security regardless of where employees are in the world.
Cloudflare and our partners are actively testing this solution in private beta. If you’re interested in getting access as soon as it’s available to the broader public, please contact your account team.
Extending SASE filtering to local China data centers (future)
The last two use cases have focused primarily on granting network and user access from within China to resources on the other side of the border – but what about improving connectivity and security for local traffic?
We’ve heard from both China-based and multinational organizations that are excited to have the full suite of Cloudflare One functions available across China to achieve a full SASE architecture just a few milliseconds from everywhere their users and applications are in the world. We’re actively working toward this objective with our strategic partners, expanding upon the current availability of our application services platform across 45 data centers in 38 unique cities in mainland China.
Talk to your account team today to get on the waitlist for the full suite of Cloudflare One functions delivered across our China Network and be notified as soon as beta access is available!
Get started today
We’re so excited to help organizations improve connectivity, performance and security for China networks and users. Contact your account team today to learn more about how Cloudflare One can help you transform your network and achieve a SASE architecture inside and outside of mainland China.
If you’d like to learn more, join us for a live webinar on Dec 6, 2022 10:00 AM PST through this link where we can answer all your questions about connectivity in China.
China claims that it is “engaging in responsible squid fishing”:
Chen Xinjun, dean of the College of Marine Sciences at Shanghai Ocean University, made the remarks in response to recent accusations by foreign reporters and actor Leonardo DiCaprio that China is depleting its own fish stock and that Chinese boats have sailed to other waters to continue deep-sea fishing, particularly near Ecuador, affecting local fish stocks in the South American nation.
As usual, you can also use this squid post to talk about the security stories in the news that I haven’t covered.
An assessment from security firm BitSight found six vulnerabilities in the Micodus MV720, a GPS tracker that sells for about $20 and is widely available. The researchers who performed the assessment believe the same critical vulnerabilities are present in other Micodus tracker models. The China-based manufacturer says 1.5 million of its tracking devices are deployed across 420,000 customers. BitSight found the device in use in 169 countries, with customers including governments, militaries, law enforcement agencies, and aerospace, shipping, and manufacturing companies.
BitSight discovered what it said were six “severe” vulnerabilities in the device that allow for a host of possible attacks. One flaw is the use of unencrypted HTTP communications that makes it possible for remote hackers to conduct adversary-in-the-middle attacks that intercept or change requests sent between the mobile application and supporting servers. Other vulnerabilities include a flawed authentication mechanism in the mobile app that can allow attackers to access the hardcoded key for locking down the trackers and the ability to use a custom IP address that makes it possible for hackers to monitor and control all communications to and from the device.
The security firm said it first contacted Micodus in September to notify company officials of the vulnerabilities. BitSight and CISA finally went public with the findings on Tuesday after trying for months to privately engage with the manufacturer. As of the time of writing, all of the vulnerabilities remain unpatched and unmitigated.
These are computers and computer vulnerabilities, but because the computers are attached to cars, the vulnerabilities become potentially life-threatening. CISA writes:
These vulnerabilities could impact access to a vehicle fuel supply, vehicle control, or allow locational surveillance of vehicles in which the device is installed.
I wouldn’t have buried “vehicle control” in the middle of that sentence.
A reporter interviews a Uyghur human-rights advocate, and uses the Otter.ai transcription app.
The next day, I received an odd note from Otter.ai, the automated transcription app that I had used to record the interview. It read: “Hey Phelim, to help us improve your Otter’s experience, what was the purpose of this particular recording with titled ‘Mustafa Aksu’ created at ‘2021-11-08 11:02:41’?”
Customer service or Chinese surveillance? Turns out it’s hard to tell.
China is mandating that athletes download and use a health and travel app when they attend the Winter Olympics next month. Citizen Lab examined the app and found it riddled with security holes.
MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.
MY2022 is fairly straightforward about the types of data it collects from users in its public-facing documents. However, as the app collects a range of highly sensitive medical information, it is unclear with whom or which organization(s) it shares this information.
MY2022 includes features that allow users to report “politically sensitive” content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.
While the vendor did not respond to our security disclosure, we find that the app’s security deficits may not only violate Google’s Unwanted Software Policy and Apple’s App Store guidelines but also China’s own laws and national standards pertaining to privacy protection, providing potential avenues for future redress.
It’s not clear whether the security flaws were intentional or not, but the report speculated that proper encryption might interfere with some of China’s ubiquitous online surveillance tools, especially systems that allow local authorities to snoop on phones using public wireless networks or internet cafes. Still, the researchers added that the flaws were probably unintentional, because the government will already be receiving data from the app, so there wouldn’t be a need to intercept the data as it was being transferred.
The app also included a list of 2,422 political keywords, described within the code as “illegalwords.txt,” that worked as a keyword censorship list, according to Citizen Lab. The researchers said the list appeared to be a latent function that the app’s chat and file transfer function was not actively using.
The US government has already advised athletes to leave their personal phones and laptops home and bring burners.
Google researchers discovered a MacOS zero-day exploit being used against Hong Kong activists. It was a “watering hole” attack, which means the malware was hidden in a legitimate website. Users visiting that website would get infected.
Google’s researchers were able to trigger the exploits and study them by visiting the websites compromised by the hackers. The sites served both iOS and MacOS exploit chains, but the researchers were only able to retrieve the MacOS one. The zero-day exploit was similar to another in-the-wild vulnerability analyzed by another Google researcher in the past, according to the report.
In addition, the zero-day exploit used in this hacking campaign is “identical” to an exploit previously found by cybersecurity research group Pangu Lab, Huntley said. Pangu Lab’s researchers presented the exploit at a security conference in China in April of this year, a few months before hackers used it against Hong Kong users.
The exploit was discovered in August. Apple patched the vulnerability in September. China is, of course, the obvious suspect, given the victims.
LightBasin (aka UNC1945) is an activity cluster that has been consistently targeting the telecommunications sector at a global scale since at least 2016, leveraging custom tools and an in-depth knowledge of telecommunications network architectures.
Recent findings highlight this cluster’s extensive knowledge of telecommunications protocols, including the emulation of these protocols to facilitate command and control (C2) and utilizing scanning/packet-capture tools to retrieve highly specific information from mobile communication infrastructure, such as subscriber information and call metadata.
The nature of the data targeted by the actor aligns with information likely to be of significant interest to signals intelligence organizations.
CrowdStrike Intelligence assesses that LightBasin is a targeted intrusion actor that will continue to target the telecommunications sector. This assessment is made with high confidence and is based on tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), target scope, and objectives exhibited by this activity cluster. There is currently not enough available evidence to link the cluster’s activity to a specific country-nexus.
The MIT Technology Review is reporting that 2021 is a blockbuster year for zero-day exploits:
One contributing factor in the higher rate of reported zero-days is the rapid global proliferation of hacking tools.
Powerful groups are all pouring heaps of cash into zero-days to use for themselves — and they’re reaping the rewards.
At the top of the food chain are the government-sponsored hackers. China alone is suspected to be responsible for nine zero-days this year, says Jared Semrau, a director of vulnerability and exploitation at the American cybersecurity firm FireEye Mandiant. The US and its allies clearly possess some of the most sophisticated hacking capabilities, and there is rising talk of using those tools more aggressively.
Few who want zero-days have the capabilities of Beijing and Washington. Most countries seeking powerful exploits don’t have the talent or infrastructure to develop them domestically, and so they purchase them instead.
It’s easier than ever to buy zero-days from the growing exploit industry. What was once prohibitively expensive and high-end is now more widely accessible.
“Financially motivated actors are more sophisticated than ever,” Semrau says. “One-third of the zero-days we’ve tracked recently can be traced directly back to financially motivated actors. So they’re playing a significant role in this increase which I don’t think many people are giving credit for.”
No one we spoke to believes that the total number of zero-day attacks more than doubled in such a short period of time — just the number that have been caught. That suggests defenders are becoming better at catching hackers in the act.
One change the trend may reflect is that there’s more money available for defense, not least from larger bug bounties and rewards put forward by tech companies for the discovery of new zero-day vulnerabilities. But there are also better tools.
Core to Cloudflare’s mission of helping build a better Internet is making it easy for our customers to improve the performance, security, and reliability of their digital properties, no matter where in the world they might be. This includes Mainland China. Cloudflare has had customers using our service in China since 2015 and recently, we expanded our China presence through a partnership with JD Cloud, the cloud division of Chinese Internet giant, JD.com. We’ve also had a local office in Beijing for several years, which has given us a deep understanding of the Chinese Internet landscape as well as local customers.
The new Cloudflare China Network built in partnership with JD Cloud has been live for several months, with significant performance and security improvements compared to the previous in-country network. Today, we’re excited to describe the improvements we made to our DNS and DDoS systems, and provide data demonstrating the performance gains customers are seeing. All customers licensed to operate in China can now benefit from these innovations, with the click of a button in the Cloudflare dashboard or via the API.
Serving DNS inside China
With over 14% of all domains on the Internet using Cloudflare’s nameservers we are the largest DNS provider. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on consistently being among the fastest authoritative nameservers, answering about 12 million DNS queries per second on average (in Q2 2021). We achieve this scale and performance by running our DNS platform on our global network in more than 200 cities, in over 100 countries.
Not too long ago, a user in mainland China accessing a website using Cloudflare DNS did not fully benefit from these advantages. Their DNS queries had to leave the country and, in most cases, cross the Pacific Ocean to reach our nameservers outside of China. This network distance introduced latency and sometimes even packet drops, resulting in a poor user experience.
With the new China Network offering built on JD Cloud’s infrastructure, customers are now able to serve their DNS in mainland China. This means DNS queries are answered directly from one of the JD Cloud Points of Presence (PoPs), leading to faster response times and improved reliability.
Once a user signs up a domain and opts in to serve their DNS in China we will assign two nameservers, from two of the following three domains:
We selected these Top Level Domains (TLDs) because they offer the best possible performance from within mainland China. They are chosen to always be different from the TLD of the domain using them. For example, example.com will be assigned nameservers using the .tech and .net TLD. This gives us “glueless delegations” for customers’ nameservers, allowing us to dynamically return nameserver IP addresses instead of static glue records.
A “glue record” (or just “glue”) is a mapping between nameservers and IPs that’s added by registrars to break circular lookup dependencies when a domain uses a nameserver with the same TLD. For example, imagine a resolver asks the .com TLD nameserver: “Where do I find the nameservers for example.com?” and this domain is using ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com as nameservers. If .com just replied: “Go and ask ns1.example.com or ns2.example.com.” the resolver would come back to .com with the same question and this would never stop. One solution is to add glue at .com, so the answer can be: “The nameservers for example.com are ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com, and they can be reached at 192.0.2.78 and 203.0.113.55.”.
By using different TLDs, as described above, we don’t need to rely on glue records for customers’ nameservers. This way, we can ensure that queries will always be answered from the nearest point of presence (PoP) leading to a faster DNS response. Another advantage of serving dynamic nameserver IPs is the ability to distribute queries across different PoPs, which helps to spread load more efficiently and mitigate attacks.
Mitigating DDoS attacks within China
Everywhere in the world except for China and India, we use a technique known as anycast routing to distribute DDoS attacks and absorb them in data centers as close to the traffic source as possible. But as we first wrote in 2015, the Internet in China works a bit differently than the rest of the world so anycast-based mitigation was not an option:
Unlike much of the rest of the world where network routing is open, in China core Internet access is largely controlled by two ISPs: China Telecom and China Unicom. [Today this list also includes China Mobile.] These ISPs control IP address allocation and routing inside the country. Even the Chinese Internet giants rarely own their own IP address allocations, or use BGP to control routing across the Chinese Internet. This makes BGP Anycast and many of the other routing techniques we use across Cloudflare’s network impossible inside of China.
The lack of anycast in China requires a different approach to mitigating attacks, and our expansion with JD Cloud pushed us to further improve the edge-based mitigation system we wrote about earlier this year. Most importantly, we pushed the detection and mitigation of application (L7) attacks to the edge, reducing our time to mitigate and improving the resiliency of the system by removing a dependency on other core data centers for instructions. In the first quarter of 2021, we mitigated 81% of all L7 attacks at the edge.
For the larger network-based (L3/L4) attacks, we worked closely with JD Cloud to augment our in-data center protections with remote signaling to China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile. These integrations allow us to remotely — and automatically — signal from our edge-based mitigation systems when we want upstream filtering assistance from the ISP. Mitigating attacks at the edge is faster than relying on centralized data centers, and in the first quarter of 2021 98.6% of all L3/4 DDoS attacks were mitigated without centralized communication. Attacks exceeding certain thresholds can also be re-routed to large scrubbing centers, a technique that doesn’t make sense in an anycast world but is useful when unicast is the only option.
Beyond the improved mitigation controls, we also developed new traffic engineering processes to move traffic from overloaded data centers to locations with more spare resources. These controls are already used outside of China, but doing so within the country required integration with our DNS systems.
Lastly, because all of our data centers run the same software stack, the work we did to improve the underlying components of DDoS detection and mitigation systems within China has already made its way back to our data centers outside of China.
Cloudflare on JD Cloud is significantly faster than our previous in-country network, allowing us to accelerate the delivery of our customers’ web properties in China.
To compare the Cloudflare PoPs on JD Cloud vs. our previous in-country network, we deployed a test zone to simulate a customer website on both China networks. We tested each website with the same two origin networks. Both origins are commonly used public cloud providers. One site was hosted in the northwest region of the United States, and the other in Western Europe.
For both zones, we assigned DNS nameservers in China to reduce out-of-country latency incurred during DNS lookups (more details are on DNS below). To test our caching, we used a monitoring and benchmarking service with a wide variety of clients in various Chinese cities and provinces to download 100 kilobyte, 1 megabyte, and 10 megabyte files every 15 minutes over the course of 36 hours.
Latency, as measured by Round Trip Time (RTT) from the client to our JD Cloud PoPs, was reduced at least 30% across tests for all file sizes. This subsequently reduced our Time to First Byte (TTFB) metrics. Reducing latency — and making it more consistent, i.e., improving jitter — has the most impact on other performance metrics, as latency and the slow-start process is the bottleneck for the vast majority of TCP connections.
Our latency reduction comes from the quality of the JD Cloud network, their placement of the PoPs within China, and our ability to direct clients to the closest PoP. As we continue to add more capacity and PoPs in partnership with JD Cloud in the future, we only expect our latency metrics to get even better.
DNS Response Time
Looking forward and welcoming new customers in China
Cloudflare’s sustained product investments in China, in partnership with JD Cloud, have resulted in significant performance and security improvements over our previous in-country network first launched in 2015.
Specifically, innovations in DNS and DDoS mitigation technology, alongside an improved network design and distribution of PoPs, have resulted in better security for our customers and at least a 30% performance boost.
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