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Photograph by Getty Images
By Scott Cendrowski
March 30, 2015

Late last Wednesday, a San Francisco-based website used by software developers began being overwhelmed with requests in a classic type of attack that appears to be the work of Chinese hackers, according to a report.

The so-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that targeted Github was directed at pages that linked to copies of websites banned in China, including the New York Times’ Chinese site, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, citing anonymous cyber security sources.

The paper said Internet traffic intended for Chinese search engine Baidu (BIDU) was instead redirected to Github pages linking to content banned in the country. In China, Github is just as popular amongst coders as it is in Silicon Valley and because the site in encrypted, the sensitive content it linked to —sites run by the New York Times and Greatfire.org—can’t be selectively banned by Chinese censors without taking down the entire site. When Chinese censors briefly blocked the site in 2013, Chinese coders were up in arms.

On its blog, Github said it has faced “some sophisticated new techniques that use the web browsers of unsuspecting, uninvolved people to flood github.com with high levels of traffic” and concluded that the intent of the hack was to persuade the web service to remove “a specific class of content.”

If the hack is indeed the work of China, it would be the latest episode in an increasingly hot war. Two weeks ago Greatfire.org complained of a similar attack after it was featured in a WSJ story about Internet users using foreign cloud services, including those run by Amazon.com (AMZN) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), to circumvent China’s firewall. Greatfire, an activist group fighting Chinese censorship, has created so-called mirrored websites accessible from within China of those sites blocked by the firewall, including Google.com and newsites run by Reuters and the New York Times.

Earlier this year, hackers gained access to Social Security numbers and other information of 80 million customers of health insurer Anthem in what U.S. investigators later said was likely a Chinese state-sponsored operation.

Military watchers said recently that a document from China’s People’s Liberation Army acknowledges for the first time the existence of hacking groups within the PLA–something that has been routinely claimed by the Pentagon and other U.S. agencies for over a year.

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