Telegram CEO alleges cyber attack from China amid Hong Kong protests
Telegram has been one of Hong Kong’s most downloaded apps this week, coinciding with the large-scale protests by opponents of the extradition bill.
China has strongly supported the Hong Kong government on many occasions in passing the controversial extradition law that forces people to return to mainland China for trial. On June 10, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that Beijing didn’t force her to push for the law. Nonetheless, in less than 72 hours, Hong Kong protesters faced cyber attacks of Chinese origin.
Hong Kong protesters used Telegram -- an encrypted messaging application -- to form groups, provide updates, and exchange details on how and where protests were organised. Some of these groups had thousands of members.
On June 12, Telegram said in a tweet that it experienced a powerful cyber attack.
We’re currently experiencing a powerful DDoS attack, Telegram users in the Americas and some users from other countries may experience connection issues.— Telegram Messenger (@telegram) June 12, 2019
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is aimed at crippling a resource connected to the internet by disrupting services of a host connected to the internet.
This DDoS attack flooded Telegram with so much traffic that normal service was temporarily interrupted. Telegram’s servers were filled with garbage requests which stopped it from processing legitimate ones. When asked about the origin of this cyber attack, Pavel Durov, Founder and CEO of Telegram said that the IP addresses were mostly coming from China and coincided with the time of the protests.
IP addresses coming mostly from China. Historically, all state actor-sized DDoS (200-400 Gb/s of junk) we experienced coincided in time with protests in Hong Kong (coordinated on @telegram). This case was not an exception.— Pavel Durov (@durov) June 12, 2019
Telegram is not popular in the Asia-pacific region, yet has been one of Hong Kong’s most downloaded apps this week, coinciding with the large-scale protests by opponents of the extradition bill.
Telegram’s messaging service is widely known for its ‘Secret Chat’ function that allows messages to be encrypted. The misconception is that all messages are secure and have end-to-end encryption by default. Only secret chats are encrypted by default while group chat messages are not. This means group communications on Telegram are less secure than secret chats.
End-to-end encryption ensures that others cannot access the contents of a conversation but every message sent leaves a digital footprint. On June 11, Ivan Ip, the administrator of a Telegram group with over 30,000 members was arrested in Hong Kong for conspiring to commit a public nuisance.
This is not the first time Telegram has been used in protests. In 2018, Telegram was temporarily blocked in Iran after it was widely used in anti-government demonstrations. Four years ago, China blocked Telegram after human rights lawyers used the application to launch attacks on the government.
It is hard to say if Telegram may face the same fate this time. Instead of a massive lockdown, Telegram faced a cyber attack. Protesters were stopped by the very same tool they used to organise protests in the first place. The debate on the extradition bill was delayed in Hong Kong amid mass protests during which police fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray at demonstrators. Further demonstrations are planned in the coming days as a few dozen demonstrators remained near the city’s legislature on June 14.