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China Blamed for Cyberattack on Messaging Service Telegram

A woman holds a flower as she joins hundreds of mothers protesting against the amendments to the extradition law after Wednesday's violent protest in Hong Kong on Friday, June 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
China Blamed for Cyberattack on Messaging Service Telegram
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A messaging service said that it was hit by a powerful cyberattack from China as a huge protest took place in Hong Kong.

The attack on the application called Telegram slowed messages, but did not take or destroy user information. It happened as thousands of protestors surrounded Hong Kong government headquarters on Wednesday. They were protesting legislation that would permit people from Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the demonstration. As a result, The Hong Kong government delayed the debate over the bill.

On Thursday, Telegram chief Pavel Durov tweeted that most of the attackers had IP addresses from China.

“Historically, all state actor-sized (attacks) we experienced coincided in time with protests in Hong Kong,” Durov said.

Activists in both Hong Kong and mainland China often use Telegram to organize protests. They believe its special security measures will permit them to escape government surveillance of Chinese social media apps, such as WeChat. WeChat users reported this week that photos of the protests could not be seen.

Apps like Telegram offer more privacy and independence. Telegram is blocked in mainland China, but users can use it with special software. Websites like Facebook and The New York Times also are blocked.

Telegram says that messages sent on its system cannot be unlocked by third parties. “We can ensure that no single government… can intrude on people’s privacy and freedom of expression,” Telegram says on its website.

Telegram said that the latest attack was the result of many millions of false requests “which stop (the servers) from processing legitimate requests.”

The company said later Wednesday that its system had returned to normal.

The protest in Hong Kong forced the legislature to close Wednesday and Thursday, delaying debate on the bill.

FILE - Two men pose with smartphones in front of a screen showing the Telegram logos in this picture illustration taken Nov. 18, 2015.
FILE - Two men pose with smartphones in front of a screen showing the Telegram logos in this picture illustration taken Nov. 18, 2015.

Those against the legislation say it would hurt freedom and destroy Hong Kong’s legal independence. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, said the legislation is necessary. She added that it would ensure that human rights are protected.

Hong Kong is a semi-independent Chinese territory. It enjoys greater freedoms than mainland China because of a “one country, two systems” agreement. A former British colony, Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 after the agreement was reached.

People who live in Hong Kong can freely use the Internet and take part in public protests.

The U.S. government has blamed Chinese computer experts for illegally taking information and trade secrets. Officials are negotiating some of these issues in the current trade talks between the U.S. and China. Also, defense department officials told a congressional committee this month that China is becoming better at cyberattacks.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was asked about Thursday’s attack on Telegram during a news conference. Geng said he did not know about the case but that “China always opposes any form of cyberattack.”

“China is also a victim of cyberattacks,” Geng said.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

encrypt – v. to change (information) from one form to another especially to hide its meaning

app – n. a computer program that performs a special function

rubber – n. a strong substance that stretches and that is made out of chemicals or from the juice of a tropical tree

coincide – v. happens at the same time

software – n. the programs that run on a computer and perform certain functions

intrude – v. to come or go into a place where you are not wanted or welcome