SHANGHAI, Jan 22 (Reuters) - A major Internet outage in China on Tuesday that rerouted users to the U.S. website of a company which helps people get around Beijing's censorship may have been due to a hacking attack, the official Xinhua news service reported.
The state-run China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) said in a microblog post that the outage, which lasted for several hours, was due to a malfunction in China's top-level domain name root servers on Tuesday afternoon.
Chinese Internet users were rerouted to a U.S.-based website run by Dynamic Internet Technology, a company that sells anti-censorship web services tailored for Chinese users, including a product that enables the retrieval of microblog posts deleted by Chinese censors.
Dynamic Internet Technology did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The company website lists the Epoch Times, a publication produced by the Falun Gong religious sect which is banned in China, as a client. Other clients include Voice of America and Human Rights in China.
It is still unclear as to exactly what happened to cause the outage. The Xinhua report quoted Chinese security experts saying the outage could have been exploited by hackers, or could have been the result of a hacking attack.
"The Internet disruption appears to have taken place through changes to the Domain Name Service - the mapping between domain names and the IP addresses for the corresponding content servers - rather than through attacks on the underlying infrastructure," said Jim Cowie, CTO of Renesys, which monitors global Internet activity.
Chinese web service providers have struggled to overcome recurrent performance bottlenecks in the country's massive but often rickety data network. The need to continuously censor domestic content and block foreign websites only complicates the matter.
In addition to fending off hacking attacks, network providers face challenges finding experienced server administrators and dealing with government bureaucracies with frequently overlapping jurisdictions over different aspects of Internet services.
(Reporting by Pete Sweeney. Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh in Washington D.C.; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)