In one of the more bizarre twists in recent Internet memory, much of China's Internet traffic Tuesday was redirected to a mysterious company in Cheyenne, Wyo.
A large portion of China's 500 million Internet users were unable to load websites ending in .com, .net or .org for nearly eight hours in most regions of China, according to Compuware, a Detroit-based technology company.
The China Internet Network Information Center, a state-run agency that deals with Internet affairs, said it had traced the problem to the country's domain name system. And one of China's biggest anti-virus software vendors, Qihoo 360 Technology, said the problems had affected roughly three-quarters of the nation's domain name system servers.
Those servers, which act as a switchboard for Internet traffic behind China's Great Firewall, routed traffic from some of China's most popular sites, including Baidu and Sina, to a block of Internet addresses registered to Sophidea Inc., a company that -- until last year -- was housed on a residential street in Cheyenne and moved to a two-story building last year. A simple Google search reveals that Sophidea Inc.'s previous headquarters on Thomes Avenue was not a corporate headquarters, but a 1,700-square-foot brick house with a manicured lawn.
That address -- which was home on paper to some 2,000 companies -- was the subject of a lengthy 2011 Reuters investigation, which found that among entities registered to the address were a shell company controlled by a jailed former Ukraine prime minister; the owner of a company charged with helping online poker operators evade an Internet gambling ban; and one entity that was banned from government contracts after selling counterfeit truck parts to the Pentagon.
Wyoming Corporate Services, the registered agent for Sophidea Inc., according to Internet records, moved to a new building on Pioneer Avenue in Cheyenne last year. Wyoming Corporate Services owner Gerald Pitts said he could not disclose any details about Sophidea without "due process." Mr. Pitts said his firm acted as registered agent for nearly 8,000 businesses. "What they do, I'm not 100 percent sure," he said.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the traffic shift Tuesday. One Chinese newspaper suspected a cyberattack. But by late Tuesday, some technologists had come to an alternate theory: a backfiring of China's own Internet censoring system.
Sophidea appears to be a service that redirects traffic from one address to another to mask a person's whereabouts -- or to evade a firewall. Some technologists surmised Tuesday that the disruption might have been caused by Chinese Internet censors who attempted to block traffic to Sophidea's websites, but mistakenly redirected traffic to the service instead.
That theory was buttressed by the fact that a separate wave of Chinese Internet traffic Tuesday was simultaneously redirected to Internet addresses owned by Dynamic Internet Technology, a company that helps people evade China's Great Firewall, and is typically blocked in China.
Bill Xia, who created Dynamic Internet Technology in 2001, on Tuesday told The Wall Street Journal that his company had nothing to do with the traffic shift and also suspected that the problem was the doing of China's own Internet censors.