Many of China’s 500 million Internet users were unable to load websites for much of the day on Tuesday. Sites ending in .com, .net and .org were out of reach across most of the country while traffic was redirected to ... a tidy, little building in Cheyenne, Wyo.?


The China Internet Network Information Center, a government agency that oversees Internet affairs, traced the snafu to China’s domain name system. Qihoo 360 Technology, China’s largest antivirus software vendor, said the problems affected roughly three-quarters of the country’s domain name system servers, reports The New York Times.

Those servers, which direct traffic behind China’s firewall, routed traffic to a group of Internet addresses held by Sophidea Incorporated, which is housed not in an a sprawling corporate complex, but in a two-story brick building in Cheyenne.

Behind that building's façade, some 2,000 other companies reside along with Sophidea — on paper, at least. An investigative report by Reuters in 2011 found that among the businesses registered to the building's former address, there was a shell company controlled by an outlaw Ukraine prime minister and a business that was barred from government contracts after selling fake truck parts to the Pentagon. Since 2007, companies registered to the business entity have been named in a dozen civil lawsuits alleging unpaid taxes, securities fraud and trademark infringement.

So how did China’s Internet traffic end up heading to this business of ill repute?

The running theory is that China’s censoring system backfired. Sophidea is a traffic redirecting service used to hide people’s true locations or to evade firewalls. It appears that Chinese censors trying to block traffic to Sophidea may have inadvertently redirected traffic to the service instead.

By Wednesday, Web surfing in China appeared to be back to normal, but we can only imagine that the level of panic in Wyoming remains at a fever pitch.

Related stories on MNN:

Why Chinese Internet traffic was redirected to a building in Wyoming
Hint: The business in the building harbors a shady past.