Telegram founder claims China disrupted the app to sabotage Hong Kong protesters

Telegram founder claims China disrupted the app to sabotage Hong Kong protesters
Credit: Kevin Krejci / Flickr

As Hong Kong battles against the proposed extradition bill that would China more power over the autonomous territory, protesters in the city are said to have experienced an outage of Telegram‘s encrypted messaging service yesterday – and Beijing may have had something to do with it.

Demonstrators in Hong Kong have been using messaging platforms like Telegram to organize themselves, alert each other about activities on the ground, as well as information on where to find resources like gas masks and drinking water. Yesterday, the service went down after it was affected by a ‘powerful’ DDoS attack for roughly an hour. CEO Pavel Durov noted that the ‘state-actor sized’ attack was traced to IP addresses in China.

If that’s true, it’s a worrying indication of the lengths China will go to wrest control from Hong Kong‘s citizens over the issue of extradition of criminals to the mainland. It’s also a clever tactic to use when your target encrypts the contents of messages: bombard the server with traffic and overload it, so no one can use it.

The war on messaging platforms in Hong Kong goes beyond DDoS attacks. Financial Times noted that Hong Kong police arrested a 22-year-old man earlier this week, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a “public nuisance crime.” He ran a Telegram group with more than 20,000 users that discussed tactics for dealing with the police during the protests. The man was subsequently released on bail.

There’s plenty at stake for Hong Kong: if the bill passes, criminal suspects will be extradited to China when the country decides it’s necessary. That could also allow China to nab dissidents and those opposed to its government on bogus charges.

No wonder more than a million people (about 1/7th of Hong Kong‘s population) took to the streets this week to protest the bill. Godspeed, HK.

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