Overview of the Suspected Chinese DDoS Attack on Telegram

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Instant messaging app Telegram blamed China for the “powerful cyber attack” it experienced during the Hong Kong protests. The app has been one of the main tools that the protestors used to organize themselves and communicate in defiance of the extradition bill. This is according to the BBC.

The DDoS Attack That Hit Telegram

Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov said that the “powerful” DDoS attack disrupted the app for almost an hour. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) is a cyber attack where the hacker or group of hackers seek to make the network or machine unavailable to its users. This is often accomplished by flooding the network resource or a machine with too much request to overload the system or just temporarily prevent legitimate requests. Aside from volumetric or network-centric attacks that overload the resource, there is also what is called the application layer attack. This attack overloads the app databases or services with a high volume of app calls, leading to the denial of service.

Telegram’s “Secret Chat” Function

In a separate post by the South China Morning Post, the Telegram app is very popular to users during the Hong Kong Protest because it has a feature called “secret chat” that encrypts the messages. As of March 2018, the cloud-based messaging application that was developed by two Russian brothers and entrepreneurs have already reached 200 million active users. Compared to other regular messages, the secret chat feature offered by the app means that messages from the sender to the receiver are secured. These messages can likewise “self-destruct” after a certain period.

App as the Spotlight in HK Protests

On June 12, tens of thousands of people gathered outside the administrative headquarters in HK to protest about the proposed bill, which would allow China to extradite the fugitives from Hong Kong. Police estimated the protesters only as 240,000 yet organizers said there were about 1.03 million people that gathered in the assembly near Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

Critics said that the bill would leave all people in Hong Kong vulnerable of being taken by China’s authorities for business offenses and for political reasons. They also believe that it would undermine Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous legal system. Hong Kong is a part of the People’s Republic of China under the principle of “one country two systems” but it has separate laws, such as prohibiting capital punishment, unlike its mainland. Because of the protests, legislators were forced to delay their debate of the bill.

China IP Addresses

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Many of the HK protesters used the Telegram app to formulate groups and exchange information on where and how they should protest. They were also able to ask for additional supplies to be used in the protest using the digital messaging platform. Yet, on that same day of their protest, Telegram users were informed by the Telegram itself that they suffered a DDoS attack and its servers have been loaded with many “garbage requests.” That attack caused connection issues. Durov said via Twitter that the majority of the IP addresses that executed the attack came from China.

Secret Chat vs. Group Chat Messages in Telegram

Telegram’s group administrator in Hong Kong Ivan Ip has been arrested for conspiring to commit a “public nuisance,” added the SCMP. When police officers turned up at Ip’s home, they alleged that the conversation he managed in Telegram involved 30,000 members and that it was he who plotted to block the roads in Legislative Council Complex.

The Cyberspace Administration of China, which oversees the cyber policy of the nation, did not comment about the matter yet. As of the result of the protest, a total of 72 people were declared injured and two more were in critical condition, according to BBC.

Telegram: Statistics and Analytics

Telegram has 200 million active users worldwide every month. In March 2014, it was only 35 million active users. It grew to 50 million active users in Dece. 2014 and 60 million active users in September 2015. By February 2016, it reached 100 million and then 180 million active users by December 2017. This is based on statistics portal market Statista. As of April 2019, Telegram app is among the top mobile messenger application globally. WhatsApp ranked first with 1.6 billion monthly active users, Facebook Messenger (1.3 billion), WeChat (1.098 billion), QQ Mobile (807 million), Skype (300 million), Snapchat (287 million), Viber (260 million), and Telegram (200 million) active users. These instant messaging apps provide real-time text or message transmission using the internet.

The app is also the top 20 most popular mobile apps in Germany, rank 22 in Canada, 35 in the United Kingdom, and 50 in France. The ranking by country was according to Google Play Store. Main sources of desktop traffic for Telegram’s website are the following: direct (83.23%), referrals (3.55%), search (10.90%), social (1.75%), mail (0.50%), and display (0.02%).

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