CloudFlare probes mystery interception of site traffic across India

Traffic to Pirate Bay and others redirected to AirTel banned URL notice

An unknown agency in India, possibly telco Airtel, is quietly capitalising on encryption gaps in sites tended by DDOS-buster CloudFlare to intercept and redirect users.

Little is yet known about the attacks, so far detected targeting piracy torrent site The Pirate Bay and a handful of other outfits.

CloudFlare engineers have, at the time of writing, emerged from an emergency meeting to investigate the now verified claims that traffic to their customer sites is being intercepted.

Visitors to intercepted websites are redirected to an AirTel page which reads that the "requested URL has been blocked as per the directions received from Department of Telecommunications, Government of India".

The redirect page does not necessarily confirm that the interception is the handiwork of AirTel.

India has blocked sites for nearly two decades without formal policy, but it is the first time it has so directly capitalised on absent security measures to deny access to a URL.

Some of CloudFlare's sites include those run by political dissidents, hacking forums, and piracy sites. Such sites are often in the crosshairs of governments.

India-based developer Abhay Rana (@captn3m0) and security researcher Shantanu Goel (@shantanugoel) discovered Pirate Bay traffic interception which they suspected may be thanks to cooperation between CloudFlare and the Indian Government, or due to security flaws on behalf of the anti-distributed denial of service attack provider.

CloudFlare founder Matthew Prince told The Register that the company concluded a meeting less than an hour ago and says there are no security flaws on its side, but that the company was blind-sided by the interception.

The redirection landing page.

Prince says the attacks occurred at CloudFlare's Chennai and New Delhi data centres but not at its Mumbai point of presence.

"It appears to only affect traffic that is being passed over an unencrypted link," Prince says.

"Whatever the system is that is looking for the requests might not be installed in Mumbai, we don't know, but it appears to be triggered off the host header in requests.

"It suggests there is some system that is running either at the edge of India's network or within AirTel that is at least conducting infection of host headers in requests."

Prince says the company is examining "all traffic" to locate other affected customer sites, but did not name impacted clients.

The company offers free and paid distributed denial of service attack mitigation and uptime and anonymity services to a host of web properties.

The Indian Government may have reason to target CloudFlare customers.

The tech company has since 2014 offered its paid enterprise distributed denial-of-service mitigation services to established political blogs, news sites, and other public interest organisations for free under Project Galileo.

AirTel representatives contacted by CloudFlare were not aware of the interception but are investigating the matter.

The Register has contacted the company for comment.

Prince says interception is seemingly possible only for sites that do not use encryption on origin servers.

CloudFlare in May asked customers to install its free certificate to help admins accomplish the task.

Writer Karthik Balakrishnan has further analysis of the attacks which CloudFlare has largely vetted as accurate, sans its claimed intentional involvement or security flaws.

We'll update this story as and when more detail emerges. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • India reveals home-grown server that won't worry the leading edge

    And a National Blockchain Strategy that calls for gov to host BaaS

    India's government has revealed a home-grown server design that is unlikely to threaten the pacesetters of high tech, but (it hopes) will attract domestic buyers and manufacturers and help to kickstart the nation's hardware industry.

    The "Rudra" design is a two-socket server that can run Intel's Cascade Lake Xeons. The machines are offered in 1U or 2U form factors, each at half-width. A pair of GPUs can be equipped, as can DDR4 RAM.

    Cascade Lake emerged in 2019 and has since been superseded by the Ice Lake architecture launched in April 2021. Indian authorities know Rudra is off the pace, and said a new design capable of supporting four GPUs is already in the works with a reveal planned for June 2022.

    Continue reading
  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021