Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Check the Facts: China Hijacks 0.015% of Internet Traffic...

A friend called me up on the phone last week all excited with a breaking story. He told me that China had apparently hijacked 15% of all internet traffic, and that it was all over the news.

Well, he was right. Not about the 15%, but about the 15% number being reported in the news - which, by the way, was totally wrong. The actual amount of internet traffic that was hijacked was 0.015%.

The erroneous number originated from National Defense Magazine which was quoting a researcher from McAfee’s security team. It has since been refuted by Craig Labovitz at Arbor Networks who focuses more on internet traffic flows and less on "security hype".

A few quick lessons from this tale... First, we should all be careful of regurgitating news that warrants some skepticism. Most knowledgable people could never possibly believe that 15% of all internet traffic was suddenly hijacked. It's not technically possible. At the very least, make an effort not to be part of the echo chamber.

Second, companies have agendas. This may seem like a lesson taught in Capitalism 101, but private companies want to make money, and it's not unheard of for them to drum up some business by exaggerating the reasons why people need to buy their services. Here you have a digital security firm, McAfee, arguing that people should purchase their products because the internet is insecure, then grossly mis-stating how insecure it actually is. This shouldn't be so shocking; It's still not ok.

Unfortunately, the clamor over the misreported facts is obscuring the piece of news that actually does matter... that China did, in fact, briefly hijack a small percentage of the world's internet traffic. Bloggers and pundits can disapprove of McAfee all they want, but let's try and keep our eyes on the ball.


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