Typosquatters cashing in on .uk domains

Typosquatters are cashing in by registering new .uk domains which look similar to those used by existing high-traffic .co.uk websites. By simply registering a .uk domain that ends in "co", the squatters have obtained dangerously deceptive domains such as paypalco.uk and americanexpressco.uk in an attempt to steal traffic from the real domains, paypal.co.uk and americanexpress.co.uk.

Many of these typosquatting domains are being monetized by displaying ads related to the legitimate domains they are impersonating, or by using referral schemes to redirect visitors to the corresponding legitimate site — or even driving visitors towards competing services.

The typosquatting site at paypalco.uk features monetized adverts for both PayPal and its competitors.

The typosquatting site at paypalco.uk features monetized adverts for both PayPal and its competitors.

However, the potential for abuse is not limited to making money through advertising and referral schemes. With the only difference being a single additional dot in the real domain name, this form of typosquatting could be exploited to make extremely potent phishing attacks.

First introduced in 1985, the .uk country code top-level domain (ccTLD) has only recently allowed ordinary consumers to register domains directly under .uk (such as stephenfry.uk). Before 10 June 2014, practically all UK domains had to be registered under second-level domains, which categorised the activity of the site. By far the most popular of these second-level domains is .co.uk, which is intended for commercial and general use.

Even the BBC has been targeted: www.bbcco.uk  redirects browsers to a sponsored listings page at bringthenews.co.uk

Even the BBC has been targeted: www.bbcco.uk
redirects browsers to a sponsored listings page at bringthenews.co.uk

To limit the most obvious potential for domain squatting, existing owners of .co.uk domains were given automatic rights to the corresponding .uk domain (for example nationalrail.uk) on 10 June 2014, providing there was no other equivalent .org.uk, .me.uk, .net.uk, .ltd.uk and .plc.uk domain in existence. The reservation period runs for a period of five years, during which time no other party can register the domain, even if the rightful party chooses not to.

However, these measures are inconsequential to the typosquatters, who seem to have found no barriers in registering deceptive domains such as nationalrailco.uk, barclaysco.uk and hsbcco.uk. The latter two deceptive domains are registered to a corporation in Sweden, and currently display a set of sponsored listings with titles such as "Need a New Bank Account?". Other registered domains which target high-traffic financial institutions include nationwideco.uk, lloydsbankco.uk, bankofscotlandco.uk, halifax-onlineco.uk, natwestco.uk, and westernunionco.uk.

The potential for financial fraud is immense, particularly as many online banking transactions are now carried out using mobile devices, on which typographical errors are naturally more common.

Some of the .uk typosquatting sites are clearly optimised for use on mobile devices, such as nationalrailco.uk, which displays a small form to search for train tickets. However, rather than taking users to the real National Rail website at nationalrail.co.uk, the search form uses the TradeDoubler affiliate scheme to monetize the typo-traffic by directing users to a train ticket sales website at thetrainline.com.

Some co.uk typosquatting sites are optimised to be viewed on mobile devices.

Some co.uk typosquatting sites are optimised to be viewed on mobile devices.

Flagrant typosquatting of popular sites amongst the .uk top-level domain is rife. Another brazen example is mbnaco.uk, which is clearly trying to scoop up typo-traffic from credit card provider MBNA, which uses mbna.co.uk for its main website. The typo domain presents adverts which invite visitors to apply for credit cards at various competitors, including American Express and Capital One.

Sponsored listings for competing credit card providers on mbnaco.uk

Sponsored listings for competing credit card providers on mbnaco.uk

Companies concerned about typosquatting attacks against their customers can use Netcraft's Fraud Detection service to pre-emptively identify fraudulent domain name registrations. Domain name registrars can use Netcraft's Domain Registration Risk service to analyse the likelihood of a new domain being used for fraudulent activity.

Google’s POODLE affects oodles

97% of SSL web servers are likely to be vulnerable to POODLE, a vulnerability that can be exploited in version 3 of the SSL protocol. POODLE, in common with BEAST, allows a man-in-the-middle attacker to extract secrets from SSL sessions by forcing the victim's browser into making many thousands of similar requests. As a result of the fallback behaviour in all major browsers, connections to web servers that support both SSL 3 and more modern versions of the protocol are also at risk.

The Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol is used by millions of websites to protect confidential data in transit across the internet using strong cryptography. The protocol was designed by Netscape in the mid 1990s and was first released to the public as SSL 2 in February 1995. It was quickly replaced by SSL 3 in 1996 after serious security flaws were discovered. SSL 3 was replaced by the IETF-defined Transport Layer Security (TLS) version 1.0 in January 1999 with relatively few changes. Since TLS 1's release, TLS 1.1 and TLS 1.2 have succeeded it and should be used in its place wherever possible.

sslv3-vulnerable6

POODLE's bark may be worse than its bite

Unlike Heartbleed, POODLE can be used to attack client-server connections and is inherent to the protocol itself, rather than any one implementation such as OpenSSL or Microsoft's SChannel. In order to exploit it, an attacker must modify the victim's network traffic, know how the targeted secret information is structured (such as where a session cookie appears) and be able to force the victim into making a large number of requests.

Each SSL connection is split up into a number of chunks, known as SSL records. When using a block cipher, such as Triple DES in CBC mode, each block is mixed in with the next block and the record then padded to be a whole number of blocks long (8-bytes in the case of Triple DES). An attacker with network access can carefully manipulate the ordering of the cipher-blocks within a record to influence the decryption and exploit the padding oracle. If the attacker has been lucky (there's a 1 in 256 chance), she will have matched the correct value for the padding length in her manipulated record and correctly guessed the value of a single byte of the secret. This can be repeated to reveal the entire targeted secret.

SSL 3's padding is particularly easy to exploit as it relies on a single byte at the end of the padding, the padding length. Consequently an attacker must force the victim to make only 256×n requests for n bytes of secret to be revealed. TLS 1.0 changed this padding mechanism, requiring the padding bytes themselves to have a specific value making the attack far less likely to succeed.

The POODLE vulnerability makes session hijacking attacks against web applications reasonably feasible for a correctly-positioned attacker. For example, a typical 32-byte session cookie could be retrieved after eavesdropping just over 8,000 HTTPS requests using SSL 3. This could be achieved by tricking the victim into visiting a specially crafted web page which uses JavaScript to send the necessary requests.

Use of SSL v3

Within the top 1,000 SSL sites, SSL 3 remained very widely supported yesterday, with 97% of SSL sites accepting an SSL 3 handshake. CitiBank and Bank of America both support SSL 3 exclusively and presumably are vulnerable.

move-to-tls1

A number of SSL sites have already reacted to this vulnerability by disabling support for SSL 3, including CloudFlare and LinkedIn. On Tuesday 14th, the most common configuration within the top 1,000 SSL sites was to support SSL 3.0 all the way through to TLS 1.2, with almost two-thirds of popular sites taking this approach. One day later, this remains the most popular configuration; however, TLS 1.0 is now the minimum version for 11%.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 does not support TLS 1.0 or greater by default and may be the most notable victim of disabling SSL 3 internet-wide. Now 13 years old, IE6 was the default browser released with Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP in 2001 and will remain supported in Windows Server 2003 until July 2015. Despite its age and the end of Microsoft's support for Windows XP, IE6 remains popular, accounting for more 3.8% of web visits worldwide, and 12.5% in China. This vulnerability may ring the death knell for IE6 and Windows XP.

However, unless SSL 3 is completely disabled on the server side, a client supporting SSL 3 may still be vulnerable even if the server supports more recent versions of TLS. An attacker can take advantage of browser fallback behaviour to force otherwise secure connections to use SSL 3 in place of TLS version 1 or above.

SSL version negotiation

At the start of an SSL connection, servers and clients mutually agree upon a version of SSL/TLS to use for the remainder of the connection. The client's first message to the server includes its maximum supported version of the protocol, the server then compares the client's maximum version against its own maximum version to pick the highest mutually supported version.

While this mechanism protects against version downgrade attacks in theory, most browsers have an additional fallback mechanism that retries a connection attempt with successively lower version numbers until it succeeds in negotiating a connection or it reaches the lowest acceptable version. This additional fallback mechanism has proven necessary for practical interoperability with some TLS servers and corporate man-in-the-middle devices which, rather than gracefully downgrading when presented with a non-supported version of TLS, they instead terminate the connection prematurely.

An attacker with appropriate network access can exploit this behaviour to force a TLS connection to be downgraded by forging Handshake Alert messages. The browser will take the Handshake Alert message as a signal that the remote server (or some intermediate device) has version negotiation bugs and the browser will retry the connection with a lower maximum version in the initial Client Hello message.

handshake-alert

Operation of a forced downgrade to SSL 3 against a modern browser.

The fallback mechanism was previously not a security issue as it never results in the use of a protocol version that neither the client nor server will accept. However, those with clients that have not yet been updated to disable support for SSL 3 are relying on the server to have disabled SSL 3. What remains is a chicken and egg problem, where modern clients support SSL 3 in order to retain support for legacy servers, and modern servers retain support for SSL 3 for legacy clients.

There is, however, a proposed solution in the form of an indicator (an SCSV) in the fallback connection to inform compatible servers that this connection is a fallback and to reject the connection unless the fallback was expected. Google Chrome and Google's web sites already support this SCSV indicator.


Firefox 32

Chrome 40

IE 11

Opera 25

Safari 7.1
TLS 1.2 TLS 1.2 x 3 TLS 1.2 TLS 1.2 x 3 TLS 1.2
TLS 1.1 TLS 1.1 TLS 1.1
TLS 1.0 TLS 1.0 TLS 1.0 TLS 1.0 TLS 1.0
SSL 3.0 SSL 3.0 SSL 3.0 SSL 3.0 SSL 3.0

Comparison of browser fallback behaviour

We tested five major browsers with an attack based on the forged Handshake Alert method outlined above, and found that each browser has a variant of this fallback behaviour. Both Chrome and Opera try TLS 1.2 three times before trying to downgrade the maximum supported version, whereas the remainder immediately started downgrading. Curiously, Internet Explorer and Safari both skip TLS 1.1 and jump straight from TLS 1.2 to TLS 1.0.

Mitigation

Mitigation can take many forms: the fallback SCSV, disabling SSL 3 fallback, disabling SSL 3 in the client side, disabling SSL 3 in the server side, and disabling CBC cipher suites in SSL version 3. Each solution has its own problems, but the current trend is to disable SSL 3 entirely.

Disabling only the CBC cipher suites in SSL 3 leaves system administrators with a dilemma: RC4 is the only other practical choice and it has its fair share of problems making it an undesirable alternative. The SCSV requires support from both clients and servers, so may take some time before it is widely deployed enough to mitigate this vulnerability; it will also likely not be applied to legacy browsers such as IE 6.

Apache httpd can be configured to disable SSL 3 as follows:

SSLProtocol +TLSv1 +TLSv1.1 +TLSv1.2 -SSLv2 -SSLv3
Microsoft IIS and nginx can also be configured to avoid negotiating SSL version 3.

Firefox can be configured to disable support for SSL 3 by altering security.tls.version.min from 0 (SSL 3) to 1 (TLS 1) in about:config.

firefox-disable

Internet Explorer can also be configured to disable support using the Advanced tab in the Internet Options dialogue (found in the Control Panel). In a similar way, IE 6 users can also enable support for TLS 1.0.

internet-options-disable

Chrome can be configured to not use SSL 3 using a command line flag, --ssl-version-min=tls1.

Site Report

You can check which SSL sites are still using SSL 3 using the Netcraft Site Report:

Netcraft site report
URL:

Are there really lots of vulnerable Apache web servers?

Apache has been the most common web server on the internet since April 1996, and is currently used by 38% of all websites. Most nefarious activity takes place on compromised servers, but just how many of these Apache servers are actually vulnerable?

The latest major release of the 2.4 stable branch is Apache 2.4.7, which was released in November 2013. However, very few websites claim to be using the stable branch of 2.4 releases, despite Apache encouraging users to upgrade from 2.2 and earlier versions.

Less than 1% of all Apache-powered websites feature an Apache/2.4.x server header, although amongst the top million websites, more than twice as many sites claim to be using Apache 2.4.x. Some of the busiest websites using the latest version of Apache (2.4.7) are associated with the Apache Software Foundation and run on the FreeBSD operating system, including httpd.apache.org, www.openoffice.org, wiki.apache.org, tomcat.apache.org and mail-archives.apache.org.

The most recent security vulnerabilities affecting Apache were addressed in version 2.4.5, which included fixes for the vulnerabilities described in CVE-2013-1896 and CVE-2013-2249. Depending which Apache modules are installed, and how they are used, earlier versions may be vulnerable to unauthorised disclosure of information and disruption of service. The previous release in the 2.4 branch (2.4.4), also addressed several cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in various modules; such vulnerabilities can severely compromise a web application by facilitating remote session hijacking and the theft of user credentials. Nonetheless, millions of websites still appear to be using vulnerable versions of Apache, including versions which are no longer supported.


Top 15 versions of Apache in February 2014, where the full version string is announced in the Server HTTP response header.
Note that no versions of the Apache 2.4 branch appear within the top 15.
Apache 1.3.41 and 2.0.63 are both end-of-lined.

The Apache 2.0 branch was retired in July 2013 with the conclusive release of Apache 2.0.65. This release addressed a few security vulnerabilities, but no subsequent vulnerabilities will be addressed by official patches or subsequent releases in the 2.0 branch. Anyone still using this branch of releases should strongly consider updating to the latest version in the stable 2.4 or legacy 2.2 branches.

Nevertheless, 6.5 million websites claim to be using the end of life 2.0 branch of Apache, with the most common versions being 2.0.63 and 2.0.52. Only 12k sites are running the conclusive release of this branch (2.0.65). However, it is worth noting that just over half of all Apache-powered websites hide their version numbers, so it is not always possible to accurately determine which version is installed without carrying out additional tests. Hiding software version numbers is usually a deliberate act by a server administrator – Apache 2.4.7 will reveal its full version number by default when installed on Arch Linux, and installing the apache2 package on the latest version of Ubuntu Linux will also reveal "Apache 2.4.6 (Ubuntu)" as the default Server banner.

Due to hidden version numbers, the number of sites openly reporting to be running Apache 2.4.x could be regarded as a lower bound, but conversely, exhibiting a vulnerable version number does not necessarily mean that a server can be exploited by a remote attacker.

For example, the Red Hat Linux operating system uses a backporting approach to applying security fixes, which means that a vulnerability in Apache 2.2.3 can be patched without affecting the apparent version number of the software. From an external point of view, the server will still appear to be running Apache 2.2.3, but it might not be vulnerable to any security problems that would affect a fresh installation of Apache 2.2.3.

Red Hat 5 and 6 use Apache 2.2.3 and 2.2.15 respectively, which explains why these seemingly old versions remain so prominent today (2.2.3 was originally release in July 2006). Both are still supported by Red Hat, and providing the necessary backported patches have been applied, Red Hat Apache servers which exhibit these version numbers can be just as secure as the latest release of Apache. However, because the version numbers correspond to Apache versions which were released several years ago, it is not unusual for Red Hat powered websites to attract unfair criticism for appearing to run insecure versions of Apache.

Certain Apache vulnerabilities can also be eliminated by removing or simply not using the affected modules – a configuration which is also difficult to ascertain remotely. However, exhibiting an apparently-vulnerable version number can still have its downsides, even if there are no vulnerabilities to exploit – as well as attracting unwarranted criticism from observers who falsely believe that the server is insecure, it could also attract undesirable scrutiny from hackers who might stumble upon different vulnerabilities instead. These are both common reasons why server administrators sometimes opt to hide version information from a web server's headers. Sites which do this include wikipedia.org, www.bbc.co.uk, www.nytimes.com and www.paypal.com, all of which claim to be running Apache, but do not directly reveal which version.

A further 6.0 million websites are still using Apache 1.3.x, even though the final version in this branch was released four years ago. The release of Apache 1.3.42 in February 2010 marked the end of life for the 1.3 branch, although 2.4 million sites are still using the previous version, (1.3.41), which contains a denial of service and remote code execution vulnerability in in its mod_proxy module.

The busiest site still using Apache 1.3 is Weather Underground, which uses Apache 1.3.42. This currently has a Netcraft site rank of 177, which makes it even more popular than the busiest Apache 2.0.x website. It is served from a device which exhibits the characteristics of a Citrix NetScaler application delivery controller. Weather Underground also uses Apache 1.3.42 for the mobile version of its site at m.wund.com.

Amongst the million busiest websites, Linux is by far the most common operating system used to run Apache web server software. With near-ubiquitous support for PHP, such platforms make tempting targets for fraudsters. Most of the phishing sites analysed by Netcraft rely on PHP to process the content of web forms and send emails.

The Audited by Netcraft service provides a means of regularly testing internet infrastructure for similarly vulnerable web server software, faulty configurations, weak encryption and other issues which would fail to meet the PCI DSS standard. Netcraft's heuristic fingerprinting techniques can often use the behaviour of a web server to identify which version of Apache is installed, even if the server does not directly state which version is being used. These automated scans can be run as frequently as every day, and can be augmented by Netcraft's Web Application Security Testing service, which provides a much deeper manual analysis of a web application by an experienced security professional.

President Obama forgets to renew SSL certificate

At the start of the first US Government shutdown since 1996, an SSL certificate used on barackobama.com has expired. Issued by Go Daddy in September 2012, the SSL certificate for *.barackobama.com and barackobama.com was used by Organizing for Action, a non-profit grassroots organisation aligned with Obama's political policies. Whilst not directly associated with the US Government, the expiry of the SSL certificate for barackobama.com during a US Government shutdown is nonetheless a curious coincidence.

Warning in Google Chrome when visiting a website using the SSL certificate for *.barackobama.com.

Several SSL certificates controlled by the US Government expired today and are still being used — for example, the SSL certificates used on both ui.tn.gov and webmail.coop-uspto.gov have expired and may not be replaced any time soon. Furthermore, there are at least 30 US Government sites still using SSL certificates that are scheduled to expire before Friday.

SSL certificates expiring may be least of the problems for US Government websites, some websites have been taken offline: www.nasa.gov now redirects to notice.usa.gov.

中国云

[Read this article in English]

作为2012年度世界最大的贸易国,中国长期以来一直是一个劳动力和服务输出大国,即便是在信息技术领域,也和印度的差距越来越小。以亚马逊DigitalOcean为代表的欧美云计算服务提供商的不断发展壮大,预示着云计算基础设施会成为一种商品,而那些最廉价的提供商则会逐渐受到用户的青睐。

中国网民数量在2013年6月达到了5.91亿,超越了美国和欧洲。把互联网应用和其他内容放在目标用户所在的国家可以有效缩短访问所需时间并提高访问稳定性,所以日益增加的网民数量对本国的互联网基础设施建设提出了要求。

中国云主机市场的极速发展

在过去一年,在中国大陆境内直接连接到国际互联网的Web服务器数量增长了8.3%,且绝大多数增长都来自于云主机市场。在直接连接到国际互联网的Web服务器数量方面,阿里云是目前中国最大的云主机提供商。特别值得一提的是,阿里云拥有的直接连接到国际互联网的Web服务器数量在2013年9月达到了17,934,比去年同期增长了6倍。放眼全球,其增长量仅次于云计算巨头亚马逊

虽然中国的云计算基础设施建设尚处于起步阶段,但阿里云的未来还是很有希望的,因为它背靠着强大的阿里巴巴集团。阿里巴巴集团是中国拥有直接连接到国际互联网的Web服务器数量最多的公司,也是世界前30名之一,而且该集团旗下的淘宝网阿里巴巴交易市场等电子商务平台早已在中国家喻户晓。在阿里巴巴集团直接连接到国际互联网的Web服务器当中,有92%来自于阿里云。


Metric Sep 2012 Mar 2013 Jun 2013 Jul 2013 Aug 2013 Sep 2013
Hostnames 91,553 205,824 382,342 381,989 368,948 389,171
Active sites 23,596 55,654 119,089 116,835 146,310 150,089
Web-facing computers 2,670 8,038 15,931 16,846 17,670 17,934

Detailed view of Aliyun in terms of hostnames (web sites), active sites, and web-facing computers.

本土市场与中国防火长城

尽管中国云主机市场增长迅猛,但是Netcraft发现这些增长绝大多数都来自于面向中国本土市场的网站。把服务器尽可能安置在离终端用户较近的地方可以提高访问性能这一点在中国格外突出:可能是受到金盾工程(亦称中国防火长城)的影响,流入或流出中国大陆的网络数据有时候会很慢,不稳定,甚至被屏蔽。2013年9月,从阿里云连接到国际互联网的网站的域名有一半以上都在.cn顶级域下,有41%是.com,而在其他国家顶级域下的域名则非常少见。由此可推断,与亚马逊的全球化服务不同,阿里云目前还是比较局限于中国本土市场。

TLD share by domains of websites at Aliyun in September 2013


阻碍中国云服务全球的绊脚石

对于想吸引中国用户或访客的外国企业来说,使用中国境内的云主机是很有意义的,但是会遇到一些障碍。这些障碍也正解释了为什么中国云目前面向的主要还是本国用户且这种情况很可能还会持续一段时间:

  • 和最廉价的外国云主机提供商相比,中国云主机提供商在价格和操作系统等配置选择的多样性上都没有优势。以阿里云为例,除非选择2核或4核的CPU,否则按量付费的云主机不支持Windows操作系统,而且其价格也不比那些更成熟的竞争对手便宜。最廉价的按量付费的阿里云主机为单核CPU,512M内存,1Mbps带宽,价格每小时0.27元(约合0.04美金),几乎是亚马逊最便宜的云主机价格的两倍,而配置相近的DigitalOcean云主机的价格仅为每小时0.007美金。但是,由于定价模式的差异,包年包月的阿里云主机在某些情况下会比包年包月的亚马逊或DigitalOcean更便宜。
  • 从海外访问中国境内的网站有时不够顺畅 - 从英国发送到阿里云官方网站的数据包往返几乎要耗时半秒钟,而从美国访问的效果也没有好很多。在过去20天,有多达4%的来自荷兰的访问请求都以失败告终。

  • Performance of www.aliyun.com from a Netcraft performance collector located in the Netherlands


  • 很多中国主机服务提供商只支持中文。以阿里云为例,无论是官方网站、控制面板还是技术支持,中文都是其唯一的语言。不过,亚马逊云对中文的支持也几乎一样有限 - 只有首页有中文版。
  • 有些中国主机服务提供商只面向中国客户。例如:申请使用阿里云服务的用户必须要有一个中国的手机号来接收验证码以完成注册。按量付费的用户必须通过身份验证,而只有中国或个别亚太地区国家的公民或者中国的企业可以做这样的验证。想使用阿里云服务的客户还必须有一张与支付宝兼容的中国的银行卡。如果服务器需要通过域名访问,那么还必须在工信部备案,而这样的备案并不向外国企业开放。

这些障碍意味着中国的云主机服务目前还不太可能冲出中国,面向世界。但是,伴随着来自阿里云这样的本地提供商和微软、亚马逊这样的海外提供商之间的竞争,中国的云服务器数量很有可能会继续增长,来满足国内日益增多的需求。微软为了将其云主机服务打入中国市场,已经开始与中国的一家名为世纪互联的基础设施服务提供商进行合作,并且正在为中国市场定制极具竞争力的价格计划。也许通过这样的模式,其他外国企业(比如亚马逊)也可以将其云主机服务打入中国市场,不仅提供本地的数据中心,同时也争取在严格的监管环境下为中国客户提供支持。同样的,如果上述这些障碍能够在一定程度上得到解决,相信阿里云和其他中国云主机提供商也能够在国际大舞台上获得更多的市场份额。

Netcraft提供国际互联网基础设施方面的信息,包括主机服务提供商、网页技术等等。想了解更多关于云计算行业的信息,请访问 http://www.netcraft.com/internet-data-mining/


Building the Great Cloud of China

[中文版]

China, the world's largest trading nation in 2012, has long been a desirable location for outsourcing labour and services, even within the technology and IT sector where it is not far behind India. The growth of cloud computing providers in Europe and the United States — particularly Amazon and DigitalOcean — may foretell cloud computing infrastructure becoming a commodity and outsourced to the cheapest provider.

The ever-increasing number of internet users in China (591 million at the end of June 2013) requires the development of home-grown internet infrastructure: hosting web applications and other content within a target user's own country typically speeds up requests and improves reliability. The number of internet users in China is greater than either the United States or Europe.

Stratospheric growth in Chinese cloud hosting

Although the number of web-facing computers in China has grown by 8.3% over the last year — the majority of this growth has occurred within the cloud hosting market. Aliyun (云, pronounced 'yun', is the Chinese word for cloud) is the largest cloud computing provider in China in terms of the number of web-facing computers, and remarkably, Aliyun now has six times more web-facing computers than it did a year ago, reaching a total of 17,934 in September 2013. Worldwide, only the cloud computing giant Amazon gained a greater number of web-facing computers.

Although China's cloud computing infrastructure is still in its infancy, Aliyun's future looks particularly promising, as it is owned by the Alibaba Group. This group is the largest hosting provider in China, features within the top 30 hosting providers worldwide, and has already established a strong internet presence with its better known e-commerce platforms, Taobao and Alibaba.com. Aliyun now makes up almost 92% of the web-facing computers at Alibaba Group.

Metric Sep 2012 Mar 2013 Jun 2013 Jul 2013 Aug 2013 Sep 2013
Hostnames 91,553 205,824 382,342 381,989 368,948 389,171
Active sites 23,596 55,654 119,089 116,835 146,310 150,089
Web-facing computers 2,670 8,038 15,931 16,846 17,670 17,934

Detailed view of Aliyun in terms of hostnames (web sites), active sites, and web-facing computers.

Indigenous market and the Great Firewall of China

Despite the strong growth of the Chinese cloud hosting market, most of the growth seen by Netcraft is hosting sites aimed at the Chinese market. Hosting content as close to the end-users as possible increases the performance of the web site, and this effect is particularly prominent in China: internet traffic crossing the border can sometimes appear to be slow, unstable, or even blocked, perhaps as a side-effect of blocks enforced by the Golden Shield Project (also known as the Great Firewall of China). In September 2013, more than half of the domains of websites hosted at Aliyun were in the .cn TLD, around 41% in .com, whilst domains in other ccTLDs appeared to be very rare. Unlike Amazon's global reach, Aliyun's reach appears to be limited to the local market — at least for the time being.

TLD share by domains of websites at Aliyun in September 2013


Obstacles holding back the Chinese cloud

Using cloud hosting in China could make sense for non-Chinese companies looking to increase their presence in China; however, a number of obstacles remain. These explain why the Chinese cloud is still mostly indigenous, and is likely to remain so for some time:

  • Neither the pricing models nor the variety or operating systems are as attractive as those offered by the cheapest non-Chinese cloud hosting companies. Taking Aliyun as an example, its on-demand instances do not support Windows operating systems unless you opt for a 2-core or 4-core CPU, and they are not significantly cheaper than its more established competitors. The cheapest on-demand option at Aliyun is ¥0.27 ($0.04) per hour which buys you a single core, 512MB of RAM, and a 1Mbps internet connection. This is almost twice the price of Amazon's cheapest option and a comparable DigitalOcean instance can be had for just $0.007 per hour. However, as pricing models vary, reserved instances at Aliyun can be cheaper in some circumstances.
  • Internet connectivity from outside China can be patchy — packets sent to www.aliyun.com from the United Kingdom take almost half a second to make the journey and back again, and the performance in the United States is not much better. More than 4% of requests to www.aliyun.com from the Netherlands failed during the past 20 days.

  • Performance of www.aliyun.com from a Netcraft performance collector located in the Netherlands


  • Many Chinese hosting services are only available in the Chinese language. This is the only language available for Aliyun's brochure website, control panel, and technical support. However, Amazon's support for the Chinese language is almost as limited — a single marketing site appears to be the sole Chinese-language site for AWS.
  • Some Chinese hosting companies only accept business from Chinese customers. For example, Aliyun's customers are required to have a Chinese mobile phone number in order to receive a verification code to complete the signup process. Customers wishing to buy an on-demand instance at Aliyun must go through an identity verification process, which requires the registrant to be a national of China or one of a few other Asia-Pacific countries, or to represent a Chinese company. Customers must also hold a credit or debit card issued by a Chinese bank compatible with Alipay. Customers must also register with the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology if they wish to associate a domain name with an Aliyun cloud server, but such registration is currently unavailable to foreign enterprises.

The current obstacles suggest that the cloud is unlikely to be outsourced to China yet. However, the availability of cloud computers in China is likely to increase to match its rapidly increasing local demand with competition both from local providers like Aliyun and overseas players like Microsoft and Amazon. Microsoft has collaborated with a partner company in China, 21Vianet, in order to bring its Cloud to China, and is making competitive price plans customised for the Chinese market. Perhaps by following this model, other non-Chinese companies such as Amazon could enter the Chinese market, providing local data centres and support to Chinese-speaking customers within the stricter regulatory environment. Equally, if some red tape were cut and network connectivity improved, Aliyun and other Chinese cloud providers could be poised to take a larger share of the global cloud computing market.

Netcraft provides information on the internet's infrastructure, including the hosting industry and web content technologies. For information on the cloud computing industry, please see http://www.netcraft.com/internet-data-mining/.