China's Internet Traffic Was Redirected to a Mysterious House in Wyoming

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Jan. 22 2014 10:16 AM

China's Internet Traffic Was Redirected to a Mysterious House in Wyoming

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The wide open plains—great place for Chinese Internet traffic

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

China's Internet is censored and monitored in various ways, and yesterday something seems to have gone wrong with the system and about 75 percent of China's domain name servers redirected Web traffic through one mysterious house in Wyoming:

Those servers, which act as a switchboard for Internet traffic behind China’s Great Firewall, routed traffic from some of China’s most popular sites, including Baidu and Sina, to a block of Internet addresses registered to Sophidea Incorporated, a mysterious company housed on a residential street in Cheyenne, Wyo.

A simple Google search reveals that the address on Thomes Avenue in Cheyenne is not a corporate headquarters, but a 1,700-square-foot brick house with a manicured lawn.

This is not the first time the house in question has popped up in the news. Back in 2011, Reuters revealed that more than 2,000 corporations are registered with this house as their address. Obvious no real corporate headquarters exists there. Instead, the house is covered floor to ceiling with mailboxes. A woman works there answering the phone and sorting the mail. It's the home of Wyoming Corporate Services which is a company whose business is setting up shell companies for people who want to obscure various kinds of financial flows. Their entities include a "company sheltering real-estate assets controlled by a jailed former prime minister of Ukraine."

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There are basically two theories as to what was going on here. One is that the surge of traffic was part of some kind of Chinese cyberattack. The other is that it was some kind of malfunction of the Great Firewall. Of course I sure don't know the answer. But you can imagine the goings-on in this house could be of some interest to the Chinese government, since wealthy Chinese people might try to use shell companies to smuggle financial assets out of China and into the United States in order to evade capital controls.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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