Two reports issued this weekend provided a stunning glimpse into the extent of China’s espionage operations using the Internet. Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network and The Snooping Dragon: Social-Malware Surveillance of the Tibetan Movement, served as clear warnings — especially to the Tibetan movement — that Chinese authorities are watching, listening, collecting and acting on the information obtained.
The second report said that the malware is “well written” and has been “devastatingly effective,” targeting, among others, foreign ministries, NGOs, news organizations, NATO and the Tibetan government-in-exile. The first report says GhostNet infected at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, “of which close to 30 percent can be considered as high-value diplomatic, political, economic, and military targets.”
Beyond collecting information, the software developed in China, known as gh0st RAT, allows attackers to gain full, real-time control of, send instructions to and retrieve information from the targeted computer.
In the private realm, the implications of cyber espionage as a tool of repression are devastating. In one instance, a woman working for Drewla, a group that uses online chatting forums to reach out to Chinese and educate them on the plight of Tibetans, was arrested at the Nepalese-Tibetan border as she was returning to her village in Tibet. She was interrogated by Chinese intelligence officers, held incommunicado and presented with the full transcripts of her Internet chat activity. She was then banned from Tibet.
While the Tracking GhostNet report is careful not to attribute all cyber attacks to intelligence-gathering operations by Beijing, it is active in that domain and has used actionable intelligence collected electronically to pursue its objectives.
Although the reports paid special attention to Chinese spying on Tibetans, in the process the authors determined that of 986 known infected IP hosts in 93 countries, Taiwan had the most — 148 — including its embassy in Swaziland, the Institute for Information Industry, Net Trade, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council and the Government Service Network.
Coupled with evidence that, despite President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait peace initiative, China has not taken the military option off the table, revelations of China’s cyber espionage network raise questions about the wisdom of intensifying relations with China. If, as can be assumed, China remains committed to targeting Taiwan for intelligence collection, then the more electronic contact there is between the two sides, the greater the opportunities will be for the transmission of malware. The repercussions in the banking and high-tech sectors, not to mention defense and public safety, could be huge.
China could target individuals, especially in pro-independence groups and opponents of cross-strait agreements. As fear of, and opposition to, agreements with China that risk undermining the sovereignty of Taiwan increases, China can be expected to monitor dissidents in ways that recall its treatment of Tibetans, as outlined in the reports.
Chinese intelligence has a long history of such activity but until recently its espionage was done through human intelligence. Now that communication is mostly electronic, however, espionage can be carried out remotely and with greater efficiency. Given the stakes, Taiwan should conduct its own study on the matter.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
The scuffle between Chinese embassy staffers in Fiji and a Taiwanese diplomat at a Republic of China (ROC) Double Ten National Day celebration has turned into a public relations opportunity for the government, Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the incident occurred on Oct. 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) downplayed it, only for the story to be picked up by the foreign media, forcing the ministry to respond. The public and opposition parties asked why the government had failed to remonstrate more strongly in the first instance. It is still unclear whether the ministry missed a trick
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates. Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates: For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked.
For most of us, the colorful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves — we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy not to notice the perilous state they are in: We have lost 50 percent of coral reefs in the past 20 years and more than 90 percent are expected to die by 2050, a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California, earlier this year showed. As the oceans heat further and