Sat, Apr 04, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Communist cyber spies are right beside you

By Hsu Chien-jung 許建榮

“Communist spies are right beside you” was once a common warning of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). How many spies China has gathering information on Taiwan remains a mystery.

Toward the end of last month, the National Security Bureau said there were more than 4,000 Chinese nationals whose whereabouts became unknown after entering Taiwan.

One thing we can be sure of, however, is that communist spies are not only around us in our daily lives. It is even more likely that they are getting into our computers.

After becoming suspicious that its computers may have been penetrated by cyber spies and that information had been stolen, the Tibetan government-in-exile commissioned Canada’s Information Warfare Monitor to research the matter.

An article in the New York Times last Saturday quoted the Information Warfare Monitor report as saying that in less than two years, at least 1,295 computers in government departments in 103 countries around the globe had been penetrated by Internet hackers, including computers at locations belonging to the Tibetan government-in-exile.

GHOSTNET

The report called the hacking system “GhostNet” and said there were three servers controlling it in China — located in Sichuan, Guangdong and Hainan provinces — and another in California.

The report also said hackers had penetrated government departments in Taiwan, though the government’s response was that it had discovered no such attacks.

This response was not surprising at a time when the government is emphasizing “harmony” across the Taiwan Strait.

Also last month, Shishir Nagaraja, a researcher from the University of Illinois, and Ross Anderson, a researcher from Cambridge University, released a report entitled The Snooping Dragon: Social-Malware Surveillance of the Tibetan Movement.

In the report they accused cyber spies based in Sichuan Province of stealing computer information from the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In addition, China has blocked the vast majority of blogs on the Web; Internet users are unable to access blog sites such as Roodo, Pixnet, Yam, Wretch, Xuite and Blogspot, which are frequently used in Taiwan.

ONLINE ELITE

If a blogger sets up a blog-visitor tracking device such as ClustrMaps on his or her site and receives information saying that viewers in China are viewing their site, it is safe to assume that the visitors are part of an online elite that are still able to access blogs and other restricted Web sites.

It is estimated that there are at least 300,000 of these people in China.

China has blocked YouTube, for example, but messages left by Chinese Internet users can still be seen on the site, attacking videos that criticize the country’s democracy and human rights record.

If we look close enough, we will also see that as soon as comments appear on any Taiwanese Web site in support of Tibet, a response criticizing Tibet will appear almost immediately.

More often than not, the IP address of the user that leaves the comment is located in China.

What do these examples tell us?

The same thing the KMT used to warn us: “Communist spies are right beside you.”

Hsu Chien-jung is a doctoral candidate at Monash University in Australia.

TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON

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