Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 1 News List

China behind global cyber spy network

CHASING GHOSTSTwo reports released by academics this weekend outlined a far-reaching and aggressive cyber espionage operation targeting Tibet and many others

AP AND NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , TORONTO

A cyber spy network based mainly in China hacked into classified documents from government and private organizations in 103 countries, including the computers of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles, Canadian researchers said on Saturday.

The work of the Information Warfare Monitor (IMW) initially focused on allegations of Chinese cyber espionage against the Tibetan 苞ommunity-in-exile, and eventually led to a much wider network of compromised machines, the Internet-based research group said.

?e uncovered real-time evidence of malware that had penetrated Tibetan computer systems, extracting sensitive documents from the private office of the Dalai Lama,?investigator Greg Walton said.

The research group said that while its analysis points to China as the main source of the network, it has not conclusively been able to detect the identity or motivation of the hackers.

Calls to China? Foreign Ministry and Industry and Information Ministry rang unanswered yesterday. The Chinese consulate in Toronto did not immediately return calls for comment on Saturday.

Students For a Free Tibet activist Bhutila Karpoche said her organization? computers have been hacked into numerous times over the past four or five years and particularly in the past year. She said she often gets e-mails that contain viruses that crash the group? computers.

The IWM is composed of researchers from Ottawa-based think tank SecDev Group and the University of Toronto? Munk Centre for International Studies. The group? initial findings led to a 10-month investigation summarized in the report Tracking ?hostNet? Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network, released online yesterday.

The researchers detected a cyber espionage network involving more than 1,295 compromised computers from the ministries of foreign affairs of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan. They also discovered hacked systems in the embassies of India, South Korea, Indonesia, Romania, Cyprus, Malta, Thailand, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Pakistan.

Once the hackers infiltrated the systems, they gained control using malware ?software they install on the compromised computers ?and sent and received data from them, the researchers said.

The researchers said they believed that in addition to spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

Intelligence analysts say that many governments, including those of China, Russia and the US use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information.

The newly reported spying operation is by far the largest to come to light in terms of countries affected. The malware is remarkable both for its sweep ?in computer jargon, it has not been merely ?hishing?for random consumers?information, but ?haling?for particular important targets ?and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-訃ecording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room.

The electronic spy game has had at least some real-world impact, they said. For example, they said after an e-mail invitation was sent by the Dalai Lama? office to a foreign diplomat, the Chinese government made a call to the diplomat discouraging a visit. And a woman working for a group making Internet contacts between Tibetan exiles and Chinese citizens was stopped by Chinese intelligence officers on her way back to Tibet, shown transcripts of her online conversations and warned to stop her political activities.

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