The Telegraph reports that a Canadian study produced by researchers asked to investigate cyberattacks on the office of the Dalai Lama reveals large-scale world-wide cyberattacks, all originating from China.
A vast Chinese cyber-espionage network, codenamed GhostNet, has penetrated sensitive ministries and embassies across 103 countries and infects at least a dozen new computers every week. …
The discovery of GhostNet is the latest sign of China’s determination to win a future “information war”. A ten-month investigation by the Munk Centre for International Studies in Toronto has revealed that GhostNet not only searches computers for information and taps their emails, but also turns them into giant listening devices.
Once a computer has been infected, hackers can turn on its web camera and microphones and record any conversations within range.
The study revealed that almost a third of the targets infected by GhostNet are “considered high-value and include computers located at ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organisations, news media and NGOs”. This global web of espionage has been constructed in the last two years.
Another report from Cambridge University said the sophisticated computer attacks had been “devastatingly effective” and that “few organisations, outside the defence and intelligence sector, could withstand such an attack”.
The report stopped short of accusing the Beijing government of responsibility for the network, but said the vast majority of cyber attacks originated from inside China.
The New York Times also headlined the report in its Technology section.
The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware.
Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lamaâ€™s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.
The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the 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 many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, and other parties 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.
This is also believed to be the first time researchers have been able to expose the workings of a computer system used in an intrusion of this magnitude.
Still going strong, the operation continues to invade and monitor more than a dozen new computers a week, the researchers said in their report, â€œTracking â€˜GhostNetâ€™: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.â€ They said they had found no evidence that United States government offices had been infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored by the spies for half a day and computers of the Indian Embassy in Washington were infiltrated.
The malware is remarkable both for its sweep â€” in computer jargon, it has not been merely â€œphishingâ€ for random consumersâ€™ information, but â€œwhalingâ€ for particular important targets â€” and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.
The researchers were able to monitor the commands given to infected computers and to see the names of documents retrieved by the spies, but in most cases the contents of the stolen files have not been determined. Working with the Tibetans, however, the researchers found that specific correspondence had been stolen and that the intruders had gained control of the electronic mail server computers of the Dalai Lamaâ€™s organization.
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 Lamaâ€™s 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.
The Toronto researchers said they had notified international law enforcement agencies of the spying operation, which in their view exposed basic shortcomings in the legal structure of cyberspace.
By some curious coincidence, the web-site offering the actual report as inaccessible today.
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