Cyberspies Fleece the Dalai Lama

April 17th, 2009 | Sources: NY Times


Last year, officials working for the Dalai Lama in India asked cybercrime experts to come have a look at their computers, which they suspected had been infected by malware.

someone'slisteningYessiree concluded the specialists, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

The cybersleuths uncovered a global electronic spying operation that had infiltrated 1,295 computers and ripped off documents from government and private offices in 103 countries.

Computers in several embassies, foreign ministries and the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in several countries were hit. US government systems were not violated, so far as is known.

According to a report released by Greg Walton and colleagues at the University of Toronto, the spy system, dubbed GhostNet, was controlled by computers based largely in China.

GhostNet remains operational, invading a dozen new computers per week, according to the report.

Its malware can activate video- and audio-recording functions in infected computers, so the thieves can see and hear what’s going on in the room housing the infected hardware. 

And GhostNet has impacted world events, at least a bit. For example, shortly after the Dalai Lama’s office sent an email invitation to a foreign diplomat, the Chinese government called the diplomat to discourage the visit.

ChinesewormattackYet the researchers cautioned against concluding China’s government was directly responsible for the shenanigans.

“We’re careful about (ascribing blame), knowing the nuance of what happens in subterranean realms,” Ronald Deibert told the New York Times.

“This could well be the CIA or the Russians. It’s a murky realm we’re lifting the lid on,” added the associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

Meanwhile, a spokesman from the Chinese Consulate in New York scoffed at insinuations his government was involved. “These are old stories and they are nonsense,” Wenqi Gao told the Times. “The Chinese government is opposed to and strictly forbids cybercrime.”


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