Spy system hits computers in 103 countries

A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices...

Written by New York Times | Toronto | Published:March 29, 2009 11:51 pm

A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world,including those of the Dalai Lama,Canadian researchers have concluded.

In a report to be issued this weekend,researchers said the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China,but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese Government was involved.

The researchers,based at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto,had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama 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 Lama’s Tibetan exile centres in India,Brussels,London and New York.

The researchers said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama,the system 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 US,and other parties use sophisticated computer programmes to covertly gather information.

Still going strong,the operation continues to invade and monitor more than a dozen new computers a week,the researchers said in their report,‘Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network’. They said they had found no evidence that US Government offices had been infiltrated. Computers of the Indian Embassy in Washington were infiltrated.

The malware has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information,but “whaling” for particular important targets.

A spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in New York dismissed the idea that China was involved. “These are old stories and they are nonsense,” the spokesman,Wenqi Gao,said.

Last summer,the office of the Dalai Lama invited two specialists to India to audit computers used by the Dalai Lama’s organisation. The specialists,Greg Walton,the editor of Information Warfare Monitor,and Nagaraja,a network security expert,found that the computers had indeed been infected and that intruders had stolen files from personal computers serving several Tibetan exile groups.

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