Chinese cyber spy network hacks into 103 nations

China accused of running ‘GhostNet’ after Dalai Lama’s office raise alarm

The Chinese government is under pressure to answer allegations that it is operating a huge cyber spy network that has hacked into classified files in computers in 103 countries and monitored secret correspondence sent by the office of the Dalai Lama.

Researchers in Britain and Canada revealed over the weekend the existence of the so-called GhostNet network that has been gathering information from governments and private organisations. Some researchers said it could not be proved conclusively that the Chinese government was behind the network but others directly accused the authorities in Beijing.

Experts said the vast scale of the network was unsettling. The researchers found that the network had spied on computers belonging to governments in Europe and South Asia, using software so advanced it could turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, allowing those watching to see and hear what was happening in a room.

About 1,300 computers were found to have been compromised. They belonged to the foreign ministries of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan. Hacked systems were also found in the embassies of India, South Korea, Indonesia, Romania, Thailand, Taiwan and Pakistan.

Some of the most extensive evidence uncovered related to the computers used by the office of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government, which is based in the Indian Himalayan town of Dharamsala.

The office of the Dalai Lama initially contacted the researchers for help amid fears about its computers. After investigating the office's computers, the researchers discovered evidence of a much broader spy network.

"We uncovered real-time evidence of malware that had penetrated Tibetan computer systems, extracting sensitive documents from the private office of the Dalai Lama," said Greg Walton, a researcher based at the University of Toronto.

No one from the Dalai Lama's office was available for comment but researchers said the spying had already affected the operation of the exiled government; after the Dalai Lama's office emailed an invitation to a foreign diplomat to visit, the Chinese government contacted the diplomat and tried to persuade them not to go. Tibetan groups said the revelations did not surprise them. Tsewang Rigzin, the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress in Dharamsala, said: "I am sure they are spying on us as well. They are spamming our email and sending us loads of junk mail."

Matt Whitticase, from the London-based Free Tibet campaign, said the number of emails sent to his organisation containing sophisticated Trojans and other malware increased during times of controversy for China. Before last summer's Olympics and during the crackdown on demonstrators in Tibet, the number spiked.

"I am not surprised by this. The Chinese government monitors any group it considers a threat. The Tibetan government in exile would definitely be one such target," he said.

The Toronto team said they could not prove the Chinese government was behind the hacking but in a separate report, those who researched spying on the Tibetan exile movement did not hesitate to point the finger.

Ross Anderson, from Cambridge University, and Shishir Nagaraja, from the University of Illinois, said the web-hosting and email services used by the Dalai Lama's office were provided by a California-based company. Examining the email server logs, they discovered a number of successful logins from IP addresses that belonged to Chinese and Hong Kong providers. None were associated with anyone from the Tibetan government's office.

They wrote: "Agents of the Chinese government compromised the computing infrastructure of the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama ... and then downloaded sensitive data. People in Tibet may have died as a result. The compromise was detected and dealt with, but its implications are sobering. It shows how difficult it is to defend sensitive information against an opponent who uses social engineering techniques to install malware."

In 2007, Britain accused China of carrying out cyber espionage against major companies and banks.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before