Toronto: A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and 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, they said that 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 operation continues to invade and monitor at least 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 the US government offices had been infiltrated, although a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) computer was monitored by the spies for half a day and computers of the Indian embassy in Washington were infiltrated. The researchers, based at the Munk Center 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, 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 South-East Asian countries.
The 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.
The Toronto researchers said they had notified international law enforcement agencies of the spying operation.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES