New York: A vast cyber spy network controlled from China has infiltrated government and private computers in 103 countries, including those of Indian embassy in Washington and the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, a media report said Sunday.
Canadian researchers, the New York Times reported, have concluded that the computers based almost exclusively in China are controlling the network and stealing documents, but stopped short of saying that the Chinese government was involved.
It quoted researchers as saying that they had found no evidence that the US 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 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, the paper said, quoting a report being issued shortly.
Their sleuthing, it said, opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than 2 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 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 focussed on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, the paper reported.
It quoted intelligence analysts as saying that many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, and other parties use sophisticated computer programmes to covertly gather information.
The newly reported spying operation is by far the largest to come to light in terms of countries affected, the paper said. 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 paper said quoting the report — “Tracking ‘GhostNet´: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.”
Working with the Tibetans, 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 Lama’s organisation, the Times said.
The electronic spy game has had at least some real-world impact, the researchers were quoted as saying. For example, they said, after an e-mail invitation was sent by the Dalai’s office to a foreign diplomat, Chinese government made a call to the diplomat discouraging a visit.