TORONTO — A cyber spy network based mainly in China has tapped into classified documents from government and private organizations in 103 countries, including the computers of Tibetan exiles, Canadian researchers said Saturday.
The work of the Information Warfare Monitor initially focused on allegations of Chinese cyber espionage against the Tibetan community in exile, and eventually led to a much wider network of compromised machines, the Internet-based research group said.
“We uncovered real-time evidence of malware that had penetrated Tibetan computer systems, extracting sensitive documents from the private office of the Dalai Lama,” investigator Greg Walton said.
The research group said that while its analysis points to China as the main source of the network, it has not conclusively been able to detect the exact identity or motivation of the hackers.
The Chinese Embassy in Toronto did not immediately return calls for comment.
Students For a Free Tibet activist Bhutila Karpoche said she was not surprised about the possibility that China could be behind the network.
“Our computers have been hacked into numerous times over the past 4 to 5 years and especially in the past year,” Karpoche said. She said she often gets e-mails that end up containing viruses that crash the group’s computers.
Two researchers at Cambridge University in Britain who worked on the part of the investigation related to the Tibetans are also releasing their own report Sunday.
In an online abstract for “The Snooping Dragon: Social Malware Surveillance of the Tibetan Movement,” Shishir Nagaraja and Ross Anderson write that while malware attacks are not new, these attacks should be noted for their ability to collect “actionable intelligence for use by the police and security services of a repressive state, with potentially fatal consequences for those exposed.”
They say prevention against such attacks will be difficult since traditional defense against social malware in government agencies involves expensive and intrusive measures that range from mandatory access controls to tedious operational security procedures.
Researchers uncover China cyber spies – Technology & science – Security – msnbc.com.