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Exiled Tibetan Government Expresses Concern over Cyber-Spying Traced to China

By Steve Herman
New Delhi
30 March 2009

Officials of Tibet's government-in-exile say that information from computers of the office of the Dalai Lama appeared to end up in the hands of the Chinese government. Computer analysts called to Dharamsala, India, to investigate the cyber intrusion led to the exposure of what is being termed a sophisticated China-based on-line spying network that penetrated more than 100 countries.

Cyber-security analysts say computer trouble in the main Tibetan exile community in India led to the uncovering of a vast global internet espionage network, apparently originating in China.

Researchers from academic institutions in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada say the virtual spy network, dubbed "GhostNet," remotely penetrated more than 1,000 computers of numerous governments and their embassies, at NATO and in some news media and international organizations.

The cyber-snooping was first detected, last year, in the northern Indian hill town, Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama.

Thubten Samphel is a spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile.

"We have been experiencing this injection of viruses into our computer system. Our experience is that these viruses sent out information, both confidential and non-confidential," Samphel said. "And, because of the load of viruses, our computers somehow malfunctioned."

Investigators say the link to China emerged when the Tibetans learned that a foreign diplomat who had received an invitation from the Dalai Lama's office was contacted by the Chinese government and warned not to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader.

Tibetan exile government spokesman Samphel tells VOA News there is no proof China runs "GhostNet," but whoever is responsible has succeeded in overwhelming and compromising the Dalai Lama's office computer system.

"This misuse of knowledge, that's of concern. And the other concern: this kind of thing is unethical," Samphel said.

Canadian investigators at the Munk Center for International Studies in Toronto say GhostNet not only searches a computer's data content and reads e-mails, but can activate web cameras and microphones to monitor conversations in the same room as the hacked computers.

A separate report from Cambridge University agrees with the Canadians that nearly all of the network's cyber attacks, which began two years ago, originate in China.

Chinese media reports quote analysts there refuting such allegations, saying it is a political attempt by the West to invent fears about China as a threat.



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