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Good REading Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries - NYTimes.com
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2009 02:16:34 -0400
Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries
By JOHN MARKOFF
TORONTO — A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers
and has 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 to be issued this weekend, the researchers 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 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,
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 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 focused on the governments
of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China,
Russia and the United States, and other parties use sophisticated
computer programs to covertly gather information.
The newly reported 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
Still going strong, the operation continues to invade and monitor more
than 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 United States
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 malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it
has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but
“whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-
style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-
recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see
and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not
know if this facet has been employed.
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- Good REading Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries - NYTimes.com David Farber (Mar 29)