1 April 2009


A vast electronic spying network, based mainly in China, has penetrated public and private offices around the world, including the Dalai Lama's, Canadian researchers have uncovered.

In two years, the spy operation Ghostnet had infiltrated 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including foreign offices of India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, and Germany, as well as the computers of NATO and the Dalai Lama's Tibetan exile centres in India, Brussels, London and New York. And it's still going.

The researchers say that the spying network was being controlled almost exclusively from computers based in China, but it is not clear who is behind it. According to "The New York Times", China's embassy in New York denied any government involvement in the network.

The report, "Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network", comes after a 10-month investigation by the Information Warfare Monitor (IWM), which is made up of researchers from Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies and the SecDev Group think tank in Ottawa.

They were acting on a request from the Tibetan spiritual leader's office to look for invasive software on the Tibetan exile network. The researchers found the system, which they dubbed GhostNet, was focused on governments in South Asia and Southeast Asia.

The researchers said hackers sent friendly emails to the targeted offices that, when opened, installed malicious software, or malware, on the computers there. The malware allowed hackers to search and download computer files at the sites, and even activate cameras and microphones on the infected computers.

According to Citizen Lab, the malware is readily available on the Internet, and can even be found using a simple Google search. "The Internet has democratised many things, including the ability to engage in espionage," Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab, told the "Toronto Star" newspaper.

According to "The New York Times", the spying operation is the largest to have been uncovered in terms of the number of countries affected.

Visit these links:
- "Tracking Ghostnet: Investigation a Cyber Espionage Network": http://tinyurl.com/d5q3cj- The New York Times, "Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries": http://tinyurl.com/c468tj - Toronto Star, "Cyberspies' code a click away": http://www.thestar.com/News/World/Article/610860(1 April 2009)

More from International
  • Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2019

    In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.

  • List of journalists killed by country in 2018

  • How Apps on Android share data with Facebook (even if you don't have a Facebook account)

    Previous research has shown how 42.55 percent of free apps on the Google Play store could share data with Facebook, making Facebook the second most prevalent third-party tracker after Google’s parent company Alphabet.1 In this report, Privacy International illustrates what this data sharing looks like in practice, particularly for people who do not have a Facebook account.