Canadian researchers have uncovered an extensive Chinese spying operation, which involved the hacking of over 1,000 computers in 103 countries, according to reports in several leading newspapers today.
Information Warfare Monitor, a group of researchers from Ottawa-based think tank SecDev Group and the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, said that it was originally investigating allegations of Chinese snooping on Tibetan exiles.
However, the research ended up uncovering a much larger operation, eventually taking 10 months to complete.
A report in The Independent said that the researchers uncovered a network involving 1,295 compromised computers from the ministries of foreign affairs in Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia and others, and embassies in India, South Korea, Indonesia, Germany and Pakistan.
Computers in the offices of the Dalai Lama in India, Brussels, London and New York, were also compromised.
The GhostNet network used malware to penetrate PCs, conduct covert monitoring and steal files, according to the reports. The malware could also switch on the audio and camera equipment sometimes built-in to PCs in order to monitor those in the same room as the computers, the paper said.
"This report serves as a wake-up call. These are major disruptive capabilities that the professional information security community, as well as policymakers, need to come to terms with rapidly," the researchers are quoted as saying in The Guardian.
GhostNet is thought to have been controlled from Chinese PCs, but the researchers were not able to make any firm link to Chinese government agencies. The team has notified law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, according to reports.
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