Alt-Google Earth Malware

Some enterprising Canadians - hired by the Dalai Lama to find out why his group's computers seemed to be infected by viruses - have stumbled on to (ahem) Something Big: Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries:

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.
Please tell me that the CIA/DNI/NSA/ETC knew about this. I'm betting they didn't, but that the pros at the Pentagon probably did. And you'll never guess where the computers are located.
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.


Although the Canadian researchers said that most of the computers behind the spying were in China, they cautioned against concluding that China’s government was involved. The spying could be a nonstate, for-profit operation, for example, or one run by private citizens in China known as “patriotic hackers.”

That last bit must be in there for politeness' sake. Of course, the gov't was involved. No one is "patriotic' enough to set up this sort of system.

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.

Quick! Someone call Lynn Stewart and the ACLU! Civil liberties are being crushed for real this time!

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.

The researchers were able to monitor the commands given to infected computers and to see the names of documents retrieved by the spies, but in most cases the contents of the stolen files have not been determined. Working with the Tibetans, however, the researchers found that specific correspondence had been stolen and that the intruders had gained control of the electronic mail server computers of the Dalai Lama’s organization.

Those darn patriotic hackers! What sort of mischief will they get into next?

As the world gets farther on-line, it would seem that our greatest secrets might have to re-enter the analogue world. Much of the US's military might is dependent on computers and satellite technology that may not be as secure as we like. We may never be able to leave homing pigeons and semaphores behind.

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