The snooping dragon: social-malware surveillance of the Tibetan movement

Shishir Nagaraja of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ross Anderson of Cambridge University have published a very interesting paper called “The snooping dragon: social-malware surveillance of the Tibetan movement” (abstract, full report) on how agents of the Chinese government managed to infiltrate the computer network of the Dalai Lama’s organisation through ingenious social engineering and gain access to intelligence information that could lead to peoples arrest and possible execution.

It’s a very interesting report and points out that the techniques used are within the reach of motivated individuals as well as government intelligence agencies and ponders how much less well known organisations can cope with such attacks; it also lends weight to the sage advice offered in Ross Andersons “Security Engineering” book. Both are well worth a read, even for those of us whose network security is not a literal matter of life or death.

7 thoughts on “The snooping dragon: social-malware surveillance of the Tibetan movement

  1. Which people ?

    People in Tibet – well some people will have been arrested and some may have been executed as a result of this.
    Tibetans in exile – their operations have been suffered disruption.
    Chinese government – their operation was blown through poor operational security, acting on the intelligence without a cover.
    Everyone else – it’s a good object lesson in how IT security can be broken by a determined and imaginative attacker.

  2. I recently did some research into the background of an organisation called the New Kadampa Tradition which, it is alleged, is part of a CCP plot to undermine the authority of the Dalai Lama and cause division in the Tibetan exile community. In the course of my investigations, I had occasion to contact the Office of Tibet in the UK, where the NKT are based. Not long after this, the address boxes that appear at the bottom of my screen page started to display in Chinese characters. Having pointed this out to various friends, I read news of this report. Coincidence? I doubt it. Nothing against the Chinese people who, like many throughout the world, are brainwashed by localised propaganda. The Chinese Government however, clearly sucks. My concern is that a regime in 21st century blue suits is still driven by a medieval feudal mentality-and they have a huge army and nuclear weapons. Islam dangerous?Beware the charms of the smiling dragon.

  3. I am sadly not surprised to see that this has happened. I totally agree Chris that security can be broken by any determined and imaginative attacker, especially one who is politically motivated.

  4. The Chinese Govt has hacked into & sent virus attacks against numerous Tibetan NGOs working for human rights & democracy in Tibet such as Int’l Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet and Free Tibet Campaign as well as the Tibetan exile govt. Even foreigners & foreign governments who meet with these groups or the Dalai Lama receive cyberattacks from China.

    The world should be warned that the new rising power is communist China & they want to dominate the world economically and through cyberwarfare, while repeatedly denying their actions & intentions. There are thousands of Chinese people all over the world used by the PRC Govt to engage in espionage against foreign govts & against groups like Falun Gong & Chinese democracy activists.

  5. “IT security can be broken down by a determined and imaginative attacker”

    That statement may be true but this paper speaks nothing to that. They had no IT security and were using the lowest common denominator for internet access: Microsoft Windows.

    Had they been using Linux none of this would have been possible.

  6. The only mention of MS Windows in that paper is a comment on MS offering a stripped down version of Windows for ATM’s.

    Now, I suspect you’re right about the majority of OS’s being used by them, but I wouldn’t overestimate the Linux security mechanisms – it makes it harder, but not impossible!

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