John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 31, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Sophisticated GhostNet haunts Dalai Lama, Tibet

During the weekend the New York Times published a story about a vast electronic spying operation that had wound its way into government and private offices around the world.

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Researcher at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto labeled it GhostNet. Because the Dalai Lama appeared to be chief among victims and because most of the computers GhostNet could be traced back to China, the culprit was thought to be the Chinese government of private Chinese citizens known as “patriotic hackers,” according to the report. Other victims included governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

China, of course, denies culpability. “‘The Chinese government is opposed to and strictly forbids any cybercrime,’” its spokesman was quoted as saying.

What is happening is more than “phishing,” the article stated. It’s “whaling” — selecting specific targets from which to glean important information.

All of which further suggests that the immediacy that we have built into our digital age may come back to bite us. Hard.

Facilitating the greed that led us into the financial wasteland where we’re now wandering has been the enabling immediacy of financial transactions. Money can be moved to the other side of the world in the speed that it takes to click the button. The financial industry has encouraged this speed with few restrictions, reassuring us everything possible has been done to protect the privacy of encrypted transmissions.

Odds are that the protection will prove insufficient, that when it comes to a choice between security and expediency, security will have been sacrificed.

The malware surveillance of the Tibetan government could soon spawn imitators who will wind their way into our financial institutions, further depleting the already lean funds in bank accounts. The GhostNet that is today spying on the Dalai Lama could reinvent itself next month as the JamesNet. JesseJamesNet.