News / Asia

Tibetan Exiles Accuse Chinese of Cyber-Attacks

Kurt Achin

By mobile phone, Internet and shortwave radio, Tibetan exiles maintain a constant watch on their friends, contacts and relatives living in Tibet under Chinese control.  China's increasingly sophisticated ability to conduct cyber-warfare is making the task more challenging, and pushing Tibetan exiles to develop training programs for keeping themselves secure online.

Kanyak Tsering is an exiled Tibetan monk.  He belongs to a Dharamsala, India-based branch of the Kirti monastery, a Buddhist compound across the Chinese border that has been under a lockdown by security forces for months.

VOA's Tibetan language division was recently able to obtain video images of the Kirti compound, where a young monk immolated himself in March to protest what many Tibetans view as China's deliberate eradication of Tibet's traditional Buddhist culture.

He says all the monks in the monastery are forced to attend the patriotic re-education sessions,  and Chinese officials tell the monks that if they don’t attend,  they will be expelled from the monastery.  In a few cases, he says, monks have tried to hide and were expelled as a result.

For months, Kanyak has had to step into the role of a spokesperson for the Kirti monastery, using every technological tool at his disposal.  China closely tracks any communication between Tibet and Dharamsala, where Tibetan exiles have had their unofficial capital for more than 50 years.  China views the small Indian city as the headquarters for a separatist movement.  So, information flows have to be indirect.

"I get information in various ways - over the Internet using e-mails, websites, chat rooms, and Skype.  Sometimes I make contact through mobile phones when Tibetans phone other Tibetan exiles they know," said Kanyak.

As he speaks to VOA, Kanyak receives a phone call.  A contact says he has received an email appearing to be from Kanyak, but with a peculiar attachment.   When Kanyak traces the email, he finds it has originated from an Internet address in China.

He says he can't say this or that individual is directly responsible, but that it is clear to him the Chinese Government is involved.

Greg Walton is an independent researcher who advises the Tibetan exile administration on security.  He agrees that the email was probably a product of the Chinese government's increasingly vast cyber-offensive capability.  

"What is intriguing is that often we'll see that the same command-and-control servers which are going after the big defense contractors, and stealing details of stealth bombers, or going after the big financial houses in New York - the same command-and-control servers are going after monks in Dharamsala," said Walton.

Cyber attacks are cleverly worded to convince recipients to click on a link, or open an attachment, which implants malware on the recipient's computer, giving digital eavesdroppers wide-ranging access.   

Walton says a monk like Kanyak is a highly valuable target. "Such a person is going to have a rich social graph, from the attacker's point of view," added Walton.  "Someone like that is very trusted, and if the Chinese are sending out emails from that account, it raises the probability that someone is actually going to trust the attachment and open."

Activist Tibetan exiles are stepping up efforts to train Tibetans about cyber security.  Much of the material is in English, so the first task is translation.

Lobsang Gyatso teaches Tibetans who plan to re-enter Chinese-controlled areas about Tor, a network of volunteer routers that helps users hide their location and identity from repressive governments.

"What we have is a USB Tor.  Which you can just carry in a pen drive and you use it wherever you want.  So you have complete anonymity, and at the same time you are able to circumvent the Chinese firewall," Lobsang explained.

The strategy entails risk for those carrying the pen drives back into Chinese-controlled Tibet.  Activists also warn that even though tools like Tor are effective, China's massive investments in cyber security mean no user is guaranteed 100 percent safety from watching eyes.

You May Like

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Report: US to Sail Warships Near Disputed S. China Sea Islands

Move will signal nonrecognition of Chinese territorial claims over area, Financial Times reports, citing senior US official More

Study Describes Ancient Deltas, Lakes on Mars

Research builds on recent NASA announcement that water flows on red planet today More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanoni
John Owens
October 08, 2015 7:32 PM
Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs