Groups sympathetic to anti-Chinese protesters in Tibet are under assault by cyber attackers who are embedding malware in email that appears to come from trusted colleagues.
The email is being sent to members of human-rights groups. The messages include attachments in PDF, Microsoft Word and Excel formats, that install keyloggers and other types of malware once they're opened. The malicious payloads have been disguised to evade detection by anti-virus scanners.
"Groups working for freedom of Tibet all over the world have been targeted," says anti-virus supplier F-Secure in blog post. "These emails have been sent to mailing lists, private forums and directly to persons working inside pro-Tibet groups. Some individuals have received targeted attacks like this several times a month."
Names of attached files include UNPO Statement of Solidarity.pdf, Daul-Tibet intergroup meeting.doc and tibet_protests_map_no_icons__mar_20.ppt. Once opened the files deliver documents that appear to contain legitimate content in support of the protests. Behind the scenes, though, the malware is installed.
The cyber attacks come amid riots in the Tibetan capitol of Lhasa between protesters and Chinese soldiers. According to the Tibetan government-in-exile, at least 99 people have been killed in the crackdown. Chinese officials put the official death toll at 19.
While the violence has flared up only recently, cyber attacks against critics of the Chinese government date back to at least 2002, according to SANS. Past targets include Falun Gong and the Uyghurs.
Reports of the attacks came as several news agencies said Chinese authorities placed "most wanted" posters of 21 rioters on Chinese web portals and television stations. According to some reports, the images ran for a time on the Chinese sites for both MSN and Yahoo. Two of the suspects have already been arrested. ®