Tibet’s exile government said Tuesday that hackers have attacked its official Chinese-language website in the latest in a series of cyberattacks widely blamed on China amid suspicion the move was aimed at preventing the Dalai Lama from speaking directly to the Chinese people about the situation in his troubled homeland.
The hackers had planted a virus that may have infected the computers of others who visit the site, said the India-based exile government, officially called the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
Those users are located mainly in China and the United State, “though there could be more,” Kurt Baumgartner, a cyber security expert at Moscow’s Kaspersky Lab said, according to CTA’s statement.
“Technical evidence suggests the group behind the campaign was also responsible for previous breaches on the website as well as attacks on groups that focus on human rights in Asia,” said Baumgartner, who detected the attack late Monday.
By Tuesday, the Tibetan exile group had cleared the virus from its website, which seeks to educate the international community about “the political, human rights and environmental situation in Chinese-occupied Tibet,” CTA said.
Tibet’s exile government also operates websites in the English and Tibetan languages.
And while those who attacked the CTA site have not yet been identified, “there’s no question that these attacks happen,” Columbia University Tibet expert Robbie Barnett told RFA.
“We see them all the time. And some of them have been specifically sourced to China by experts.”
Hackers in China have been blamed previously for attempting to mine data on exiled Tibetans and intercepting their emails and Internet online chats with their relatives and friends inside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Tibetan-populated areas in Chinese provinces.
CTA spokesman Tashi Phuntsok described Tibet’s exile government as a “prominent target for attacks by Chinese hackers.”
“I assume they do it to steal our documents, disable our communication systems or spy on people who visit our sites,” Phuntsok told Agence France-Presse.
The CTA website’s attackers may also have been trying to block efforts by Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to speak directly to the Chinese people about the situation in Tibet, Bhuchung Tsering, interim president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, told RFA.
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s outreach to the Chinese people is being taken negatively by the Chinese authorities,” Tsering said.
“It is obvious that they do not wish the Tibetans or the Chinese to be informed about developments relating to Tibet and Tibetans,” Tsering said.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. He later founded the government in exile after being offered refuge by India.
He has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan freedom struggle since then.
Despite persistently denying that he is seeking independence for Tibet, the Dalai Lama continues to be vilified by the Chinese leadership, who call him a "splittist" and a "wolf in monk's clothes."
Beijing has denied being behind cyberattacks on foreign targets.
The CTA’s Chinese-language website gets roughly 700 visitors a day, according to the Associated Press.
Barnett said that any future resolution of the Tibet issue “may well come to depend on the effectiveness and coordination and sophistication of Chinese-speaking and Chinese-literate Tibetans and the Chinese they communicate with,” Barnett said.
“So it’s not surprising if people would want to get access to that particular group of people to see who they’re talking to and what they’re saying.”