The Norway-based Nobel Peace Prize’s website was the target of a cyber attack on Tuesday, just weeks after the controversial decision to award the prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo. The timing has led some tech experts to believe the attack may have originated in China.
“My assumption is that it is a Chinese-based actor,” said Greg Walton, an expert on information technology surveillance in Oslo yesterday for a seminar on censorship and freedom of expression in China. “I assume a lot of traffic interest is in people coming to the [Nobel] Peace Prize site. The attacker can identify the identity of people of interest to them.”
The Chinese have said that Norway's decision to give the Nobel Peace Prize to a convicted person in China showed no respect for the judicial system of China and warned it could damage China-Norway relations. Mr. Liu is serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power.”
Liu took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989 and was a leading author of Charter 08, a manifesto demanding basic human rights and political reform in China that was published on Dec. 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Trojan-horse virus may have come via Taiwan
Findings by the Norman malware detection team in Oslo revealed a new Trojan-horse virus was transmitted through vulnerability in Firefox versions 3.5 and 3.6, enabling the attacker to have access to infected computers. A Trojan is a malicious software (malware) that allows unauthorized access to a user's computer, most often to steal secrets such as passwords and financial information.
Mr. Walton, who studied virus samples of Trojan horses in 2008 that were targeting Tibetan activists, said yesterday's virus originated from Taiwan, but was probably used a “stepping stone” from mainland China.
He added that the virus was probably meant only to send a signal because it did not deface the website. By doing that, he said, the hacker emphasized that it wanted to “harvest the social graph of people using the website.”
Nobel Institute declines to comment on attack's source
The Norwegian Nobel Institute said it is contemplating filing charges with Oslo police authorities within the next few days, but declined to comment on experts’ speculation that the attack may have emanated from China.
“We cannot verify [the source] anyhow,” said Dag Kühle-Gotovac, Norwegian Nobel Institute head of administration. “Our main concern is all the people that were affected all around the world.”
The Norwegian National Security Authority has been briefed on the incident, but is currently only following the situation, said Kjetil Berge Veire, the authority’s spokesman.
Ongoing diplomatic row
The incident comes in the wake of a series of diplomatic reprisals by the Chinese in response to the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision, including canceled high-level meetings with Norway’s fisheries minister in China. Liu Xia, the prize winner’s wife, was placed under house arrest shortly after the announcement.
Ahead of a G-20 summit in Seoul, South Korea, next month, a group of Nobel laureates issued a letter on Monday to the G-20 leaders asking for their help in securing the release of Mr. Liu and his wife.
The laureates, which included former US president Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu, asked the leaders to “personally impress upon Chinese President Hu Jintao that the release of Dr. Liu would not only be welcome, but is necessary."
Given the current doubt over their release, Ms. Liu has issued an open letter to 143 Chinese activists and prominent cultural figures, encouraging them to attend the Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo.
According to Yang Jianli, a fellow democracy activist and founder of the grassroots movement Initiatives for China, Ms. Liu has invited Chinese activist Ding Zilin, Li Rui, the former secretary to revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, and film director Chen Kaige to the December 10 event, among others.