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China has repeatedly attempted to crack into the Dalai Lama's computer network, according to its administrators.

Over the last month there have been repeated attempts to infect systems used by the exiled spiritual leader. This takes the form of a computer virus which attempts to send information back to China, Jigme Tsering, manager of the Tibetan Computer Resource Centre told AP.

The centre runs Internet services and administers the computer systems of the spiritual leader's government-in-exile, located in Dharmsala, India.

Tsering also alleges that Tibetan lobby groups were also targeted by the unnamed virus, which is designed to fool the unwary by posing as an email from the Dalai Lama's office. Chinese crackers also attempted to break into Tibetan systems in 1999 and 2001, Tsering also believes.

The latest virus-infected emails, capable of lifting confidential files from PCs used by the Centre, were traced back to six different addresses in China, used by government and educational institutions.

This evidence, such as it is, falls short of convincing proof and could be explained by innocent infection of Chinese machines by SirCam, or the like.

AV experts, however, suggest it is possible that China could have developed bespoke malware in an attempt to obtain confidential emails or documents from the Tibetans. Such cyber nasties would have a greater chance of evading detection than well known viruses.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos AV, said it was more likely that the reports referred to a piece of malicious spyware or Trojan horse than a conventional virus.

Given the political strains between China and Tibet its not surprising that Tsering has drawn the worst possible inference about a darker purpose behind the virus infected emails.

The allegations come at a time of particular political sensitivity. A Tibetan government in exile was established by the Dalai Lama in 1959, following China's occupation of the mountainous country. AP reports that a delegation of exiled Tibetans is visiting Tibet this month for the first time since 1985.

China is yet to comment publicly on the allegations. ®

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