China's government on Tuesday dismissed a research report outlining an extensive spy network based mostly in China as "lies" designed to hurt the country's image abroad.

Speaking to reporters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the conclusions of the report by Canadian researchers were symptoms of a "Cold War virus" that causes people overseas to "occasionally be overcome by China-threat seizures."

On Sunday, the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto released the report on a spy network, dubbed GhostNet, that it said had infiltrated at least 1,295 computers, including 103 belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices around the world.

The report, published after a 10-month investigation, found three out of the four servers in the network were based in China while a fourth was in the United States. Some of the IP addresses used by the hackers were traced back to Hainan Island, the location of China's major signals and intelligence agency.

But Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning that the attack could have been carried out by anyone, as the control servers were not set up securely.

Qin did not directly respond to questions about whether the network existed or if its actions were supported by the government, but instead defended his country's record on fighting cybercrime.

"China pays great attention to computer network security and resolutely opposes and fights any criminal activity harmful to computer networks, such as hacking," Qin said.

"Some people outside China now are bent on fabricating lies about so-called Chinese computer spies."

The GhostNet investigation began after the authors were asked to look into allegations that the Chinese were hacking into computers set up by the Tibetan exile community. The researchers eventually found a much wider network of computers that had been infected by hackers with malware that allowed the hackers to gain control of the computers and look at all files.

With files from the Associated Press