The world is rapidly advancing in technology. Due to digitalization, work has become easier. Although there are many advantages, it also has various disadvantages. Currently, information is the most powerful weapon. It is becoming the most concerning problem for corporations. Computers take up a significant chunk of the workforce, and everyone’s personal information is stored in them. Hackers steal this information for their own benefit through a practice known as cyber espionage.
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What is Cyber Espionage?
Cyber espionage is the unauthorized use of computer networks and other resources to gain access to secret, classified, and vulnerable data and information. This is for personal gain, technological purposes, or political gain. This process is carried out in an unnoticed and subtle manner.
Its goal is to obtain sensitive data. One of the biggest reasons for these crimes is the market for confidential information, which lures criminals all around the world. Cybercrimes are similar to museum heists, where a select few people are willing to pay hefty sums for some unique pieces.
Few Cases of Cyber Espionage
Cyber espionage is becoming more pronounced at the international and domestic levels. One can be a victim of espionage at any point if they do not care for their computer security system. Let us dive into some of the recent cyberspying cases to understand their effects on companies, governments, and nations.
In 1999, as reported by Newsweek, the first case of cyber espionage took place in the United States. Numerous attacks started in the year 1998, through which the hackers stole thousands of documents containing restricted information about American military technologies. Hackers got access to this information by breaking into the Wright Patterson Air Force Base and connecting with military research institutions. The malware that was used for the attack on Moonlight Maze is widely used for modern attacks.
Office of Personnel Management Data Breach
This cyber espionage was conducted by the Chinese government. The government’s hackers attacked the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and got access to the personnel information of about 21 million Americans, including the sensitive information of people who worked for or applied for the federal government and military service. The breach was discovered in June 2015, when OPM personnel detected malware that built a backdoor into the network. Even though OPM personnel assured that nobody suffered from the attack, the long-term effects are still unknown. This attack started in 2012 and wasn’t detected until 2017.
In 2010, Google received a series of cyber threats that were initiated by China. Google also claimed that some sensitive information was stolen and that Gmail accounts were also at continuous risk. Google even stopped censoring its search results in China. It was also reported that the other 20 international companies, including Adobe Systems and Yahoo, were also attacked.
Spying on the Obama and McCain Computers
A case of cyber espionage was reported during the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008. Hackers infected both John McCain and Barak Obama’s systems and stole sensitive data associated with foreign policies. The hackers secretly installed spyware on their systems. It was first discovered as a computer virus, but then IT experts discovered data leakage. Leakage was revealed after the presidential election.
Who are the Targets of Cyber Espionage?
Sensitive and vulnerable data are the main reasons why hackers commit cyber espionage. They break into the computer systems of the government or any organization to steal sensitive information.
Another reason for committing cyber espionage is to steal intellectual information, like research and development information, operational information, or any information related to a project.
Information about competitors
Cyber espionage may also be committed in order to gain information about what is going on in others’ backyards. This information must be used to beat a leading company at its own game.
How is Cyber Espionage different from Cyber Warfare?
Cyber espionage and cyber warfare are two different terms. Their difference is listed in the table below:
|Cyber espionage is an unauthorized act of using computer networks and other resources to get access to secret, classified, and vulnerable data and information.
|Cyber warfare is a cybercrime that targets a particular country, to damage or disrupt its infrastructure.
|The major aim of cyber espionage is to steal information while being hidden.
|The major aim of cyber warfare is to destroy a country.
Which factors determine Cyber Espionage?
It is difficult to have a proper and complete definition of cyber espionage. It is often used interchangeably with other cybercrimes. Given below are factors that will help us understand the definition better.
An emphasis on covert action
Access to vulnerable information or intellectual property
Other types of phishing attacks tend to steal personal information, financial information like account numbers, or digital infrastructure that organizations use regularly. Whereas cyber espionage has different aims. They target the intellectual property and advanced technology of corporate competitors, political advisors, or the private communications of dissenters. One main thing about espionage is that it is not subject to data breach reporting and notification laws. This implies that the crime remains unreported in cybersecurity statistics.
A specific target or moto
Many hackers target people or steal information by creating malicious sites or apps. The target of cyber espionage attackers can be any individual, a group of people, a population, or a government.
What are the techniques of Cyber Espionage?
The process of cyber espionage is carried out in a very secretive manner, so it is very difficult to know about their tactics and techniques. Some conclusions have been derived from the last few cyberspying cases that have been publicly disclosed in the past.
The majority of cyber espionage cases use social engineering in some way to encourage activity or collect information from the target. These techniques frequently prey on feelings of excitement, curiosity, empathy, or fear to prompt hasty action.
Supply chain attacks
Supply chain attacks have become a very favorable tool for cyber espionage. In this type of attack, a third party is involved. The attacker enters the system with the help of a third party or a provider with access to the target system. This has led to a greater success rate in data breaches than before.
Watering hole attacks
A watering hole attack works by identifying the frequently used website by the users within a targeted organization or other public sectors such as defense, government, or healthcare.
It is a type of social engineering attack that has been widely used for cyber espionage. In this type of espionage, the cybercriminal creates a fake identity. The vast availability of photographs on social media has made this job very easy. The cybercriminal then uses this identity to build a fake, virtual relationship with the target for months. When the target begins trusting this fake identity, the cybercriminal starts extracting confidential information.
An insider threat is a cybersecurity threat that comes from within an organization. It involves a former or current employee who has access to all the sensitive and vulnerable information. They can easily navigate the targeted system and plant malware or ransomware on the target’s devices.
How can Organizations Prevent Cyber Espionage?
Nowadays, hackers are becoming more sophisticated, which has given them the ability to get around many cybersecurity practices and systems. Despite the sophistication of these attacks, we suggest organizations better understand the threat posed by adversaries, their methods of attack, and their tradecraft. Organizations generally have to pay a huge fine for small data breaches. There are far too many threats to the system to ignore the risks. Given below are some ways in which one can prevent cyber espionage and safeguard private information.
It is important to be aware of the employees because the attackers enter the system through the employees. They send fraudulent emails and links asking for personal information or access to certain files. Many employees fall into the trap and click malicious links, which are usually a sign of phishing. Once they open the link, the cybercriminal can enter the system. Hence, employee awareness security training is essential to protect against cyber espionage.
Keep Software up to Date
One of the biggest reasons for cyber espionage is that the software and systems are not updated, To avoid this, it is important to invest in a patch management system that keeps track of all the software and system updates.
Ensure Endpoint Protection
Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and other systems that are connected to public networks are susceptible to these risks. These tracks need to be protected with specific endpoint protection software.
Install a Firewall
Putting the network behind a firewall is one of the best techniques to protect our systems from cyber espionage. A firewall system blocks every type of brute force attack trying to harm the network and enter the system.
Besides the software attacks, some of the attacks can be physical as well. Someone can merely insert a USB cable into the target system and wipe out all the data. Therefore, it is essential to protect the system by having a parameter security system.
Keep Your Password Safe
Make sure to keep your password safe by using a combination of alphabets, numbers, signs, and so on. instead of using your birth dates, anniversaries, names, and so on.
The Final Words: Cyber Espionage
Hackers have adopted numerous technologies to conduct cyber espionage. It has become the most harmful and common cyber attack in today’s world. But it is not so that the targeted organization should bow down to them just because they have something to use against it. Following the correct strategies with accuracy will outwit them.
FAQs: Cyber Espionage
It must be noted that the cyber espionage operation is considered legal from the perspective of international law, but it is considered illegal according to the domestic law of the target state.
Cyber espionage is a type of cyber attack committed against a rival business or governmental organization. The purpose is to offer the attacker information that gives them an advantage over rival businesses or governments.
Advanced persistent threats (APT), spear phishing, social engineering, and malware attacks are typical forms of cyber espionage. As assaults become increasingly complex, the cyber espionage danger landscape is always changing.
Cyber espionage is mostly employed as a tool to collect sensitive or classified information, trade secrets, or other kinds of intellectual property that the aggressor can exploit to gain a competitive edge or sell for profit.
The primary goal of cyber espionage is to obtain sensitive information secretly. In the first place, classified material is kept secret because its publication could jeopardize national security, the economy, or foreign relations.