Cyber espionage is the act of engaging in an attack or series of attacks that allows an unauthorized user to gain access to confidential data. These attacks are usually executed silently and take place in the form of an anonymous code or process that takes place in the background of a personal miniframe or workstation. The target of the attack is usually an organization or a government.
The purpose of these attacks is usually to obtain government secrets or intellectual property data. Attackers can have motives such as greed or profit, and at the same time spies may belong to the armies of different countries or even terrorist groups. The consequences of such attacks can range from a loss of competitive advantage to the loss of data, infrastructure, or even the death of people.
Popular tactics in cyber espionage
For many years, organizations have sought to thwart their business plans by infiltrating their competitors and spying on their competitors. One tactic is to send “fake” employees to a competing organization trying to obtain data or new technology development projects. Over time, technology has evolved this tactic, leading to the rise of cyber espionage.
The dummy employee is still an effective tactic today, but these days using vulnerabilities in insecure workstations is a much more attractive option. A person can upload a virus or worm to the device in a few seconds by inserting a USB stick into the device port. The goal may be to identify or open a security portal or to find a prominent vulnerability that could later be exploited.
Commercial websites can also provide such gateways to attackers, and experienced hackers can use website vulnerabilities to execute an attack. Seemingly formal emails are sent to specific individuals with high levels of network access, and by encouraging them to click on an infected link, space can be created for cyber attacks. This type of attack is called spear phishing.
Modern browser software consists of thousands of lines of code. New lines add new features to the browser, and software evolves. Sometimes a new code – accidentally or due to the carelessness of the developers – disables a known feature or disrupts security patches that have worked well before. When a new feature or software comes on the market, it is analyzed and sometimes reverse engineered by countless stakeholders around the world.
Examples of previous attacks
In December 2009, Google discovered a series of cyberattacks that targeted information contained in certain Gmail accounts. These accounts belonged to Chinese human rights activists, and Google was not the only target. The Internet giant quickly reported to at least 20 other companies that it had been attacked by a vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Explorer. Precautions were taken, and McAfee Labs identified the problem in early 2010 and codenamed it Aurora.
The Aurora attackers began by sending malware to individuals who were considered good targets because of the high level of access to valuable intellectual property. The response to this cyber espionage was different in different parts of the world. Microsoft released a security breach report and later released a security patch. Some companies and governments have also changed their browsers to be able to protect their data from possible future attacks.
Similar cyber espionage is happening around the world today. Organizations and governments are constantly targeted by such attacks. Identifying and preventing vulnerabilities is a job that requires extensive skills in information technology and information security.
Protect yourself against cyber espionage
Cyber espionage attacks can damage a company’s reputation or steal data (whether personal or confidential). Cyber-attacks that target governments can also lead to the failure of military operations or even the disclosure of classified and classified information. What exactly do attackers look for when planning such attacks?
- Internal data – things like operations, employee payroll details, R&D information
- Intellectual Property – Confidential projects, formulas and programs or any other data that is considered private. Anything a hacker can sell and make money from
- Customer Information – What customers does an organization work with? How much do these customers pay and what services do they use?
- Competitive information and marketing – short-term and long-term goals of marketing as well as knowledge that can be used to compete
Businesses often consider data loss to be one of their biggest concerns, but damaging a company’s reputation can be just as troubling. If an organization carelessly allows attackers to use its infrastructure for cyber espionage, it puts itself at great risk – not only from hackers, but also from customers and shareholders.
Organizations are responsible for protecting their customers’ information. An attack, even a small attack, can affect the trust of future customers. The question for customers will be whether or not the organization has used the best possible security measures? Does it have access to the necessary documents to support its claims? In addition, there are legal consequences, and you can expect a series of attacks on users on social networks. Compensation can take years when such damage is done to a company’s reputation.