Ever had the creeping sensation of being stalked by an unknown entity? Like something or someone is lurking somewhere around the office or house. Not by some ghosts, but such events caused by humans can be horrific when it happens in cyberspace. Being stalked or spied on in the cyber world is dangerous because the potential spy or stalker stays hidden.
Table of Content:
- What is Cyber Espionage?
- The Sinister Incentive Behind Cyber Espionage
- Forms of Cyber Espionage Attack
- Consequences of Cyber Espionage
What is Cyber Espionage?
Cyber espionage is an act where someone tries to spy in any way possible to steal confidential, sensitive data or intellectual assets. In most cases, the targets are millionaires, corporate houses, large organizations or the government. The process of cyber espionage is carried out subtly, in which the cybercriminal obtains classified information.
The Sinister Incentive Behind Cyber Espionage
Cyber espionage is not a crime to be taken lightly. The goals criminals wish to achieve from a cyber-espionage attack has no limits. They can steal personal, corporate or government financial, strategic, diplomatic and other confidential data to commit fraud. This type of data breach can cause financial and reputation loss.
Cybercriminals from all around the world are always snooping or spying for financial, political, or strategic gain. These nefarious hackers have the technical idea of rattling everything from government infrastructures to financial systems or power resources. They have influenced the outcome of state campaigns, wreaked havoc on global affairs, and aided or hindered the success or failure of businesses.
Staying invisible and lingering around like a plague or disease, spreading from device to device grasping all confidential assets to gain benefits in every way possible and causing damage beyond understanding is what makes cyber espionage a dreadful act.
Forms of Cyber Espionage Attack
Cyber espionage is the kind of attack where individuals, groups, or businesses utilize information and communication technologies for commercial or personal gain which takes different forms in different circumstances.
Most attackers use advanced persistent threats to enter networks or systems invisibly which makes them undetected for years. However, there are other ways criminals use cyber espionage.
Social engineering attacks are very common but also increasingly sophisticated which involves psychological manipulation. Criminals try to exploit human psychology to gain classified, sensitive data or intellectual property.
Hackers carry out different schemes to play with the human mindset. Social engineering tactics are so obscured that most of the time the damage gets noticeable after the criminals leave which makes this a great method for cyber espionage.
In most cases, hackers take advantage of belief and curiosity. A criminal can send a link or attachment via email or text posing as someone trustworthy. Unfortunately, the link or the attachment contains malicious files or it may redirect to a different scamming website. Wherever it goes or whatever it does, clicking a malicious link always ends with getting duped. Hackers might also try to call a family member or an employee tricking them into divulging their password which also leads to a security breach and manifestation of sensitive data.
Signalling System 7
Signalling system 7 is a very widespread telecommunication method and it is being used by both intelligence agencies and mobile operators which has a great surveillance system. But the surveillance systems can be very dangerous and effective for cyber espionage if it falls into the wrong hands. Criminals can listen to all voice calls or monitor every single text message. To sum up, they can keep track of every mobile communication activity.
Before being discovered and patched by the software developer or the customer’s IT team, cybercriminals take advantage of an unknown security vulnerability or software flaw which refers to zero-day vulnerability.
A zero-day vulnerability is a software security flaw that is known to the software provider but for which there is no fix available. Cybercriminals can take advantage of these flaws.
As a result, hackers manage to exploit security vulnerabilities and infect devices with malware through the weak points.
There were some high-profile zero-day attacks in the past.
Stuxnet: This malicious program was once designed to disrupt a country’s nuclear program.
Operation Aurora: This zero-day attack targeted the Network of many big businesses, such as Google, Adobe Systems, Yahoo and Dow Chemical.
Sony zero-day attack: The assault disrupted Sony’s network and caused confidential company data to be released at file sharing facilities.
Spear phishing involves sending emails to a very specific target after a good research. Spear phishing campaigns include a significant amount of search and rescue in addition to extremely focused targeting. Criminals may begin with emails obtained from a data breach.
The main purpose of cyber espionage is to steal information from a specific target which makes spear-phishing very effective.
Watering Hole Attack
An attack from the watering hole is a way to compromise a particular person or organization through either the establishment of new websites that attract them or the infection of existing websites known for visitation by members of that group. These attacks are quite different from spear-phishing attacks. The Watering Hole attack continues to target more people and pin more victims than the original target of the assailant.
Spear phishing attack targets are specific where a watering hole attack targets a large number of people. Spear phishing is like providing something poisonous to eat to a specific person and a watering hole attack is like poisoning the water supply in an area. Criminals use watering hole attacks to spy on a large number of people.
Consequences of Cyber Espionage
Cyber espionage assaults are enough to harm the reputation and lead to the theft of sensitive data, such as personal and financial information. In many cases, the loss of data is a primary concern but recovering a damaged reputation is difficult. A squandered reputation always clinches to failure.
Criminals typically try to infiltrate business executives, house corporations, government, military, banking, political organizations causing immeasurable damage or stealing billions of dollars.
Criminals can infiltrate IoT devices like smartphones, smart speakers, routers, webcams, CCTV etc. which will be catastrophic for any family or organization. Losing IoT devices to criminals is one of the most hideous things. A criminal can monitor every single activity of a house or company resulting in loss of reputation and financial assets.
Prevention Against Cyber Espionage
With the increasing sophistication of cyberspies, they can circumvent many standard cybersecurity products and legacy systems. Even though these threat opponents are extremely developed and can use intricate tooling in their operations, defending against these attacks are not hopeless.
Cyber espionage is hard to trace as the attacker tries to stay undetected but as Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
- Updating devices and software is essential to prevent cyber espionage.
- Understanding the source of the attacker can provide a better chance of figuring out what’s going on. A criminal’s motivations can range from gaining a competitive advantage to disrupting a system or location.
- Set up firewalls and alerts to identify normal behaviour and generate alerts for unexpected or abnormal behaviour
- Data that hold intellectual property is often readily available on the network and easily accessible to many people. Check if critical information can be accessed.
- To restrict USB devices and encrypt data, use a device control mechanism.
- Sometimes data can be easily visible and accessible to all users on the network. Identifying who can access what is the first step of protecting sensitive data.
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Legal and Expert Help
Because cyber espionage can be both complex and aggressive, it pays for companies or corporate houses to consult experts and use comprehensive security services. Techforing can deliver advanced threat prevention and intelligence, helping businesses to stay on top of current cyber threats and trends. This helps them to swiftly discover susceptible entry points, comprehend dangers before they materialize, and determine the appropriate course of action.
For any kind of legal help about Cyber espionage, contact your law enforcement agency.
USA: Contact FBI cybercrime unit Contact Us — FBI
UK: Contact NCA cybercrime unit Cybercrime – National Crime Agency
EU: Contact Europol cybercrime unit Report Cybercrime online | Europol (europa.eu)
Australia: Contact AFP Cybercrime | Australian Federal Police (afp.gov.au)
Canada: Contact CCCS Report a cyber incident – Canadian Centre for Cyber Security