The actual process of cyber espionage involves the development of malware, which in turn, is used to aggregate information from a number of strategic points. Success is dependent upon the accuracy of the data gathered. While there are well documented cases in which conflict was not an end result, they did, however, spawn deep distrust between the parties involved. Keeping tabs on neighboring powers without their knowledge or permission comes with a hefty price.
The following are examples of cyber espionage in recent history:
This 1999 FBI investigation documented one of the first cases of cyber espionage against the United States of America. The attacking party was suspected to be the Russian government, and the bounty was classified documents of the US military. Conspiracy theorists would have you believe otherwise, but the official report claims that the documents stolen were somewhere in the thousands. The attack itself involved spoofing in which hackers gained accessed to the Air Force’s database using an authorized account in the wee hours of the morning. The attacker was later identified via phone confirmation.
Also known as “Snake” or “Uroboros,” this ongoing cyber espionage campaign is believed to have first reared its head in 2008. Originally targeting the Windows operating system, it made use of phishing schemes via Adobe PDF exploits and other social engineering techniques to ultimately compromise the confidential networks of the U.S. Department of Defense. When phishing failed, watering hole attacks, which target specific groups of end users, were used. Turla is a Trojan package with the namesake of a Russian government agency. In 2014, its scope was broadened to target the Linux operating system, as well.
Advanced Persistent Threats
Most cases of cyber espionage are typically categorized as Advanced Persistent Threats (APT), which can be defined as perpetual attacks against a system in order to gain access. APTs use a number of methods, including backdoor viruses, batch files and other software programs which may lay dormant without detection until data can be transmitted, or other devices on the infected network can be compromised. Experts believe that with the current landscape of Internet accessible devices, most cyber espionage cases wind up going unnoticed.
Protection against Cyber Espionage
The most alarming fact about cyber espionage is that victims are often unaware they are being targeted or monitored. The best defense, therefore, is to always be on guard. Security administrators, for example, are encouraged to create data policies which limit access to sensitive information. It is also important they analyze all network activity to inspect for any abnormalities. Finally, a continuous monitoring process should be implemented for critical data so that if unauthorized access is gained, it is easier to identify the culprit and time of attack.