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In recent months, the world-wide security community has discovered many cyber espionage campaigns that hit governments, intelligence agencies and private industry.
Cybercrime, governments, and groups of hacktivists tend to lean toward the spread of malicious agents that have the capacity to silently infiltrate their targets, stealing confidential information from them. According to the last report of F-Secure related to H2 2012, one of the most interesting phenomena observed in the period is the changing of techniques for cyber espionage campaigns. Estimating the real impact of cyber espionage on the global economy is quite impossible, due to the difficulty in identifying the majority of cyber attacks accounted for in each sector.
The UK Cabinet Office reports intellectual property theft and industrial espionage costs of ?16.8 billion in 2012. In many cases, estimates provided on the impact of cyber espionage don’t include the cost of defense systems deployed (and eluded by the cyber threats), as well as the cost of compensation and remediation actions of the victims.
The attacks were aimed at dozens of organizations operating in various sectors, including Adobe Systems, Juniper Networks, Yahoo, Symantec, Northrop Grumman, Morgan Stanley and Dow Chemical.
Unlike previous cyber espionage campaigns, Red October has targeted devices, including enterprise network equipment and mobile equipment (Windows Mobile, iPhone, Nokia).
Most troubling was evidence collected that demonstrated the campaign began in 2007 and is still active.
Reading the list of cases, one observes that many cyber espionage campaigns remained undetected for a long time. On the Elderwood operation, Orla Cox, a senior manager at Symantec’s security response division, reported that it has uncovered at least eight zero-day vulnerabilities since late 2010, and four since last spring.
The level of sophistication of the attacks, the targets chosen and abilities shown by the attackers suggest the commitment of a foreign government.
The primary intent of cyber espionage is to steal classified information from government agencies or trade secrets from corporations.
Cyber espionage can have a devastating effect on the social fabric of a nation as well as on the actions of every private company. Last year, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive published a report to Congress, presenting a frightening picture of the degree to which other countries use cyber espionage to attempt to gain business and industrial secrets from US companies. The number of corporate victims underscores a troubling trend: criminals aiming to steal corporate secrets and intellectual property with the intent to benefit in economic terms. Uri Rivner, head of new technologies at RSA, is convinced that we are in the age of cyber espionage.
In this area, there is a growing demand for information technology that is often vulnerable to all sorts of cyber attack. The web is a jungle where it is increasingly difficult to defend our identity and resources.
In the face of these ongoing threats, government agencies are defining best practices to reduce the risk of exposure to these attacks.
Though cyber espionage as such is not considered one of the main activities of hacktivists, thoughtful security experts don’t rule out the possibility. When cyber espionage is deployed in the private sector (where companies spy on competitors, as well as their own employees, to capture vital information or to avoid unauthorized diffusion of confidential data), they acquire products from software outfits specializing in cyber espionage. So far, this article has focused on cyber espionage based on the spread of malicious agents to gather confidential information. Starting with the assumption that the internet (and in particular, the social network) lacks a coherent and safe digital identity management, last year, I introduced the concept of social network poisoning: applying strategies designed to make knowledge related to a profile and its relationships unreliable.
Replacement of identity, or the ability to impersonate another user, using a wide variety of social engineering intelligence tactics.
Simulation of identity, creating a false profile, which does not correspond to any existing person, for malicious purposes or simply to remain anonymous.
The social networks are excellent instruments to conduct cyber espionage campaigns while gathering information on targets. The intelligence industry in the west is still too vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, so it is absolutely necessary to define cyber strategies to deal with incidents like those described. Last year, the impressive growth of state-sponsored attacks aimed at stealing information (to give economic, political and military advantages) famously included the cyber espionage campaign against NATO’S most senior commander, using the Facebook platform. With this attack successfully completed, it became possible to steal sensitive information like private email accounts, photos and messages, as well as uncover his network of friends. Of course, similar operations are hampered by the controls enacted by the managers of social networks, in collaboration with major institutions and law enforcement. The relentless spread of high-tech devices into our lives will sustain the practice of cyber espionage. From a government perspective, state-sponsored research aims to produce new technologies, able to infiltrate common-use objects.


That is the future of cyber espionage: the possibility of interfering with targeted systems remotely, acquiring sensitive information silently.
The greater the technological component of our lives, the greater the potential for cyber attacks. Pierluigi Paganini is Chief Information Security Officer at Bit4Id, firm leader in identity management, member of the ENISA (European Union Agency for Network and Information Security)Treat Landscape Stakeholder Group, he is also a Security Evangelist, Security Analyst and Freelance Writer.
Editor-in-Chief at Cyber Defense magazine, Pierluigi is a cyber security expert with over 20 years experience in the field, he is Certified Ethical Hacker at EC Council in London. Pierluigi is a member of the The Hacker News team and he is a writer for some major publications in the field such as Cyber War Zone, ICTTF, Infosec Island, Infosec Institute, The Hacker News magazine and for many other security magazines. InfoSec institute respects your privacy and will never use your personal information for anything other than to notify you of your requested course pricing. University provides law graduates and post graduates who will inspire and lead the community by putting service before self. The majority of them were related to state-sponsored hackers, while others were organized by groups of cyber criminals having obtaining access in order to resell sensitive information and intellectual property. Typically, they center on the most technologically advanced countries: the US, Japan and Russia, mostly.
The Chinese government is considered the biggest aggressor in cyber espionage, while US networks are the privileged targets of cyber attacks that hit every sector, from media to military. The number of state-sponsored attacks is increasing in impressive ways, due to the commitment of governments to cyber technology. To this point, almost all recorded corporate espionage cases were based on using specially-crafted documents containing a malware payload; meanwhile, in Q4, the attackers have started to exploit vulnerabilities in in web browsers and browser plugins. Defending against watering hole attacks does not require additional defense systems, save for attacks that exploit zero-day vulnerabilities against which a multi layered security approach is necessary. The 2012 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) reported 855 security breach incidents in industrial and corporate networks, totaling 174 million compromised records across the US, UK, Holland, Ireland and Australia. While enormous, we must remain conscious that the true extent of cyber-espionage is incalculable. Symantec declared that some of the exploits had been realized from knowledge of a stolen source code, assuming a link with the known operation, Aurora. The nature of the systems targeted and geographic distribution of the malware (the Middle East), combined with the high-level of sophistication led security experts to believe that it was developed by a foreign state, intent on hitting a specific country in the region. The investigation began after several attacks hit computer networks of various international diplomatic service agencies.
During the last 5 years, a huge quantity of data collected (including service credentials) has been reused in later attacks.
Resourceful attackers in fact used, in many cases, zero-day vulnerabilities that allowed them to elude detection by principal defense systems. Moreover, security experts believe that in many cases, the campaigns are linked each other, citing the case of Operation Aurora and the Elderwood project. Hundreds of millions threats were blocked from infecting small businesses, but large companies proved equally vulnerable, having been hit as part of the IXSHE campaign. This situation can be extremely dangerous for the economy of a company, as well as that of the overall country. It is sneaky and silent: unlike other crimes, it may be conducted for years without the victim being aware of it with serious consequences.
The biggest cyber-espionage threats against American businesses come from China and Russia. The information leaked is usually resold to competing companies and governments interested in strategic know-how.
These conditions make the market attractive to criminal organizations in the absence of effective regulations that often allow crimes to go unpunished. NIST has recently made public their Draft Special Publication 800-83 (SP) Revision 1, Guide to Malware Incident Prevention and Handling for Desktops and Laptops. Groups such as Anonymous could easily adopt cyber espionage techniques to disclose sensitive information as a means of expressing dissent against a government or the policy of a private company. The tools may be designed for justifiable purposes, such as supporting investigations and preventing of crime and terrorism. The application of this on a large scale could lead to the collapse of Social Networking, exposing members to the risks of cyber espionage and other cybercrime such as identity theft.
The result is the failure of the chain of trust which all social networks are based on, in order not to allow search engines specifically developed to retrieve information of any kind relating to a particular profile.
For this reason, it is strongly suggested that you consider carefully which profiles to add to our network, recognizing the possibility that some of them have been already compromised.
Similar incidents are troubling, and show how even the higher echelons of strategic commands may be vulnerable, too. Mobile and social networks are the platforms that attract the interest of attackers most of all, due to the large quantity of user’s information they manage.


The passion for writing and a strong belief that security is founded on sharing and awareness led Pierluigi to create the blog "Security Affairs," recently named a Top National Security Resource for US. We have been training Information Security and IT Professionals since 1998 with a diverse lineup of relevant training courses. But a good number of operations have also been detected in problematic regions like the Middle East as well. Profit, power and protest are the main motivations behind the attacks, radically affecting a user’s approach to the web and its perception of security. Meanwhile, McAfee provides an estimate encompassing global remediation costs to total a staggering $1 trillion per annum. Of these 855 incidents investigated by the DBIR, 92% went undiscovered until an external party revealed them.
Private companies and governments often do not report losses because in many cases, they aren’t able to detect the attacks.
Google revealed that the sophisticated attacks originated in China, they were well-resourced and consistent with an advanced persistent threat attack. Flame is a complex malware, designed with the primary intent to create a comprehensive cyber espionage tool kit.
This was a large-scale cyber espionage operation conducted to acquire sensible information from diplomatic, governmental and scientific research organizations in many countries; most of them in Eastern Europe, former USSR states and countries in Central Asia. In some instances, the hackers have stolen documents and sensitive information for years, changing the operative mode over time. With a majority of attacks linked to state-sponsored actors capable of organizing so complex an operation, the investigation on Red October revealed the possible involvement of Russian RBN, long considered a cybercrime outfit capable of providing an array of malicious services, including phishing, DDoS, malware hosting, gambling and child pornography.
As governments and businesses alike are motivated to reduce the technological gap with their competitors, it’s clear how diffused the phenomenon is.
This happened in the case of Nortel, a company which ended up in bankruptcy due to the theft of company secrets. These states engage in deliberate efforts to obtain sensitive business and technology information.
Consider another phenomenon: the impressive growth of internet availability in Asia Pacific, which has brought to this part of the world an increase of cybercrime and in particular of cyber espionage. Malware is considered the most common external threat to personal computers, causing widespread damage and disruption and necessitating extensive recovery efforts within most organizations. But too easily, they can be utilized by private businesses to undercut competitors, as well as by governments, in the bloodthirsty tracking and persecution of dissidents. This gives cyber criminals or spies the possibility of accessing information shared in the profile. Further, with the knowledge of their private email account, it is possible to target people close to victims who may be misled by fake mails. Many agencies and law enforcement agencies like the FBI are working to prevent such crimes. New advanced toolkits are sold daily via the underground, usable to exploit vulnerabilities inside victim’s machine with the primary purpose of installing malware that can gather confidential information. Mobile devices, but really, any kind of appliance present in our home (such as smart-TV and gaming console) can be used to spy on the user.
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This particularity led investigators to believe that the campaigns were organized and managed by groups of professionals possessing a variety of skills, including research capabilities to uncover and exploit unknown vulnerabilities.
A cyber attack against a subcontractor is easy to realize, as the line of defense penetrated is often fragile, allowing the attackers to acquire sensitive information from targets of interest. The information gleaned could provide the basis for other types of attacks, as well as for a large cyber espionage campaign. They’ve commissioned the development of complex analysis systems that monitor the powerful networks.
Spread legal literacy and legal aid to the poor and needy with a view to take justice to the doorsteps of common man. By analyzing the relationships of a victim, it is possible to discover past experiences and use the data to create fake accounts, damaging their reputation and poisoning their professional network.



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