What Is Cyber Espionage? Full Guide
Cyber Espionage Definition
It is an ill-intent of a hacker or bad actor to steal personal/business data and use it for personal gains. Hackers steal login details, databases, server access, and many other digital assets and use them for personal gain or even sell them on the dark web for monetary benefits.
This attack is planned mostly on devices that are always connected to the internet, as these devices have a higher possibility of exploitation.
Cyber Warfare Vs. Cyber Espionage
When one tries to learn about reducing cyber dangers, cyber warfare and cyber-espionage are two terms that one encounters frequently. Both involve data stealing and corrupting devices connecting over the internet. However, they have significant differences that we have listed below.
- Cyber-espionage has a limited scope. At best, it affects a private or a government organization. But, cyber warfare impacts the whole country and has a wider scope.
- The motives behind cyber-espionage are personal, while cyber-warfare is fueled because of the conflicts that two or multiple nations are facing.
- Cyber espionage is mostly secretive and remains undetectable. On the contrary, digital warfare is loud and clear.
Cyber Espionage Targets
Attacks utilizing this technique are generally very well-planned. Hence, the target is carefully picked.
- Individuals deployed on higher posts and positions, having a great public appearance, and being involved in crucial decision-making are common targets of hackers because these individuals will have critical data on hold.
- Businesses of all sorts are often its targets too. Because they have a vast amount of user data and documents that cyber hackers can steal to make a profit.
- Government agencies and bodies also remain on the radar of hackers because they sit on a goldmine of data. A successful attack on government administration, agencies, and departments will allow cyberattacks to view/access a wide collection of data.
- Intelligence agencies are also among its very common targets because the kind of data these entities hold is of great importance.
- Even though the frequency is less, NGOs are also a target of hackers. Other than vast databases, the reason behind frequent attacks on NGOs is the fact that they don’t use strong data security practices. Hence, breaking into their system is easier than other options.
How Cyber Espionage Affects Data Privacy And Security
As the prime victim of the attack is individuals’ details and professional data, digital espionage is clearly a blot on the data privacy and security of those concerned. A successful attack has a negative influence on data privacy by multiple means, such as –
- Gaining unwanted access to the database
The direct impact of an attack is a data breach and unauthorized access to the database that an organization has maintained. This access is gained using the infected malware and apps. The mostly accessed data is related to personal data, KYC documents, research data, business accounting, and development reports.
- Stealing crucial digital resources
When a cyber-espionage attack is planned, it sits silently and keeps on stealing digital assets and resources. At times, hackers steal money to harm the target. Mostly, it’s the access details that hackers use to steal digital resources so that the reputation of the target is tarnished heavily.
Real-world Cyber Espionage Examples
With each passing day, this threat is becoming common and is expanding its reach. If one looks a little deeper, it’s easy to find endless cyber-espionage cases from real-life. Here is the most common example of this threat.
- When the world was busy resolving the Russia-Ukraine war, the Seaborgium group was spying on NATO countries and stealing information related to defense intelligence and strategies.
- Titan Rain is a famous group that spied on US and UK governments from the year 2003 to 2007.
- The recent China cyber espionage attack that impacted the Uyghurs community of Northwestern China used a watering hole attack technique to victimize multiple websites, including the US Department of Labor.
- GhostNet Ops is a famous spy group that monitored the Dalai Lama's offices for a very long time.
- A Chinese company, Nanjing Tianyi, was accused of stealing data from the US Justice Department.
Common Cyber Espionage Tactics
Cyber espionage is a broader term and combines multiple activities that bad actors adopt to fool and deceive the target. So, there is not a single tactic at work. It’s a combination of multiple processes, used alone or in combination with each other. Next, we will explain some of the most commonly used tactics.
Perhaps, the most commonly used tactic to steal data and digital resources is social engineering which includes using the emotional weakness and psychological manipulation of the target to steal the data. Again, social engineering has a vast scope. Phishing email malware-infected ads, voice phishing, SMS phishing, and baiting attacks are some of the social engineering techniques.
These are becoming quite famous recently. In typical cyber espionage attacks of this type, the bad actor keeps the supply vendor or partner under attack so that the supply chain of that organization is broken. Mostly, it takes place by injecting an infected code from the backdoor.
- Watering hole
This attack type involves compromising services/facilities that the target uses very often. When these services/platforms are infected, bad actors think that they will be able to plant malware on the target side.
In this type, hackers take the help of a hidden threat/vulnerability to infect an app or platform. As the threat already exists, hackers don’t have to make much effort, and the success rate is often high.
The trojan app is an ideal way to gain a backdoor entry to a system/platform. These apps are heavily infected with malware, and if the target downloads such apps, hackers can steal the data.
A very well-known technique, spear phishing involves using corrupted emails, phones, and texts to steal valid login credentials that hackers can use later on.
Guide to Identifying and Preventing Cyber Espionage
Unidentified and unresolved, this attack can cause serious issues for the concerned individuals and organizations. Hence, everyone should be aware of the indicators of cyber espionage and techniques that can prevent this hassle from occurring.
The first step towards early espionage detection is accurate identification that you can do this with the help of -
- Sensor apps. There is software that can help you find out seen and unseen abnormal functions that indicate the presence of this attack or compromise. Use these sensors to spot a threat in its infancy stage.
- An extensive IOC database that you must refer to every time you scan your digital assets. The IOC database generally features common markers of an attack and can help you determine if any of these are present in your systems.
- An SIEM or Security Information and Event Management tool that can scan all the at-work systems for threat detection. It ensures that no system is left out.
- A skilled cyber espionage bounty hunter. These professionals are equipped with advanced threat detection techniques and will spot malware for you.
Once you have managed to spot the cyber espionage scheme that a threat actor is planning against you, you need to learn how to prevent the success of an attack. Below-mentioned techniques work best.
- Adopt a Zero-trust policy. With this policy, organizations will keep everyone under scrutiny and will ask for verification for every user. This way, hackers will have very less possibility of breaking into the system.
- Apply MFA so that hackers will have a tough time reaching digital assets. In MFA, two or more login processes are combined to strengthen the system's security.
- Spread awareness about the importance of cybersecurity and educate your teammates about best practices.
- Don’t keep your digital assets open for all. Control access and apply RBAC so that no unauthorized personnel access your applications/systems.
- Use strong passwords and change passwords often so that no one can exploit the passwords.
- Try not to use pirated software and applications. Such tools are heavily infected and can introduce viruses instantly. Also, ensure you’re downloading apps or getting systems from trusted resources only.
- Take regular data backups to ensure your business data is protected. Also, data backup ensures that the organization doesn’t lose data even if an attack takes place.
How Can Wallarm Help?
Wallarm is a leading AppSec platform offering a wide range of facilities and web security tools for both individuals and organizations. These tools are easy-to-use, packed with advanced security features, and are backed with powerful threat detection techniques. Hence, accuracy and real-time cyber threat resolution are possible with tools that include:
For web-based applications and websites, the most renowned cybersecurity tool is WAF or Web Application Firewall which sits separating the application service and internet server filtering traffic so that no corrupted link or elements are reaching the concerned app/website.
However, not every WAF is effective. GoTestWAF is an advanced WAF testing platform using which organizations/individuals can find out the real-time accuracy and functionality of the WAF you’re using for your website. Hackers of the present era are smart and can detect a weak WAF at work. They will attack websites/web applications using such WAFs for sure.
With GoTestWAF, you can avoid using weak WAFs and improve the security of your web applications/websites. The tool can test multiple APIs and provide vulnerability-related details as PDF or as console output.
It will help you understand all threats the at-work WAF is detecting and weak entry points using which cyber actors can break into your website/web application.
APIs are the prime victims of cyber espionage as these are the most widely used development resources. If APIs are protected, end applications are secured. Wallarm provides an extensive API Security Platform that covers an extensive API profile, supports any deployed type, and can integrate seamlessly with the current AppSec security flow.
The platform automates the entire process of threat detection and does a great job of avoiding alert fatigue. It’s offered as a SaaS tool. Hence, installation hassles are nowhere to be seen.
It supports all the leading protocols like WebSocket, REST or SOAP, and many more. It’s so strong that it can easily track the entire API lifecycle so that threats are spotted at an early stage and remedial solutions are provided immediately.
As mentioned above, WAF is the most commonly recognized AppSec tool for web apps and websites. Wallarm offers a cloud-native WAF that works in all the leading environments and supports APIs & microservices. The WAF comes with amazing threat protection and can prevent APIs and microservices from a wide range of threats and dangers.
Along with protecting digital assets, Wallarm’s Cloud WAF is useful for organizations seeking PCI, SOC2, and DSS compliances. As the tool has nearly zero false positives and fine-tuned results, it’s worthy of your trust.
As it’s a cloud-based tool, one doesn’t have to invest heavily in its setup and installation. The best part is that it works seamlessly in the blocking mode. With laudable automation and extensive threat protection, this WAF never disappoints.
It continuously extracts the metadata from nodes that enable users to define the threat protection rules according to the application under observation. This way, you will have API and microservices specified protection that is very hard for hackers to bypass.
Once you use it, you will be able to know that Wallarm’s cloud WAF is the only WAF with fully automated incident analysis. The WAF uses a highly active verification process for each identity danger. This way, it figures out application-specific threats. You will be able to understand which danger is aiming at what application. Based on the intensity and severity of the attack, users can prioritize the threats and resolve them in order.
You also get to enjoy passing and black-box scanning facilities. All in all, this WAF is perhaps the most extensive, modern, and responsive cloud-based tool that organizations/individuals can use to trim down the possibilities of cyber espionage.