What is Cyber Espionage? Everything You Need To Know

What is Cyber Espionage? Everything You Need To Know

What is Cyber Espionage?

Cyber Espionage is the unauthorized intrusion into a computer system to acquire commercial or industrial secrets or confidential information. ‘Cyber espionage’ may be a misnomer in that the information stolen is often used in commercial and military contexts. The abbreviation ‘espionage’ does not seem to fit well with computers at all. As will be discussed, secrets and/or confidential information are not the focus of cyber espionage activities.

 Cyber Espionage is the espionage done through the use of computers and computer networks, typically associated with governments or other state actors who have a significant advantage in terms of resources and technology over the general public.

Why is Cyber Espionage Used?

Cyber espionage refers to the use of cyberattacks to steal information, which has commercial or political value. Cyber espionage can be used to influence public opinion or to undermine commercial or political relationships between states. The methods of cyber espionage are similar to those used by other types of spies, but it’s important to note that cyber espionage is not reserved for government organizations. Third-party organizations, such as terrorist groups and organized crime syndicates, may engage in cyber espionage via the Internet.

One reason cyber espionage is attractive is that it is much easier than conventional espionage. Finding information about people and businesses is as easy as a simple search. With the use of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it’s possible to create a detailed profile on an individual before ever meeting them.

Cyber Espionage Targets

Cyber Espionage is a targeted attack in which a group or nation-state attempts to gain access to information from a specific organization or government.

One of the most common ways criminals get information about their targets is by using social engineering. This method involves convincing an employee of a target organization to reveal sensitive information, which can be anything from login credentials, to business strategy, to source code. It is unique in that it does not have a military objective, but rather an intelligence one. The goal is not to destroy or disrupt systems, but rather to use them for intelligence gathering.

The targets of cyber Espionage are

  • Military and intelligence personnel
  • Key financial and military personnel
  • Government targets with proprietary information
  • Journalists and political figures
  • International firms and corporations
  • Private companies that produce the equipment and materials the U.S. Department of Defense uses
  • Industrial control systems and critical infrastructure facilities
  • Banks and Financial institutions

Common Cyber Espionage Tactics

Cyber espionage attacks are more difficult to trace than other types of more direct cyber-attacks. Although they can be traced back to some source, it is often unclear exactly who is behind the attack.

Targets for cyber espionage range from military contractors to government agencies to news media providers. The release of stolen information can have devastating impacts on the victim organizations. Not only does this type of attack cause economic damage, but it also causes serious damage to reputation. The release of corporate secrets or information about military equipment can have serious implications if it falls into enemy hands.

Cyber espionage is a threat to every business, large or small. The purpose of cyber espionage is to steal trade secrets, research and development, and other valuable business information. Cyber espionage is a part of corporate warfare and must be considered when developing an information security strategy.

Cyber espionage tactics can include:

  • Cyber Attacks: For example, denial of service attacks, password guessing attacks, and distributed denial of service attacks.
  • Social Engineering: An attacker will often use social engineering techniques to gain access to critical data such as passwords, user Ids, and PINS. The attacker will often pose as a co-worker or other individual to get the information they need.
  • Physical Access: If physical access is available the attacker will attempt to install hardware and software that will give them access over the network. This might be through a USB drive or other portable media.
  • Exploiting Software Vulnerabilities: Many times the attacker will take advantage of known vulnerabilities in software that has not been patched or updated. They take advantage of these vulnerabilities to gain access to sensitive data.

Global Impact of Cyber Espionage

Cyber Espionage is not limited by geographical boundaries or national borders. Cyber espionage can occur in any country, including the United States. The U.S. Government has taken steps to improve its ability to deter, detect, and mitigate cyber espionage against U.S. interests, but more needs to be done because the threat remains significant.

The United States must recognize that it is a target of cyber espionage, which threatens the security of both our government’s information systems and the networks upon which our economy depends. At the same time, private sector entities are subject to cyber espionage that threatens their proprietary information or business interests. 

In a 2012 survey, nearly half of businesses in the United States reported that they had been the victim of a cyber-attack over the past 12 months, while about 10 percent of large corporations said they were victims of attacks daily. Cyber espionage has evolved from a nuisance to a significant threat, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

The most common aim of cyber espionage is to steal trade secrets from competitors, which can include everything from specific product plans to company financial records. Some groups have gone so far as to use cyber-attacks to block access to entire websites to damage another company’s operations. For example, in 2011, U.S.-based hackers attacked the site for an Iranian oil company and took it offline for two weeks, according to Reuters.

Cyber Espionage Penalties

  • Cyber espionage penalties are the same as penalties for standard espionage. The US attorney general is in charge of prosecuting cyber-espionage cases.
  • International law requires that people be notified when their data has been stolen. The Chinese government decided to notify some of its citizens when they were targets of cyber espionage, but they didn’t tell the rest.
  • Even if the Chinese government had told everyone they were targets, it is not clear how much good it would have done them. It’s not possible to ensure your computer is secure against cyber attacks.
  • The Chinese government uses a different strategy from other governments for defending against cyber attacks: they try to stop all communications between China and the rest of the world so that attackers can’t reach any computers in China. They have a firewall, called “the Great Firewall,” that tries to block access to sites outside China from within China.

Cyber Espionage Attacks


Aurora was an attempt to steal data from companies. It used malicious code, but it wasn’t any ordinary Trojan horse. It escaped the control of whoever released it and spread across the Internet on its own.

The attack was discovered by an American cybersecurity company called iSight Partners. The first thing they noticed was that the malware was using three previously unknown flaws in Microsoft Windows to get in. Then they found out that this wasn’t just code that had been released without any defenses; it had defenses of its own. It would try to shut down antivirus software and firewalls, and it could even update itself to get past newly installed security software.

One of the strangest things about Aurora was that it was programmed to erase all traces of itself after twenty-four hours. That would be like a car alarm going off for exactly one day, and then never sounding again. And, like a car alarm, Aurora’s time limit turned out to be its weak point: enough people just happened to notice it before it shut itself off that iSight Partners was able to figure out what it did before the program erased all the evidence.

Covid 19 research

Cyber security researchers discovered the most advanced cyberespionage malware ever found. The new threat is called “Covet-19” (Covet is short for COVID), and included the following three components:

The first is a network infector or “backdoor” that can manipulate or steal information from the computer it’s installed on. The second is a network sniffer, which can intercept information transmitted over the network, and the third component is a remote control system that allows the attacker to take over the infected computer.

It was revealed in February 2010 that an advanced cyber spy had been operating for several years in hostile countries. It was also revealed that he had been using this kind of malware to gather information from various organizations and individuals, including Japanese government offices and major multinational corporations. In addition, infections were confirmed at seven leading Japanese defense companies and institutes belonging to Japan’s Ministry of Defense. The researcher who discovered these infections named them “Covet-19,” after the 19th letter of the alphabet.

Nation-State actors

Cyber espionage has been a part of the world since the beginning of computers and networks and will continue to be a part of the world as long as people use computers and networks. Nation-State Actors (NSA, CIA, GCHQ, MSS, FSB) prefer sophisticated exploits that blend in with normal traffic and avoid detection. Some people improperly use malicious software. They typically target computers from large organizations.

These organizations usually have teams of cyber espionage specialists (i.e., hackers) working for them. They work together to find new vulnerabilities in systems and figure out how best to exploit them. The exploits can be weaponized (i.e., turned into viruses or other types of malware), and then used to attack and steal information from their targets. Hackers are always tinkering with their attacks, trying to develop new ways to harm you.

Cyber Espionage Detection, Prevention, and Remediation

Cyber espionage is the use of spyware and similar techniques for industrial or governmental espionage.  The US Intellectual Property Office (USIPO) recently published an assessment of the threat posed by cyber espionage. It states that the current annual cost to the US economy is at least $100 billion per annum.

The increasing sophistication of cyber espionage attacks makes it increasingly difficult to detect them, especially when they are targeted against high-value targets. Moreover, prevention measures are not always well suited to addressing persistent adversaries capable of cleverly obfuscating their activities. Finally, remediation can be very costly and may not be successful if the adversary has already stolen valuable intellectual property or other data worth far more than any cost associated with its destruction.

To address these challenges, we are developing new solutions for Cyber Espionage Detection, Prevention, and Remediation, which leverage our experience in developing artificial intelligence solutions for both cyber defense and cyber offense for the US Military.

Sensor Coverage

Sensor coverage is a mechanism for arranging detection points of security sensors so that optimal detection of threats is easy. There are two objectives in sensor coverage. The first objective of sensor coverage is to provide comprehensive protection of the area under surveillance. The second objective is to provide effective use of human intelligence capabilities.

Technical intelligence

Technical intelligence provides information about emerging threats that can be used to detect, investigate and remediate attacks before they become damaging or expensive. Technical intelligence is more than just having good tools, though that is certainly important.

Technical intelligence is about using tools in a way that’s informed by intelligence from many sources – including data from network traffic, event logs, sensors, and other sources – to detect adversary activity in time to respond before damage occurs

Threat Intelligence

Threat Intelligence is the process of collecting, analyzing, disseminating, and sharing cybersecurity information to make appropriate risk-based decisions.

The purpose of threat intelligence is to enable defenders to understand what they are up against, what the adversaries are doing, and how they are doing it. The goal is to uncover adversary tradecraft and link known adversary groups with their activities without relying on indicators that might be false or reused.

Threat Hunting

Cyber threat hunting is the process of actively searching through networks for signs of malicious activity, including breaches of security controls, malware, and data exfiltration. It is a proactive approach to identifying cyber threats on your network before they cause damage, theft, or loss.

The goal of cyber threat hunting is to find the attacker before they find you… or your mission-critical data. The more mature your cyber threat hunting program, the more likely you are to catch an attacker in the act and stop them before it’s too late.

Service Provider

Cyber espionage operations against Service Providers involve a wide range of malware and methods, which are constantly evolving to evade detection. As a result, Service Providers must maintain a robust set of defensive tools and countermeasures to detect these attacks as quickly as possible and minimize the impact on the network. The following blog will focus on some of the most prevalent tactics used by cyberespionage operators against Service Providers, as well as provide recommendations to help mitigate the risk.

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