What is cyber espionage and how to prevent

cyber espionage

Understanding and Preventing Cyber Espionage

Let us begin with an Introduction.

In today’s information age, data is the new asset. Having the current data and information in hand is valuable and gives an upper hand in trade and business. But like all things valuable, there would also be threats to it. In this case, it is cyber spying or cyber espionage. 

Essentially, cyber espionage is a kind of cyberattack where an unauthorized user tries to gain access to sensitive or classified data or intellectual property for ransom, economic gain or competitive advantage in business.

Such attacks are not easily visible and are often quite subtle, going unnoticed as a bit of code or probably a process running in a processor personal workstation background. The target is usually a business or government entity in most cases. This article will answer some of the questions about this cyber threat, like what is cyber espionage. 

What is cyber espionage?

As briefly mentioned in the introduction above, cyber espionage, by definition, is a form of cyberattack aimed at stealing confidential data and intellectual property. While other cyber threats are usually around data breaches or data theft at a low level, cyber espionage is more strategically targeted with a precise aim and objective to de-stable an organization at a larger scale. 

Furthermore, cyber espionage is not limited to stealing data; instead, it is more about going for the information that has more value. The biggest and the main difference between a cyberattack and cyber espionage is that the principal goal is to steal information and commit fraud. In comparison, the primary goal of a cyberespionage attack is for the attacker to remain hidden and linger in the system unnoticed for as long as possible whilst gathering crucial data.

As you know, espionage is the process of spying or using spies to gain data, plans, ideas and information from a rival entity. When this same process happens in the digital world online, it becomes cyber espionage. 

There can be multiple motives for cyber espionage, from monetary gains to blackmailing. But the primary reason is to destabilize a business or an organization. This attack is not limited to just some countries, but it is a global threat to businesses and governments worldwide. 

Now let us explore some of the types and examples of cyber espionage that will make your understanding of this threat better.

Cyber espionage is a significant threat that even popular businesses have not been spared and are always cautious about. For example, in 2009, Google noticed a series of insistent cyber-attacks targeted at gathering data that was explicit to just Gmail accounts. 

Some Chinese human rights activists held these accounts, and Google was not the only one targeted. Once the pattern was noticed, they quickly informed a minimum of 20 other companies that they were or at least might be targeted through a loophole in a web browser, namely Microsoft Internet Explorer. 

This problem was sorted in the early part of 2010, and it was hence code-named ‘Aurora’. Aurora attackers used targeted emails and sent malware to individuals who were mediated as targets believing that they would likely have a high level of access to valuable intellectual property and data. 

After this attack was brought to light, some companies, governments and organizations took preventive steps, even switching browsers to help safeguard against such future attacks. But the fact is that there are similar instances of cyber espionage that are taking place today, all over the world.

Then again, in 2020, organizations and government agencies in the United States were targeted by a nation-state attack where a backdoor was discovered in a widely-used IT management product from SolarWinds. 

Almost 18,000 SolarWinds’ customers were vulnerable because of this attack, along with a lot of U.S. government agencies too. After a thorough investigation, it was revealed that a Russian hacking group was behind the attack. With these examples, it is quite clear that the threat is real but very dangerous as well. 

Protect yourself from cyber espionage

Cyber espionage attacks can seriously dent your business’s reputation and compromise valuable data, including personal and private information. Businesses often consider data loss a primary concern, but a dented reputation can be just as distressing and potentially catastrophic. For example, suppose an organization allows its set-up to be used to allow or harbour cyber espionage. In that case, they put the whole business at risk and make clients and shareholders data vulnerable.

The fact of the matter is that organizations are solely responsible for protecting their client’s data. Therefore, even a small attack could seriously impact your reputation and destroy the trust between your organization and your clients. 

How to prevent cyber espionage?

The truth is that there is no guaranteed way to eliminate every attack. Still, it is generally advisable for companies and other organizations to assess their current security and procedures, evaluate risks and develop a strong security policy covering all the cybersecurity aspects. 

In addition, processes like having backups, regularly updating software and hardware, and other security updates should also be followed, duly logged, verified and audited to ensure everything has been covered. 

Employ security systems such as anti-virus, anti-malware software, and an SSL certificate to ensure security online. Since these cyber spies gain access through a gap they find in your security online, you must plug all the gaps, and an SSL certificate is the best way to start. Typically, those unsecured websites are all HTTP, but HTTPS or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure is the more secure HTTP form. 

SSL is a transfer layer contact between the server and your website, basically working as an overseer to ensure that communication is safe from external attacks. It comes in various kinds and at different validation levels. If you seek to secure your main domain in addition to multiple first-level subdomains, a wildcard certificate is your best bet. 

With this single cert, you can keep adding first-level subdomains under the chosen primary domain without any extra cost. For example, you can go for the premium yet cheap comodo wildcard SSL to secure all subdomains at an affordable price. 

Another important approach to help administers cybersecurity can be made using the latest operating system for your devices. Most companies use Windows or MAC platforms but may not update to run the latest, most secure software versions, which leave security gaps. 

The latest versions usually offer the most protection. It is generally good to use a comprehensive IT security solution with a deep vulnerability assessment and understanding. It should take care of software upgrades and patches.

In Conclusion: 

Cyber espionage should be taken very seriously, and you must protect your organization by taking all the necessary steps to prevent such an attack from happening. To reiterate, you must put security measures in place and reinforce them with cybersecurity tools such as SSL certificates, updated software and platform. This article has broadened your understanding of cyber espionage and given you essential tips to protect against the same.

Last Updated on February 1st, 2024