In This Issue
Vol. 27 Issue 41
THE EVOLUTION OF NATION-STATE HACKERS, AND HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM SPIES
- The Digital Era and Data Risk
- The Cyber-Evolution of Authoritarian Actors
- To Protect Your Enterprise, Protect Your Data
- The New Era
Why Read: This week, we will dive into how internet-connected digital devices have enabled authoritarian nation-states to spy on open democratic societies, and how to protect yourself and your business.
The Digital Era and Data Risk
“U.S. computer networks and databases are under daily cyber attack by nation states, international crime organizations, subnational groups, and individual hackers.” – John O. Brennan, former Director, CIA
“What was once a comparatively minor threat – people hacking for fun or for bragging rights – has turned into full-blown economic espionage and extremely lucrative cyber crime.” – Christopher Wray, Director, FBI
In mid-December 2020, the Guardian published an article describing an apparent surveillance operation of the mobile phones of US citizens by the Chinese government. In it, an American mobile security researcher described how China Unicom (owned by the Chinese state) was using mobile-phone signaling messages to track American users who were traveling. It also appeared that this was being done via a proxy mobile network in the Caribbean to hide Chinese Unicom. What wasn’t known by the researcher was the global extent of China’s mass surveillance operation.
Connected digital devices have brought with them immense gains, from 1-click e-commerce to social media. At any moment, we can pull a mobile phone from our pocket and reach across the globe to send data, voice and video messages, and even money. While the benefits of such instant communications and commerce are great, the internet itself was not constructed with these applications in mind.
The original Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was designed as an open platform for information sharing among government and academic researchers. The idea that a company owned by the Chinese Communist Party would be able to repurpose the internet and mobile phones (filled with cameras, microphones, and location trackers) to spy on American citizens would have seemed a wild fantasy to the original internet developers.
In the 60-odd years since ARPANET turned on, much has changed.
While the availability of innovative, compact, and affordable connected devices has exploded along the lines of Moore’s law, so too have the capabilities of authoritarian regimes that seek to use them for destructive purposes. The massive interconnection by mobile, internet-enabled devices of nearly every person on the planet has coincided with the rise of mass surveillance enabled by the technologies we rely on. From the kinds of surveillance mentioned above to the targeted hacking of individuals, companies, and governments for specific data exfiltration, we live in an era in which ongoing attacks on all three come regularly from foreign countries.
If you or someone near you works on a sensitive technology, an important political issue, intellectual property, or anything connected to emerging smart technology, manufacturing, or transportation, you are in the crosshairs of authoritarian governments.
Welcome to the 21st-century cyberwar.