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Cyber Espionage – Knowing You Are a Target

The existence of a persistent cyber-espionage threat to the military, government, and defense contractors is nothing new. While the ability of these organizations to react and remediate attacks against their networks is still often demonstrably lacking, there is now at least some level of cognizance of the threat and even an expectation of serious, repeated attacks. Awareness is obviously a vital first step on the road to solid security and attack prevention.

The widespread press coverage in early 2010 of the compromise of Google and several other companies’ networks brought the reality of an organized cyber-espionage threat to the attention of industries that typically were unprepared for the same type of threat that the government has faced for years. Since then, rashes of sophisticated attacks against defense, energy, and law firms have made headlines more and more frequently.

Ideally, companies directly affected by past and more recent attacks are rethinking the security of their organizations. But what about companies that weren’t hit in one of these waves? How seriously is a targeted cyber-espionage threat being taken at large in the corporate world?

The most disturbing facet of the recent attacks is that while they are certainly grabbing the attention of the press now, that is only because companies like Lockheed Martin and Google are admitting they are dealing with serious problems. Whether aware of it or not, the commercial sector has almost certainly been subject to the same cyber espionage threats the government and large defense contractors have been dealing with for just as long—the public just hasn’t known about it.

Much has been discussed about whether or not specific attacks are state-sponsored. Many countries do not operate with a clear separation between the private and public sectors; this blurred boundary means that furthering the business of state-owned or subsidized corporations through economic espionage may be seen as synonymous with hacking into a military network to steal secrets there. For instance, why not leverage the computer network exploitation capabilities of the state to give indigenous corporations a competitive advantage? There is a clear motivation for this sort of illicit cyber activity, and it is already happening on a large scale. The question of the attack being “state sponsored” is important. For those trying to defend their networks, knowing how capable and well-funded the adversaries are that are targeting them is critical.  It’s also vital to realize that these adversaries are not just targeting companies to steal customer PII (as bad as that is), but to steal the ideas, intellectual capital, and business information that contribute to making or breaking the organization’s ability to succeed.

This article will not delve into the morass of technical attribution, which is a post hoc discussion and ultimately a question for the legal community rather than the cyber intelligence personnel tasked with preventing cyber attacks. To begin with, the most important question to ask oneself is, how can you tell if your enterprise is a potential target? There are some basic, but maybe not immediately obvious issues that should be considered when answering this question.

  • Do you have ongoing or upcoming significant business in foreign countries with state-owned or subsidized enterprises?
  • Is your company or organization involved in an industry or technology that would be considered a “strategic resource” by other countries?
  • Is your organization positioned in such a way that it would affect trade legislation in the U.S. or globally?
  • Does your organization develop, sell or export controlled technology?
  • Do you represent or partner with other entities that fit any of the above categories?

If the answer is yes to any one of these, then chances are that your company or organization will face a threat to the security of your networks by well-resourced hackers. The knowledge that you are a target is only the first step, but it should enable you and the security apparatus of your organization to start to take appropriate measures to identify what, if any, measures need to be taken to protect proprietary and sensitive information.

For more information on tracking and disrupting sophisticated cyber threats, please visit www.cybersquared.com, email us at info@cybersquared.com or follow us on Twitter at  @cybersquared.

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More Stories By Adam Vincent

Adam is an internationally renowned information security expert and is currently the CEO and a founder at Cyber Squared Inc. He possesses over a decade of experience in programming, network security, penetration testing, cryptography design & cryptanalysis, identity and access control, and a detailed expertise in information security. The culmination of this knowledge has led to the company’s creation of ThreatConnect™, the first-of-its-kind threat intelligence platform. He currently serves as an advisor to multiple security-focused organizations and has provided consultation to numerous businesses ranging from start-ups to governments, Fortune 500 organizations, and top financial institutions. Adam holds an MS in computer science with graduate certifications in computer security and information assurance from George Washington University. Vincent lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, two children, and dog.