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GUEST INSIGHT: Cyber espionage: The rise of threats in the cyber dimension

Zahri Yunos and Zaleha Abd Rahim | Dec. 4, 2013
Two senior officers from Malaysia's information security specialist CyberSecurity Malaysia give their take on warding off espionage attacks.

Zaleha Abdul Rahim - CyberSecurity Malaysia modified 

Photo - Zaleha Abd Rahim, CyberSecurity Malaysia


Case Studies

- Sponsored state-actor activities

Brandon and Ryan (2013) argued that there have been aggressive cyber espionage campaigns by the States. Cyber espionage is seen as rivalry process by harassing or provocation actions.  In this case, the objective is to achieve gains through non-conventional means. The good example is cyber espionage campaigns, which have been reported between China and USA. There have been reported cases whereby sensitive documents pertinent to national security were stolen.

- WikiLeaks
   
WikiLeaks is a non-profit and anti-secrecy media organisation headed by Julian Assange and its modus operandi is to publish both the news stories and the original source material so that readers are able to analyse the story and see the evidence of the truth. WikiLeaks believes everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media. The case of Private Bradley Manning, a U.S Army who had digitally copied and released more than 470,000 classified U.S documents to WikiLeaks is an example of cyber espionage.

- PRISM

Another example of cyber espionage is the exposure of PRISM program by Edward Snowden, a former private contractor for the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden revealed that PRISM is an internet and telephone surveillance program where NSA is given the privilege to access all communications by default. "In other words, you are being watched and recorded even if you are not doing anything wrong", according to Snowden. 

Staying secure

Below are some guidelines to remain secure against cyber espionage:

- Hide in the network. Implement hidden services. The less obvious you are, the safer you are.

- Encrypt your communications. You need to do your best to ensure that your communications are encrypted.  You are much better protected than if you communicate in the clear.

- Be suspicious of commercial free software. Most freely encryption products have back doors. It is prudent to assume that freeway products also have foreign-installed backdoors. There is no such thing of free lunch. So, be suspicious whenever someone offers you a free package!

- Continuously do security audit. One of the methods to improve the security of your network is by having continuous IT Security Audit as well as Vulnerability Assessment of your critical applications, hardware and software. It is also recommended to follow best IT security practices so that you are in compliance with the standard IT security guidelines.

States carry out cyber espionage for various reasons - for rivalry against other States, for economic or political reasons - all for information advantage. The objectives are to bridge the power gap or counter the power of the other States. We also understand that there is also a need for monitoring and surveillance under the court of law. If somebody is suspected for running a smuggling ring or money laundering activities, or planning an outraged shooting or participating in a terror organisation, the person should be monitored with a relevant court order. However, it is not about monitoring every single people that are known to be innocent and without the full legal right.

The primary way in cyber espionage is eavesdrops on internet communications in the computer network. What sort of defensive mechanism do we have for thwarting against cyber espionage campaign? If computer networks are insecure, there is a big tendency to fall prey to cyber espionage.

Cyber espionage is one of the methods used in cyber operation and it is not going away. States will use whatever methods they can to achieve their ends. This situation comes to a conclusion that we should use our own locally developed technologies. We must be able to compete and provide world-class technologies. We need to have a trustworthy technology that we can depend on. If we need a big brother, perhaps it is better to have a domestic big brother rather than a foreign big brother. To have domestic capability and solution is still the best!

The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of CyberSecurity Malaysia.

 

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