Cyber Espionage

From Espionage to Cyber Espionage



Intelligence is the collection of information that have military, political, or economic value.

According to the Aspin–Brown Commission (that was chartered by US Congress in October 1994 to conduct a comprehensive review of American intelligence), “it is preferable to define intelligence simply and broadly as information about “things foreign”— people, places, things, and events — needed by the government for the conduct of its functions.”

Intelligence refers to both:

- information about “things foreign” that is collected by clandestine means,

- information available through conventional means.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency, “reduced to its simplest terms, intelligence is knowledge and foreknowledge of the world around us—the prelude to decision and action by US policymakers.”

Espionage is a set of intelligence gathering methods.

The Oxford’s English Dictionary defines espionage as “the practice of spying or of using spies, typically by governments, to obtain political and military information.”

The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary has a slightly different opinion. Espionage is “the practice of spying or using spies, to obtain information about the plans and activities especially of a foreign government or a competing company.”

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) defines economic espionage as "the act of knowingly targeting or acquiring trade secrets to benefit any foreign government, foreign instrumentality, or foreign agent."

According to the 2019 Situation Report of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS): "Espionage is driven by a variety of different motives and has more than one aim. For example, states strive, using information obtained by their intelligence services, to gain a fuller picture of the situation in order to improve the effectiveness of their actions.

It can furthermore be observed that information is increasingly being procured with the aim of influencing (in so-called influence operations) or damaging the actions of rivals. Both can be achieved through the selective publication of information. The aim of such activities is often to weaken the cohesion of international groups or institutions and thereby to restrict their ability to act."

Cyber is a prefix used to describe new things that are now possible as a result of the spread of computers, systems, and devices, that are interconnected. It relates to data processing, data transfer, or information stored in systems.

With the word cyber we also refer to anything relating to computers, systems, and devices, especially the internet.

The prefix cyber has been added to a wide range of words, to describe new flavors of existing concepts, or new approaches to existing procedures.

Intelligence gathering involves human intelligence (HUMINT - information collected and provided by human sources), signals intelligence (SIGINT - information collected by interception of signals), imagery intelligence (IMINT), measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT), geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), open-source intelligence (OSINT), financial intelligence (FININT), etc.

HUMINT is the oldest form of intelligence gathering. Cyber-HUMINT refers to the strategies and practices used in cyberspace, in order to collect intelligence while attacking the human factor.

Cyber-HUMINT starts with traditional human intelligence processes (recruitment, training, intelligence gathering, deception etc.), combined with social engineering strategies and practices.

Cyber espionage includes:

- unauthorized access to systems or devices to obtain information,

- social engineering to the persons that have authorized access to systems or devices, to obtain information.

Cyber espionage involves cyber attacks to obtain political, commercial, and military information.

Cyber espionage and traditional espionage have similar or the same end goals. Cyber espionage exploits the anonymity, global reach, scattered nature, the interconnectedness of information networks, the deception opportunities that offer plausible deniability.

Economic and industrial espionage, including cyber espionage, represents a significant threat to a country’s prosperity, security, and competitive advantage. Cyberspace is a preferred operational domain for many threat actors, including countries, state sponsored groups, the organized crime, and individuals. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) introduce new vulnerabilities.

Cyber economic espionage is the targeting and theft of trade secrets and intellectual property. It is usually much larger in scale and scope, and it is a major drain on competitive advantage and market share.

According to Burton (2015), cyber threats can be classified into four main categories: Cybercrime, cyber espionage, cyberterrorism, and cyber warfare.

Cybercrime is crime enabled by or that targets computers. Criminal activities can be carried out by individuals or groups who have diverse goals such as financial gain, identity theft, and damaging property. Usually cybercrime is financially motivated.

Cyber espionage activities are conducted by state-sponsored cyber attackers "for the purpose of providing knowledge to the states to obtain political, commercial, and military gain" (Burton, 2015).

According to Denning, cyberterrorism is “the convergence of cyberspace and terrorism" that covers politically motivated hacking and operations intended to cause grave harm such as loss of life or severe economic damage.

Cyber Warfare involves the use of computers and systems to target an enemy’s information systems. The use of cyber power in military operations is an important force multiplier. Since the armed forces are highly dependent on information technologies and computer networks, disruption of these systems would provide great advantages.

Cyberspace is regarded as the fifth domain of warfare after land, sea, air, and space. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in June 2016 that “the 28-member alliance has agreed to declare cyber an operational domain, much as the sea, air and land are”.

According to the 2019 Situation Report of the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS): "Espionage operations which have come to light reveal that cyber tools and other communications reconnaissance instruments are being used in parallel and in interaction with human sources.

Depending on the objective, information is also being procured exclusively via cyberspace. The latter has gained in importance insofar as the use of cyber-based information-gathering tools has proven successful for many actors.

Cyber espionage is difficult to detect, the perpetrators can hardly be successfully prosecuted, as the purported country of origin does of course not help to elucidate the affair and determination by the means of intelligence of the origins of the cyber-attack (ʻattributionʼ) can simply be denied based on the lack of provability."

A major challenge today is the lack of awareness and training. Many organizations and companies continue to believe that cyber security is a technical, not a strategic discipline. They believe that cyber security involves the protection of systems from threats like unauthorized access, not the awareness and training of persons that have authorized access to systems and information.

The rule of the people, by the people, and for the people, requires citizens that can make decisions in areas they do not always understand. Our cybersecurity awareness and training programs increase the level of expertise and knowledge across companies and organisations, and assist in the establishment of a culture of cybersecurity. We promote increased public awareness of disinformation activities by external actors, to improve the capacity of citizens, firms and organizations to anticipate and respond to such activities.