Cyber-espionage is an effort to either cause damage to another country or cause damage to an organization, agency or department within a government (Kenney, 2015). It is planned, organized and conducted through state hired hackers in order to do the countries bidding on cyberspace (Kramer, Eds). A few countries that engage in this type of activity include those countries with a potential for offensive cyber capabilities such as China, Iran, Cuba and Russia, just to name a few (Kramer, Eds). Others have developed these capabilities; however, they are more or less friendly towards the United States. This is not to say that they would not target the United States either accidentally or inadvertently, but the likelihood of a wide spread cyber-attack from these countries is lower than that of an attacks from China, Cuba, Russia and Iran (Kramer, Eds). In essence, cyber espionage is more of a state sponsored attack over an individual or group such as the hacktivist group Anonymous.
Non-state actors such as Anonymous utilize cyberspace in an effort to attack at specific groups or individuals. They also will utilize their expertise in order to spread a message. The messages they spread are political, economic, and social in nature. These actors fall in to the category of hacktivists; they conduct their attacks against specific computers that are utilizing the internet (Kramer, Eds). In the last couple of years, Anonymous has taken it upon itself to conduct cyber-attacks on terrorist groups like al Qaida and ISIS. As recently as 2016 Anonymous had been conducting cyber-attacks on ISIS in retaliation for ISIS attacking innocent civilians in Iraq, Syria, France and England. Hacktivists and criminal elements tend to lean on denial of service attacks to get the attention of their victims. Denial of service attacks have been quite common and can be conducted against anyone, including governments. Denial of service attacks happen every day. In the year 2016 DoS attacks numbered in the hundreds of thousands, each week.
Criminals are another threat to individuals and businesses; they utilize the internet to target individuals for their personal identifiable information and financial information in an effort to cause disruptions in their lives. Some of the things that they will do include open credit card accounts in someone else’s name, take out loans, buy cars, homes, and anything that might cost a person lots of money in order to cause as much of a burden on a person as possible (Kramer, Eds).
Terrorists utilize cyberspace as well for questionable activity and for support operations as well as getting orders out to their masses. In the last few years they have found a way to utilize Ebay and Reddit to send messages back and forth to their operatives (Thomas, 2015). They have also been able to utilize social media in an effort to spread their propaganda and also recruit (McMaster, 2017). Posting attacks on social media along with media recordings of their leaders allows them to get their message out to their followers as well as intrigue the potential people who would either support, follow or join their cause (McMaster, 2016). And with cyberspace it allows them to get their messages out globally.
The idea that cyber-terrorism can occur has altered the cyber security environment and has caused many to take notice of it. Everyone from government, politics, to the general public are now in fear of the next cyber-terror threat (Weimann, 2004). Terrorists do not distinguish military from civilian in all cases. When prompted they can take down militaries, civilian internet services, and financial services (Weimann, 2004). Just the fear of cyber-terrorism is enough to cause any individual or group to be not only alarmed, but hit the panic button anytime they can’t log in to a computer or have their Facebook account hacked. It can be embarrassing to the individual and to anyone who the hacker is targeting with the attack. Cyber-terrorism is a low cost option for terror groups, as the price of computers used for this type of attack has come down and a regular laptop off the shelf can cost a lot less these days than the ones that first came out (Weimann, 2004).
All four categories are equally as bad, espionage can potentially do damage to military or government operations, hacktivists can cause expensive damage through their denial of service attacks, and criminals can hurt an individual or business. Each is not good when it happens and policies geared at them are almost useless in an effort to either halting it from happening or finding those that conduct these types of attacks. And of course, terrorism and cyber-terrorism can be nerve racking on a population, especially if the target of the terrorists is a financial institute. Defenses for these are getting better, as there are only so many ways that these individuals and groups that conduct these attacks can attack everyone.
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