Government-Funded Hacking on the Rise

Hacking is hardly a new concept for governments in developed countries. However, recent years have seen rapid growth in hacking for several reasons. Social media has allowed people to network with one another more comprehensively than ever before, and our various electronic devices are often networked together as well (with our phones linked to our laptops linked to our bank accounts and so on). Not only that, but corporate consolidation has often led one or two huge companies to have control over nearly all the user data in their relevant markets. In other words, there are more ways to hack, and the targets are bigger and juicier, and hacking one platform like a phone can grant access to an entire network of linked devices and files.

Consequently, the last few months have exposed one massive hack after another. Equifax lost personal data on millions of Americans during a hack last September, followed quickly by Deloitte that same month. Prior to these, various US government agencies suffered direct hacks, some of which were not detected until long after the damage had been done. And of course, who can forget the hack that crippled Sony prior to its release of the movie "The Interview," or the many hacks during the 2016 US Presidential Election which undermined Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton?

Sometimes, it's not clear who was responsible for these hacks. Other times, it's all too certain. Many of these hacks against the US government have been linked to Russia and China, countries with extensive histories of cyberattacks. China was heavily implicated in the hack made against the US government's Office of Personnel Management in 2015 which stole over 22 million records of federal employees, and implicated again the year before that in a hack against US government defense contractors. Moreover, while the hacks against Equifax and Deloitte have not been linked yet to China, China remains a suspect, particularly in the Deloitte hack.

Russia of course has now notoriously been linked to the 2016 Presidential Election hacks. The complex nature of the hacks is staggering: Russian agents made fake accounts on Facebook, Google, and other media platforms, and used these accounts in order to buy ads that spread fake news to American citizens. Russia also used hacking to steal private documents and then release these documents during the election in order to discredit Hillary Clinton. Moreover, one of the top cybersecurity firms in the world, Russian company Kaspersky Labs, was recently banned among US federal government officials because the company's management was suspected of spying for Russian intelligence.

In terms of differences between Russian and Chinese hacking, while both countries have a long list of cyberattacks to their name, there do tend to be distinct patterns in each country's respective priorities. Russian cyberattacks tend to focus on specific targets--usually political targets--with a surgically precise goal (such as influencing an election). Extremely elaborate networks tend to go into these hacks, such has having literally thousands of hackers setting up and managing fake social media accounts in order to disseminate false information on a grand scale. Conversely, China tends to use sweeping attacks to infiltrate databases and collect large amounts of files, perhaps to store the information for future use or financial exploitation.

In summary, we live in a time where countries with the right resources can launch elaborate and immense attacks against everything from our bank accounts to our social lives, all through a computer thousands of miles away. If we are not more vigilant about securing our information, and detecting threats that have slipped past our first lines of defense, then we could rapidly lose control of any number of aspects of our lives. We could even lose sight of what is real and what isn't, as the sources that we depend on for our news are compromised and used by third parties to feed us information that suits malicious agendas.