Cyber Espionage in the 21st Century

By Dialogo
September 11, 2012

The technological advancements in the second half of the 20th century revolutionized espionage activity, replacing human sources with highly complex and precise systems, such as image satellites, platforms to monitor signs and communications, and unmanned vehicles.

In the 21st century, this process, characterized by the digital era, has been enhanced by incorporating the existing sources to a more aggressive component. Computer viruses are modular entities for espionage activities and they already show a strong tendency of becoming the main weapon in future wars, in the “super cyber weapons” category.

The first cyber attack happened in 2003, in Estonia, causing great loss to the economy of that country. Since then it has been possible to evaluate the degree of vulnerability due to the increasing reliance on systems that are interconnected to various areas. This type of activity has been escalating internationally and each day millions of new spyware software is found.

An evolution of the infamous Trojan Horse was discovered in 2009. The super virus Stuxnel and Flame, for example, were used to spy and neutralize systems that had confidential information on the Iranian nuclear program. More recently, a new super virus has been identified. It is similar to Flame, known as Madi, and it is used to spy on financial organizations and governmental authorities who have any type of confidential knowledge.

Because of the high complexity of these super viruses, it has not been possible to evaluate the real extent of the damage caused by them, which can take years. However, as much as the losses, the gains can be immeasurable, due to the capability of consolidating or changing the configuration of the global power and influence. In any case, the current scenario leads us to believe that in future possible wars, humans will have a secondary position whose main role is to type on keyboards and press buttons.

*André Luís Woloszyn is a strategic affairs analyst