When Hackers Attack

Dissidents Are Just the Latest Victims in the Blossoming Cyber Cold War

LulzSec is so last year.
6826903372 11696bdfc4 Dissidents Are Just the Latest Victims in the Blossoming Cyber Cold War

Let slip the dogs of cyber war. (flickr.com/anhonorablegerman)

Remember last summer, when all anyone could talk about was hacktivists? For a while there, we were living in a William Gibson novel, with hackers wreaking havoc and corporate types running scared. Well, so far, this June is shaping up a little differently, with a wave of state-sponsored attacks straight out of a spy novel.

Much as we love lone teenaged lone wolves typing away in their moms’ basements, it’s clear they’re just the loudest and proudest of hackers. Just because the spies don’t have official Twitter accounts and release YouTube videos doesn’t mean they’re not there, though. The latest two instances come courtesy of Fast Company, which points out that dissidents are increasingly a target of state-sponsored hacks.

For example: Tibetan activists recently received a phishing email, disguised as an official communique regarding a recent European resolution, which takes root in their computers and calls up a server in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, members of the Syrian opposition are being targeted with malware, distributed via Skype, that installs spying software.

Google has even started warning Gmail users when they’ve been targets of an attempted state-sponsored cyber attack.

This is different from just a couple of months ago, when Stuxnet and Flame looked conveniently aligned with the strategic goals of the U.S. and Israel, but mum was the word as to where the infections came from. Now, thanks to exposes in the New York Times and the Washington Post respectively, we’ve good as got confirmation they were programs developed by the two nations working in concert to slow Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Nor is the cyber tussle between the U.S. and Iran is over. Just today, an Iranian news agency (described by the AP as “semiofficial”) claimed to have fought off another “massive” cyber attack. The expression “can of worms” comes to mind.

LulzSec, we have to say, was a lot more entertaining.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com