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CYBER PODCAST: The Growing World Of APTs and Government Hackers

We spoke to EFF's Eva Galperin about government hackers and espionage operations.

by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
Dec 26 2018, 5:55pm

In many ways 2018 has been a strange year of firsts. In the world of government hackers, however, it almost felt like more of the same: everyone is hacking and spying on everyone. The world’s cyber-superpowers—the United States, its “Five Eyes” allies (UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand), China, and Russia—were all predictably active in what many consider the new domain of warfare.

But cyber isn’t a game just for superpowers anymore. Iran, North Korea, and countless other smaller countries in the Middle East and Africa are playing catch up. One of the year’s strangest, and most fascinating, pieces of research on APTs—or Advanced Persistent Threats, as they’re called in jargon—was the discovery of a Lebanese-government linked group that was spying on thousands of targets all over the world.

On this week’s episode of CYBER, we spoke to one of the authors of that research, the director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin.

Shockingly, Galperin and her colleagues concluded that the hackers behind the operations may have been privateers who do espionage operations for several different governments.

“We think this is the new frontier of cheaper and cheaper spying,” she told us, explaining that it makes sense that there’s a market for these kind of hackers because some governments just don’t have the knowledge and skills to run their own APT-style operations.

Galperin has been tracking APTs for years, with a special focus on those who target human rights defenders, journalists, activist, and the weakest populations out there. The bad news, she said, is that none of this is going away anytime soon.

“The sharks are getting smarter,” Galperin told us.