Cyber Defense Review

Cybercrime and State-sponsored Cyber Operations

By Dr. Jan Kallberg | January 28, 2016

Adversarial countries’ cybercrime and state sponsored cyber operations could easily be the same coin – just different views. The reason is very simple. Cyber criminals are specialists in luring people to disclose their secrets and open doors to user accounts to allow the perpetrator to use the access for their purposes. If a country adversarial to the US house cyber-criminal activity that targets the US -meanwhile the country itself pursued innovative ways to gather intelligence about the US it is likely that someone sees an opportunity.

Most countries adversarial to the US, if not all, are flavors of totalitarian regimes. Rules, laws, and international agreements are all arbitrary as long it fits the ruling elite. Totalitarian states tend to see the state interest as the overruling interest. It is more logical for a totalitarian state to use cyber-criminal activity as a tool to acquire knowledge about social-engineering methods and use the aggregated knowledge from the criminal syndicates instead of suppressing their activity by law enforcement.

As long as the cybercrime activity is not targeting the adversarial country’s own population, it is likely accepted as a “business endeavor” as long as they support the state with information.

We tend to assume that other countries follow our code of ethics, legal reasoning, and separation of legal and illegal activity, but not every state complies with these standards. The usage of cybercriminal aggregated information gives not only knowledge about US account holders, but is also a major knowledge transfer from the criminal sector to the agencies that operate state-sponsored cyber operations. From totalitarian state perspective it makes sense – as long as the cybercriminals attack and exploit accounts in foreign countries which does not affect the totalitarian home state.

So why are a number of here unnamed totalitarian or pseudo-totalitarian states unsuccessful in suppressing cybercrime? Maybe, they do not want to eradicate the cyber criminals because they actually are doing the state a grand service. The criminals develop the tools, procedures, and provide a steady stream of useful information for intelligence agencies – at no cost to the totalitarian state.