THE ERA OF POLITICAL PIRACY
Photo by Joshua Gandara on Unsplash

Cyber-attacks have become a recurring event in our lives. Who has never received a strange email, sometimes sent by one of our contacts, inviting us to click on a link or give money to someone supposedly in need?

Why should we care

These scams are commonplace and harm the servers we depend on. However, there exists a much more dangerous kind of deceit: attacks on our institutions themselves. There have been countless attempts and many successful incursions.

The attacks come in different forms. They don’t have the same objectives, the same reach, nor do they pose identical risks. Currently, there is an explosion of software for extortion (also known as ransomware or malware), which serves to cut off a system’s access to its data until a ransom is paid. The amount of money demanded can add up to tens of thousands of euros. Luckily, most common attacks are far from successfully acquiring those sums.

Sectors in jeopardy

It comes without surprise that healthcare facilities became one of the most targeted sectors in 2020. Criminals took advantage of the fact that hospitals cannot wait to have access to their patients’ data, therefore forcing these establishments to pay promptly and ensure the care of their patients. These attacks more than doubled in 2020, which can be partially explained by the context of the covid-19 pandemic. Namely, hospitals that are saturated with people in need of urgent treatment must be put them first. These attacks can be fatal. One causality has been reported in Düsseldorf, Germany after a patient had to be transferred to another hospital due to a blockade of data access during an attack.

Inside the criminal’s head

The most favorable hacks, which caught the public attention, are those involving data breaches. These cyber-attacks chiefly target state infrastructure and all sorts of businesses. In this case, the danger is to national security, having been compared to the act of espionage. The attacks’ sophistication was deemed to be too high to be anything less than a coordinated operation from another country. A growing number of reports mention the involvement of Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang, targeting the European Union and its member states, the United States, and Canada, among others. Evidence points towards data breaches that exposed the critical contents of European diplomatic channels on the United States’ position concerning China and Russia.

So, who should we point the finger at?

Clearly, espionage is not Russia or China’s prerogative as other countries are not exempt from scandal. Namely, a scandal broke out after several countries discovered the US was spying on them, including allies. The documents shared by Edward Snowden revealed that only a few English-speaking countries were spared, due to their high level of intelligence cooperation. That was a pivotal moment for countries like Germany, showing great disappointment after the extent of surveillance that affected a large part of its diplomatic corps abroad over several years.

Political piracy places us in harm’s way

What are the takeaways? Certainly, we do not have enough power to end these peace-breaker tactics individually. However, we are becoming aware of some multinational companies that shouldn’t be trusted to collect and share our data. We know, to mention only two of the giants, that Google and Facebook have been slapped on the wrist (in 2020, the trifle of €100 million fine for Google in France) in the European Union, where the legislation is best suited to protecting citizens, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Alternatives are flourishing. They deter data control from companies like Google with tools such as anti-tracking search engines or secure messaging platforms. The only factor missing in the European Union’s plan to revert harm is, unfortunately, the most important: users. We can only hope that digital citizens become more and more aware of the power of data in the ways our society functions.

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