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Hacking Threats Are Growing More Sophisticated in Developing Countries, Report Finds

Malicious actors and state-sponsored hacking operations are expanding in countries outside of the “Big Four,” a new report finds.

Hackers in countries like Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Qatar are quickly catching up with the sophisticated cyberthreat operations in China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, according to a new report released by The Aspen Institute’s cyber & technology program.

The threat assessment finds that threats from the developing world go beyond the “Big Four” countries often associated with cyber attack operations. Researchers attribute the “democratization and spread of cyber capabilities” to the spread of hacking tools to almost every continent, including Asian, Europe and South America.

Those trends are driven by the different approaches that attackers are taking around the world. In Vietnam, hackers are largely modeling their tactics on the playbooks of successful operations in China, while hacking groups in the Middle East have invested in advanced tools on the open market, according to the report.

The researchers’ case studies profile the expansion of online crime syndicates in Brazil and the operations of “hacker havens” in eastern Europe, including Romania. The geopolitical implications of the increase in sophisticated cyber crime are far-reaching, not only for the U.S. but particularly for other countries in unstable regions like the Middle East.

The assessment details the complicated antagonism between Qatar and nearby countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as both sides of the conflict have engaged in operations targeting the other.

“The willingness of these states to undertake aggressive international hacking and surveillance campaigns could—and arguably has—helped further destabilize the Middle East,” the report found. “The alleged weaponization of purloined data from both countries to alter U.S. foreign policy also undermines American democracy by subjecting it to pernicious covert influence campaigns.”

Threat activity is surging around the globe, particularly in areas experiencing digital booms without regulation or “basic cyber hygiene and education,” the report found. In Vietnam, a mix of state-sponsored hackers and independent actors are targeting their own citizenry, which are ill-prepared for attacks.

“State-sponsored hackers typically target corporate competitors in the region—largely in automobile, manufacturing, and hospitality industries—and have also drastically expanded their attacks on media companies and dissidents in the region,” the report reads.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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