The Cyberwar Turns to Corporate Espionage

Sophistocated cybercriminals hacked Sony and phished both Wall Street and health care industry executives.


There are potential threats to user privacy, and data security as the cyberwar between governments continues to mount. Another facet of the online data arms race could be a new trend in corporate espionage. Recently, Sony and a group of apparently North Korean hackers have been battling back and forth, and there are allegations of Wall Street hacks that go all the way to the executive level.

In the case of Sony, the company suffered a major data breach that exposed social security numbers, employee passwords, sales plans and four unreleased films. The total estimated data stolen is in the range of 10 terabytes. Sony has fired back, blaming state-sponsored North Korean hackers for the breach.

Recode contributor Arik Hesseldahl argues that the motive behind the attacks is an upcoming Sony movie, The Interview. He also notes that state-sponsored North Korean hackers have disabled major systems before. That said, there are allegations that Sony’s security practices were incredibly weak, so it’s unclear how sophisticated the malware had to be to take the data.

In terms of possible corporate-on-corporate attacks, there seems to have been a year-long campaign to phish the email accounts of corporate executives. Emails created specifically to appear genuine were sent to high-ranking officials at pharmaceutical and healthcare companies with the intent of gaining access to their email accounts.

Once the hackers gained access, they mined the accounts, allegedly for insider trading tips. The New York Times implies that because the attack was so well coordinated and so easy to miss, that the culprits may have been very knowledgeable about the industry. This was not an attack intended to damage, but an instance of corporate espionage instead.

It looks like after a year of vicious cyber-attacks and malicious hackers trying to gain access to passwords and data, we’re starting to see the cyberwar turn to corporate targets. Whether it’s stealing company secrets to aid in state propaganda or to gain an edge in the market, it’s concerning trend — one that experts may be right to fear.