Top 4 Politically-tinted Spyware Campaigns

Criminals use spyware for quite a few different purposes. In most cases, they seem intent on infecting consumer devices as often as possible. However, throughout the past few years, there have been multiple spyware campaigns designed to attack political figures and institutions. This is a rather troublesome development that will only become more prominent as time progresses.

4. Kazakhstan Government

It is not surprising countries with limited free speech are often mentioned in these spyware campaign stories. Back in early 2016, the Kazakhstan government distributed spyware to political activists and journalists who were critical of the country’s government. Moreover, the family members and associates of these victims were targeted by phishing and spyware campaigns as well.

As one would expect from these campaigns, the Kazakhstan government relied on spear-phishing campaigns targeted at specific individuals. Through these emails, the criminals attempted to trick recipients into opening documents which would install surveillance software on their computers. It is worth noting some of these tools are sold commercially for the price of US$40.

3. NetTraveler Spyware

In the first half of 2013, a massive spyware distribution campaign targeted over 1,000 political and industrial targets all over the world. All NetTraveler spyware victims would fall victim to basic surveillance and data theft. Among the targets were Tibetan activists, scientific research centers, and various military contractors. The full scope of this attack was never revealed, although it is safe to assume a lot of damage was done in the process.

2. German Politicians Under Fire

Late last year, various German politicians came under attack by unknown assailants. Two separate spear-phishing campaigns were sent out, both of which were designed to spread spyware to potential targets. The emails originated from an individual who claimed to be a NATO employee using a seemingly legitimate email address. It is believed Russian criminals are behind this campaign, albeit that was never proven.

1. Mexico’s Soda Tax Proponents

Earlier this week, a new spyware campaign took on a rather political nature when it started spreading to Mexican health advocates. A lot of people are seemingly in favor of a new soda tax, yet they have incurred the wrath of those who oppose this change. As a result, a wave of surveillance-oriented spyware – developed by the NSO Group – was sent to everyone who is in favor of the soda tax.

Every target received a personalized message warning of bogus news, urging the recipients to tap a link. Once they click this link, the spyware would be downloaded onto their device and start spying on user activity. For now, it remains unclear who is behind these attacks and an official investigation has been launched. This news is of great concern to NSO Group, as they only sell spyware to law enforcement agencies.  

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