There's been a lot of consternation in some parts of the press about the so-called Shady RAT hacking attacks, but this should come as little surprise. Hacking for electronic intelligence in this way has been around for about a century, and is only becoming more common.
From the details that are emerging, this looks like a state-sponsored attack with targets that have little direct financial value to the average online criminal.
The other possibility is that this is another state actor running a similar network for their own ends, and there is always the faint possibility that it's a freelance operator.
After the News International hacking scandal, one has to wonder whether anyone isn't snooping where they shouldn't these days.
The absence of Chinese targets has led some to speculate that the country might be behind these attacks. If that's the case we shouldn't be surprised, as pretty much every advanced state does this sort of thing.
Ever since people used codes, their opposite numbers have been trying to crack them. This was traditionally done by intercepting the messages and cracking the encryption cipher, or finding someone who knew it and cracking them. But the advent of the digital age changed all that.
In the first years of the 20th century the internet of its day was the telegraph, and the UK was at the forefront of hacking such systems. Within days of the initial shots being fired in the First World War, the British navy was methodically working its way down the English Channel patching into, or destroying, German telegraph lines.
The activities of the Bletchley Park code-breaking team in the Second World War are at last receiving the attention they deserve, but most countries had some form of code analysis team. In fact, the Allies owe a huge debt to Polish cryptography specialists who smuggled their research out of the country when the Germans invaded.
Since then the snooping habits have proved hard to break, and states of all types have their own online specialists, none more so than the US. The National Security Agency (NSA), or 'No Such Agency' as it's known, doesn't have to state how much it spends a year, but it is widely reported to be the biggest defence agency and is much larger than the CIA.
The NSA's famously monolithic headquarters in Maryland contain some of the most advanced technology on the planet, and the organisation creams off the elite of the computing and mathematical worlds.
These people aren't just cracking enemy codes; there is growing evidence that they are being used to spy on governments, businesses and networks.
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