Social Engineering Attacks on Government Opponents: Target Perspectives

Authors: William R. Marczak (UC Berkeley, Citizen Lab), Vern Paxson (UC Berkeley, ICSI)

Volume: 2017
Issue: 2
Pages: 172–185
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/popets-2017-0022

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Abstract: New methods of dissident surveillance employed by repressive nation-states increasingly involve socially engineering targets into unwitting cooperation (e.g., by convincing them to open a malicious attachment or link). While a fair amount is understood about the nature of these threat actors and the types of tools they use, there is comparatively little understood about targets’ perceptions of the risks associated with their online activity, and their security posture. We conducted in-depth interviews of 30 potential targets of Middle Eastern and Horn of Africa-based governments, also examining settings and software on their computers and phones. Our engagement illuminates the ways that likely targets are vulnerable to the types of social engineering employed by nation-states.

Keywords: privacy, human rights, surveillance

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