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Do Governments Worldwide Snoop On Individuals? Answer Seems Yes According to Google's quarterly Threat Analysis Group (TAG) release for September, more than 12,000 people have been targeted worldwide by various governments

By Tahira Noor Khan

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It is widely acknowledged that advancements in technology are not in sync with data security laws and regulations. There have been numerous reports of data hacking and misuse of private information of individuals in the past few years. India, too, has been a victim of the data breach of individuals on numerous occasions. The most recent and high-profile one being WhatsApp confirming attack by Israeli spyware Pegasus.

According to Google's quarterly Threat Analysis Group (TAG)—which works to counter targeted and government-backed hacking against Google and its users—release for September, more than 12,000 people have been targeted worldwide by various governments. The worst-affected victim of government-backed hacking is individuals in the US. India has been put in the category less-than-equal-to 500, i.e up to 500 individuals being targeted.

"From July to September 2019, we sent more than 12,000 warnings to users in 149 countries that they were targeted by government-backed attackers," says Shane Huntley in a statement by Google TAG. The statement also warns high-risk individuals such as journalists, human rights activists, and political campaigns to be more careful and enroll in Advanced Protection Program (APP) of Google.

Phishing out information of individuals

A major way of extracting the personal information of individuals is through phishing. According to Wikipedia, phishing is a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Google TAG reports, "Over 90 per cent of these users were targeted via credential phishing emails."

In a typical phishing attack, an attacker sends an email with a security alert from Google suggesting users to secure their accounts. Once the user clicks the link, enters the password and other confidential information, the attacker gets access to all their data.

Spreading of Disinformation

Access to individual's data helps governments to spread disinformation for their own vested interest. The two recent cases identified by Google TAG are Russia-affiliated influence operations targeting several nations in Africa and the campaign targeting the Indonesian provinces Papua and West Papua with messaging in opposition to the Free Papua Movement. The Russia-affiliated influence operations used inauthentic news outlets to disseminate messages promoting Russian interests in Africa. Google has taken action against both these attacks.

Tahira Noor Khan

Former Junior Features Writer

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