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The kind of cyber operations more commonly associated with authoritarian states, such as Iran and Russia, are now being employed by dozens of illiberal governments in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, writes Manish Gohil in The European Business Review.

Spyware advances, digital tools of repression along with developments in artificial intelligence are boosting these states’ offensive cyber capabilities, posing a threat to political opponents and creating new threats and risks for Western businesses.

The cyber technologies employed by authoritarian regimes to undermine adversaries are also being bought by a swathe of countries with repressive tendencies, including Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Pakistan. There is already evidence of these governments utilising malicious cyber tactics to tighten their grip on power and to detect and quash suspected threats from political rivals. Forecasts by my company, Dragonfly, suggest that this trend is very likely to escalate over the coming years.

Russia, North Korea, Iran, and increasingly China, have all exploited weaknesses in cyber defences to try to both undermine Western democracies – largely by interfering in elections – and in some instances raise funds. They do so through commercial espionage and theft. Western governments and businesses have deployed substantial cyber resources to guard against these specific threats and understand how they work.

Less, however, is known about the new wave of state-sponsored cyber menace. That is not least because, unlike the first wave, the new actors do not presently pose a geopolitical danger. They have so far largely confined themselves to leveraging digital technology to undermine and harass opponents and dissidents. However, Western organisations and their personnel in these countries may soon find themselves in the cross-hairs – since commercial and sensitive information is the new gold.

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