Delving into State-Linked Cyber-Espionage Targeting Global Research

  • 18 August 2023
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Delving into State-Linked Cyber-Espionage Targeting Global Research
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The focal concern at hand pertains to a series of cyber-espionage endeavours orchestrated by an entity identified as Patchwork, a hacking collective believed to be affiliated with India. Their modus operandi involves a deliberate focus on infiltrating universities, research institutions, and diverse entities across multiple nations, including China. This syndicate employs an array of strategies encompassing spear-phishing, watering hole assaults, and the dissemination of malevolent applications. The hallmark of their campaigns is marked by the deployment of a particular covert tool termed EyeShell, further deepening the complexity of their activities.

Implications of Cyber-Espionage 

National Security Concerns

The cyber-espionage activities by Patchwork pose significant national security concerns for the targeted countries, as sensitive research, intellectual property, and confidential information can be compromised.

Diplomatic Strain

Such activities can strain diplomatic relations between nations and lead to mistrust between governments. If it is indeed proven that a state-sponsored group is involved, it can escalate tensions between the countries involved.

Economic Impact

 Stolen intellectual property and research can be used for economic gain, giving the hackers' home country an unfair advantage in technological and economic competition.

Privacy Violations

The activities involve the collection of personal data and surveillance of individuals, which raises serious concerns about privacy violations and potential misuse of the acquired information.

Disruption of Academic and Research Efforts

Targeting universities and research institutions can disrupt ongoing research projects, collaborations, and intellectual pursuits, potentially hindering scientific progress.

Manipulation and False Evidence

The planting of "incriminating digital evidence" as seen in the case of ModifiedElephant can be used to manipulate narratives, frame innocent individuals, and influence public opinion.

Threat modeling can play a crucial role in helping to address the issue

Identification of Attack Vectors

Threat modeling helps identify potential attack vectors that threat actors might exploit to gain unauthorized access or conduct espionage. By thoroughly analyzing the system's architecture, components, and interactions, security professionals can identify weak points that could be targeted by groups like Patchwork.

Risk Assessment

Threat modeling involves assessing the risks associated with different attack scenarios. This process allows organizations to prioritize their efforts based on the potential impact and likelihood of various threats. For example, if universities and research institutions understand the specific vulnerabilities that Patchwork might exploit, they can allocate resources to address these vulnerabilities first.

Tailored Security Measures

Threat modeling enables organizations to design security measures that are tailored to their specific risks and vulnerabilities. This approach ensures that cybersecurity efforts are focused on mitigating the most relevant and impactful threats, reducing the chances of successful cyber-espionage.

Early Detection and Prevention

Through threat modeling, organizations can anticipate how groups like Patchwork might attempt to infiltrate their systems. This proactive approach enables the implementation of detection mechanisms and preventive controls to thwart attacks before they cause significant harm.

Securing High-Value Targets 

Threat modeling helps identify critical assets and high-value targets within an organization. By understanding what information or resources are most attractive to threat actors, organizations can implement additional layers of security around these assets to deter and impede cyber-espionage attempts.

Security by Design

Integrating threat modeling into the development and design phases of systems and applications promotes a "security by design" approach. This approach bakes security considerations into the very foundation of technology, making it more resilient to potential threats and reducing the likelihood of successful cyber-espionage.


Threat modeling offers a proactive and systematic approach to addressing the problem of state-sponsored cyber-espionage. By identifying vulnerabilities, assessing risks, and designing tailored security measures, threat modeling helps organizations build more resilient systems and applications. This makes it significantly harder for threat actors like Patchwork to succeed in their espionage activities.


Defend against state-sponsored cyber-espionage with ThreatModeler.


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