The Rise of Cyber Mercenaries: Governments’ Secret Weapons in Cyber Warfare

In this episode, we tackle some of the most pressing issues in the convergence of cyber warfare, information security and political strategy. Our guests, Iain and Chris, share their frontline insights on how the digital realm has become a playground for clandestine operations, where cyber mercenaries are the new knights, rooks and perhaps even the kings. 

We examine the repercussions and complexities of engaging third party cyber groups for state-sponsored operations, debate the seemingly lucrative appeal of cybercrime and look at real-world examples where the cyber realm has been militarised. Discussions range from the effect of bot networks on democracies, to the specific roles of organised criminal cyber divisions and the evolution of digital espionage.

Talking Points:

1. The Intricate Web of Cyber Mercenaries: Discover the hidden connections between governments, political factions and cyber mercenaries. We unravel the complex tactics and consequences of outsourcing cyber warfare and the ethical lines that get blurred along the way. 

2. The Business of Cyber Conflict: We talk about the paradoxical profitability of cybercrime versus the costs of robust defence. We discuss the art of balancing offensive strategies and cybersecurity defences, drawing comparisons between private sector incentives and government backed digital warfare. Professionals keen on risk assessment and cyber strategies will find this conversation particularly interesting.

3. Navigating Cybersecurity Governance: Dive into a crucial debate on managing the cyber mercenary phenomenon, filtration in intelligence gathering, and the quintessential role of governance in preventing operational downfall. As we explore the undeniable need for quality defence mechanisms, the insights shared here are invaluable for any professional aiming to stay ahead of cyber threats.

Join us on Razorwire, your go-to podcast for cutting through the digital noise, as we delve into a world where cyber conflict is omnipresent and the concept of warfare is forever altered. This is one episode you’ll want to replay, decrypt and safeguard in your mental arsenal.

“It’s not like a physical mercenary group where you can see them. They’re not blowing anything up. Nothing’s going to go bang so people actually notice. So unless a government gets hacked or something happens, unless they shut down the national grid, unless there’s collateral damage that comes with it – they can pretty much hide it away, can’t they?”

Chris Dawson

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In this episode, we covered the following topics:

  • Government and Media Control: Exploring the intersections of government ownership of media and its implications for information security and cyber warfare.
  • Corporate Espionage and Cyber Warfare: Debating the ethical and strategic considerations of engaging in corporate espionage and cyber warfare.
  • Cyber Mercenaries: Examining the rise of cyber mercenary groups willing to conduct cyber warfare operations for hire.
  • Digital Infrastructure Security: Discussing the technical and strategic challenges associated with detecting and defending against compromises in digital infrastructures.
  • Plausible Deniability and Cyber Attacks: Considering the strategy of plausible deniability and its potential to shield governments from the fallout of cyber operations.
  • Monetisation of Cyber Crime: Analysing the profitability and incentives driving skilled cybercriminals and how crime pays in the cyber realm.
  • Cyber Warfare and Political Influence: Delving into how cyber warfare can be a tool for political manipulation and influence, referencing historical and recent events.
  • Mercenary Tactics in Cyberspace: Comparing the operations of traditional mercenary groups to digital equivalents and their impact on modern conflicts.
  • Legal and Ethical Challenges of Cyber Warfare: Discussing the complex legal and ethical landscape of cyber warfare, including the difficulty in predicting outcomes and avoiding collateral damage.
  • Defence and Upskilling in Cyber Mercenary Groups: Highlighting the importance of continuous training and developing trust to scale commercial cyber mercenary operations effectively.

Resources Mentioned

– Vulkan files

– Colonial Pipeline attack

– Dark Side – Hacking group

– Wagner Group

– Cambridge Analytica

– Cozy Bear

– APT 29

– NHS (National Health Service)

Other episodes you’ll enjoy

The reality of cyber warfare

The Impact of Compliance and Legislation

Connect with your host James Rees

Hello, I am James Rees, the host of the Razorwire podcast. This podcast brings you insights from leading cyber security professionals who dedicate their careers to making a hacker’s life that much more difficult.

Our guests bring you experience and expertise from a range of disciplines and from different career stages. We give you various viewpoints for improving your cyber security – from seasoned professionals with years of experience, triumphs and lessons learned under their belt, to those in relatively early stages of their careers offering fresh eyes and new insights.

With new episodes every other Wednesday, Razorwire is a podcast for cyber security enthusiasts and professionals providing insights, news and fresh ideas on protecting your organisation from hackers.

For more information about us or if you have any questions you would like us to discuss email

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