Digital Leviathan: a comprehensive list of Nation-State Big Brothers (from huge to little ones

Conference:  Defcon 26



The presentation discusses the prevalence of state-sponsored cyber attacks and potential capabilities of countries in acquiring offensive solutions. It also covers censorship and blocking of online content, as well as transparency reports from major providers.
  • Over 750 reports and blog posts from private vendors, government CERTs, and universities were analyzed to gather evidence of state-sponsored cyber activity, with a focus on political targets and civil society.
  • 71 countries were found to have acquired offensive solutions, with 19 cases involving military or intelligence agencies.
  • 125 countries have requested information or removal of content through transparency reports, with Turkey standing out for its high number of removal requests.
  • Censorship and blocking of online content is more prevalent in Asia and Africa, with a strong correlation to internet shutdowns.
  • The prevalence of state-sponsored cyber attacks and potential capabilities means that most internet users are at risk, and creative solutions are needed to address the issue.
The presenter highlights the spike in removal requests from Turkey in 2013, coinciding with a political crackdown by President Erdogan. This suggests that cyberspace is being used to limit civil society and impose restrictions on online content.


In his notorious book Leviathan, the XVII century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes stated that: we should give our obedience to an unaccountable sovereign otherwise what awaits us is a state of nature that closely resembles civil war—a situation of universal insecurity. It looks like a lot of current political leaders have red and found the teachings of Hobbes applicable to modern day online life.We witness the rise of the Digital Leviathan. The same apps and applications that people use to connect, express opinions and dissatisfaction are used by governments (even democratic ones) to perform surveillance and censorship.This talk will focus on evidence of Nation-State spying, performing surveillance, and censorship. The aim is to present a systematical approach of data regarding cyber attacks against political targets (NGO/political groups/media outlets/opposition), acquisition and/or use of spywares from private vendors, requested content/metadata from social media/content providers, and blocking of websites/censorship reported by multiple sources.The findings of the research imply that: - 25 nations that have already used cyber offensive capabilities against political targets. - 60 nations acquired/developed spyware.- 117 nations requested content/metadata from social media/content providers.- 21 countries perform some level of censorship to online content.