25 October 2023

It's paramount to recognize the variety of threat actors that operate within the digital domain. There are people and groups that aim to harm our digital spaces like computers, gadgets, and online systems. These are called threat actors. They deliberately target and compromise digital systems, networks, and infrastructures with specific intents and methodologies. Some are financially motivated, others are driven by ideological goals, and a few may be acting on national or corporate directives.

By understanding categories like cyber criminals, nation-state operatives, ideologues, and even internal threats, we can architect robust defensive strategies. Grasping the motivations and tactics of each threat actor type is pivotal in fortifying defenses, preempting potential breaches, and safeguarding sensitive data and assets in our increasingly interconnected digital realm.

Here is the list of commonly recognized threat actor types and attributes:

Financially Motivated Actors: Profits Above All

  • Mass Scammers/Automated Hackers: Driven by the allure of monetary gains, these actors employ tools to compromise organizational computer systems. Their modus operandi involves holding data hostage and demanding financial compensation for its release.
  • Criminal Infrastructure Providers: Stealthy and treacherous, they infiltrate an organization's computer systems only to sell that access to other malicious entities. The end goal? Exploitation at multiple levels.
  • Big Game Hunters: Precision is their hallmark. Targeting singular, high-value entities, they invest time in understanding their prey’s system intricacies. Their weapon of choice? Emails, phone attacks, or the subtle art of social engineering.

Nation-State Actors: Power Play in Cyberspace

For these actors, it's all about gathering intelligence of national relevance. Whether it’s nuclear strategies, financial data, or tech innovations, their eyes are on the prize. Two broad strategies are evident:

  • Some nations empower their governmental intelligence agencies to play the cyber game.
  • Others collaborate with external cyber-specialist entities, adding a layer of plausible deniability to their actions.

Their objectives can range from sabotaging critical infrastructures to strategic data theft. The sheer scale of nation-state actors makes them a formidable threat in the cyber realm.

Ideologues: When Belief Drives Action

  • Hacktivists: A fusion of hacking skills and activism, hacktivists break barriers not for monetary gains but to broadcast a message. Anti-capitalist sentiments or opposition to corporate actions often drive them.
  • Terrorists: Where hacktivists might halt broadcasting a message, cyber terrorists take it a step further. They unleash digital terror to manifest their objectives, ensuring chaos and disruption in their wake.

Thrill Seekers and Trolls: For the Fun of It

Some venture into the cyber realm purely out of curiosity, while others do it to incite chaos:

  • Thrill Seekers: These digital adventurers breach systems to quench their thirst for knowledge and experimentation. Their actions, though not necessarily malicious, can still wreak havoc.
  • Trolls: Evolving from thrill-seekers, trolls revel in causing digital chaos. Their objectives? Dissemination of misinformation and sowing discord.

Insiders and Competitors: Betrayal and Rivalry

  • Insiders: The danger sometimes lurks within. Insiders, equipped with inside knowledge, can be potential threats, selling critical data or even orchestrating attacks out of personal vendetta.
  • Competitors: The corporate world is rife with rivalry. Sometimes, this rivalry spills over into the digital realm, with competitors seeking unauthorized access to trade secrets to gain an undue advantage.
  • What are the tactics of Threat Actors?

    Here's a simple guide to understand them better.

    1. Malware

    Imagine a sneaky app trying to harm your device or steal info from it. That's malware! It often disguises itself as a legitimate program and might hop onto your device from dodgy emails, sketchy websites, or even fake software. Watch out for its famous buddies like viruses, worms, and the Trojan horse!

    2. Ransomware

    Picture a villain taking your device hostage and demanding money for its safe return. That's ransomware! And the bad news? Some of them even threaten to expose your secrets online if you don't pay up. Oh, and big organizations aren't safe either; some attacks, called Big Game Hunting (BGH), target these giants for a bigger payday.

    3. Phishing

    Ever got an email or text that seemed a bit... fishy? Phishing tricks you into giving away personal info or downloading malware. Some even customize their approach:

    • Spear Phishing: Tailored just for you or your group, with an email that seems too real.
    • Business Email Compromise: Imagine your colleague's email got hijacked and you receive a shady request from it.
    • Whale Phishing: This targets the big fish in the company, like CEOs or directors.

    4. Social Engineering

    This is like the con artist of the cyber world. Instead of exploiting software, they exploit you! It can be as simple as a "free" USB filled with malware or as crafty as a fake online relationship just to scam you. It's all about manipulating human emotions.

    5. Denial of

    Service Attacks Imagine a traffic jam, but online. This attack overwhelms a website with too many requests, causing a crash. And its big brother, the Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS), uses multiple computers for an even bigger jam.

    6. Advanced

    Persistent Threats (APTs) These are like the undercover spies of the cyber world. Super stealthy, they lurk in the shadows for months or even years, gathering intel and often funded by big organizations or even nations.

    7. Backdoor

    Attacks Imagine a secret entrance to your computer that even you don't know about. That's a backdoor! Sometimes it's made by legit developers for updates or fixes, but bad actors can create or exploit these backdoors to sneak in and out unnoticed.

    Who Keeps an Eye on Threat Actors? A Global Look!

    You might have heard of hackers, criminals, and even other countries trying to sneak into computer systems. But did you know, countries around the world have their own teams working day and night to protect us from these cyber threats?

    Let's take a fun tour around the world and see who's doing what!

    1. United States (US)

    Meet the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST)! These are the people who give advice on how to stay safe online. They tell us about different types of cyber bullies like countries, terrorists, and even hackers just looking for fun.

    2. European Union (EU)

    The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) is the hero team of Europe! They research cyber threats and help experts in Europe deal with them. They once made a report that talked about nation-states, criminals, and even people who hack just for the thrill of it.

    3. United Nations (UN)

    The big team at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) also talks about staying safe online. They made a report in 2019 where they talked about different cyber threats like countries, hackers, and even insiders (people inside organizations who might cause harm).

    4. Canada

    Canada's guardians of the cyber world are at the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security (CCCS). They believe that a threat can come from any person, group, or even a whole country trying to get into systems to cause harm.

    5. Japan

    In Japan, the National Center of Incident Readiness and Strategy (NISC) is on the watch. They started in 2015 and have a plan that says countries and criminals online are big threats. They also say we need to watch out for terrorists online.

    6. Russia

    Last but not least, Russia has its Security Council to look out for cyber dangers. They made a strategy in 2016, where they mentioned countries, criminals, and terrorists as the main cyber threats.

    And, guess what? They all work together, share information, and make sure we're all safe and sound in this digital world.

    Last Words

    In today's changing threat environment, it's vital to understand what drives various threat actors. This understanding helps in shaping strong defense strategies. Motivations range from social justice and financial gain to political goals and insider threats. By studying these, organizations can identify weak spots and take protective actions. A proactive, all-encompassing approach to cybersecurity is essential given the relentless nature of modern threats.

    From those driven by curiosity to those propelled by malice, understanding these threat actor types and attributes is pivotal. As we advance further into this era of digital interconnectedness, staying informed and proactive is the key. By recognizing potential threats and understanding their motivations, we can better equip ourselves to navigate the complex terrains of cyberspace, ensuring safety and security. So, to keep yourself updated with the latest news on cybersecurity stay tuned to SafeAeon.

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