The Rise of Nation-State Actors in Cybercrime

Written by Jasmine Tatter

It’s easy to picture a lone cybercriminal, or even a cybergang, sitting in a darkened basement somewhere, launching an attack on a person or company to steal sensitive information or demand a ransom. Many of these criminals operate as a business, financing their operations from the money the earn from what they steal or by selling tools on the dark web that allow anyone to launch cyberattacks.

However, there is another way cybercriminal get the financial backing to operate—those who are sponsored by a nation-state. The activities of nation-state actors have been on the rise in recent years, and they have the power to cause significant damage. Let’s take a look at what nation-state actors are and how to protect yourself against them.

What Is a Nation-State Actor?

A nation-state actor is a nation or government entity that has the money and resources to hire exceptionally skilled cybercriminals to launch powerful cyberattacks and even engage in cyberwarfare with the goal of furthering their interests. The most active sponsors of nation-state attacks are Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

A nation-state can be striving toward one or more goals when they attack. These goals can be divided into three categories:

  • Disruption – The attacker wants to disrupt or destroy critical infrastructure, such as the power grid, transportation infrastructure, or healthcare infrastructure.
  • Espionage – The attacker wants to steal sensitive information, such as intellectual property and industrial or military intelligence.
  • Political – The attack wants to send a political message through actions like defacing a webpage or spreading propaganda and disinformation.

Private companies are not immune to these types of attacks. Nation-state actors can target private corporations that are part of a supply chain and in areas such as telecommunications, media, social media, and the pharmaceutical industry. In addition to this, the high-level technology and tools used by nation-state actors are starting to fall into the hands of cybergangs, giving them the ability to launch sophisticated attacks on their own.

Most Common Nation-State Attack Vectors

Typically, the primary goal of nation-state actors is to deliver malware to a device, system, or network that will create a backdoor through which they can enter and conduct their activities, such as the theft of sensitive data or damaging critical infrastructure or services. They most often become an advanced persistent threat (APT), which means they have undetected access to the network they have infiltrated for an extended period of time.

The most common way for nation-state actors to deliver malware is through phishing, particularly spear-phishing. Spear-phishing is a phishing attack that targets individuals or groups within an organization. This most commonly happens via email but can also happen SMS or phone calls. The attack is highly targeted and appears so genuine that it can be easy to fall victim to such an attack. Once the malicious link is clicked on or the attachment downloaded, the nation-state actor can gain access to the system.

How to Protect Against Nation-State Attacks

For organizations at risk of a nation-state attack, their best defense is to educate their employees, personnel, and other individuals connected with the company about the risks of a nation-state cyberattack, the most common methods of attack, and best practices to avoid an attack and ensure robust cybersecurity hygiene. In particular, they should know how to recognize a phishing email and what to do if they think they’ve received or fallen victim to one.

Organizations that have an adequate budget should also have a cyber threat intelligence (CTI) plan in place that is headed by an experienced CTI team. This will allow the company to collect and analyze data that reveals information about a nation-state actor’s targets, motives, and behaviors, making it possible to shift from reactive security stance to one that is proactive.

Other steps an organization can take to help protect itself include:

  • Working with government to develop robust cybersecurity policies, that when enforced, will reduce the risk of an attack happening and minimize the impact if one occurs
  • Cooperating on an international scale with the governments and corporations in other countries to share information, collaborate, and conduct joint initiatives that will improve each country’s and organization’s ability to defend against nation-state attacks
  • Using superior attribution techniques that can identify the source of a nation-state attack, which includes investing in the research and development of threat intelligence, digital forensics, and forensic capabilities

The threat of cybercrime has grown with the sophistication of technology. Remember that cybercriminals, especially nation-state actors, have access to advanced technology just the same as you do.

Working closely with a security partner can help you defend against attacks launched by nation-state actors. At Platinum Technologies, we offer a full security assessment and security consulting services. We will help you ensure your endpoint and network security is adequate to protect against nation-state attacks.

You May Also Like…

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap