As the threat from hackers continues to grow, all businesses should consider themselves targets. Ransomware is arguably the most damaging type of cyber attack, but it’s just one of many threats.
To protect yourself from these threats, it is important to understand who you are dealing with. One way to refer to people who want to harm an organization is to use the term “threat actor”. So what exactly is a threat actor and what does it want?
What is a threat actor?
A threat actor is defined as any person or organization that seeks to harm an organization by using its IT infrastructure. It’s an intentionally vague term because a threat actor can be any person inside or outside of an organization. Hackers are the most obvious examples of threat actors. However, the term can also be used to describe an employee attempting to cause harm.
Types of Threat Actors
Most threat actors fall into one of the following categories.
Cyber criminals are the most obvious threat actors. They primarily target businesses for financial gain. Cybercriminal gangs are becoming more common, but individuals can also pose a significant threat.
Cyber criminals vary greatly in terms of their skills and the types of attacks they can carry out. To protect itself from cybercriminals, a company must combat both sophisticated targeted attacks and the work of amateurs known as script kiddies.
Most corporations are not targeted by rogue governments, but nation-states are an increasingly important type of threat actor. They carry out attacks primarily for information-gathering purposes and thus typically target financial and technology companies.
Nation states have their own hackers and are known to work with cybercrime gangs. The advantage of outsourcing is that in the event of an unsuccessful cyber attack, the nation state can deny any knowledge of it. Nation states are very difficult to defend because they use the most sophisticated attack techniques.
An insider threat is anyone within an organization who conducts a cyberattack. This includes employees who initiate such attacks and those who work with an outside party.
Insider threats are notoriously difficult to protect against. Unlike outside threats, the insider begins their attack from within a network, rendering many forms of cybersecurity ineffective. Most insider threats also have business knowledge that they can use to carry out their attacks undetected.
Hacktivists are hackers who often target businesses but, unlike cybercriminals, are not interested in financial gain. Instead, they are interested in political or social changes.
Hacktivists are willing to break the law and steal sensitive data to achieve their goals. Unlike a cybercriminal, however, a hacktivist publishes data they steal online instead of demanding a ransom payment. Hacktivists work both as individuals and in groups, and any organization can potentially be targeted.
Some hackers access secure networks not with the intention of causing harm, but simply for the fun of it. Hacking is often done for educational purposes. In other words, a hacker may target you because they want to practice their skills.
Other hackers might want to take down your site just to prove they can do it.
What motivates threat actors?
Threat actors are motivated by a variety of different factors.
Financial gain is the most obvious motivation. Most threat actors access secure networks simply because it is profitable. After accessing a network, they either steal personal information for resale, possibly on the dark web, or install ransomware for the purpose of blackmail.
Political motives are less common, but still appear regularly. To this end, national actors carry out attacks. This can be stealing sensitive information or just doing anything that can cause disruption.
Some attackers want to harm your business. This is usually because you did something that offends them. Hacktivists often target companies they believe are behaving unethically. Insider threats may also be motivated by personal grudges.
Some threat actors don’t want to steal from you or harm your business. They just enjoy hacking and are willing to break the law to learn more about it. Although these types of threat actors potentially pose the least threat to an organization, they can still cause harm.
Are all companies goals?
Any company can be attacked by attackers. Most companies don’t have to worry about attacks from nation states. But cybercriminals are a threat to all businesses. The most sophisticated attacks are reserved for large corporations as the rewards are higher. Nonetheless, small businesses are also popular targets due to their perceived weaker security.
Hacktivists are a threat to any publicly visible company, and insider threats are a potential problem for any company with employees.
How to protect yourself from threat actors
Complete protection from all types of threat actors is not possible. However, you can make your organization as difficult a target as possible by improving your security posture. Here are a few tips:
- Educate all employees about the threat of phishing emails. Employees should also be trained not to download email attachments.
- Enforce the use of strong, unique passwords for all accounts.
- Enforce the use of two-factor authentication (2FA) for all accounts. This prevents a variety of threats.
- Install antivirus software on all devices on your network.
- Use automated threat detection tools like SIEMs.
All organizations should be aware of threat actors
All businesses need to be aware of the many potential threats they face. The term threat actor is useful for this purpose as it illustrates the variety of different reasons that a given actor may choose to carry out a cyberattack.
While cyber criminals will always be the primary concern, the threat of insider threats, hacktivists, and hobbyists should not be overlooked. Knowing who is trying to access a secure network is an important part of stopping them.