These Facts About Nation-State Cyberattacks Prove That They Aren’t Just a Government Problem Anymore
Throughout the US election season, the media was focused on nation-state cyberattacks and the possibility of those threat actors affecting the outcome of the US elections. But what often gets glossed over is the potential for economic and defensive harm on a large scale presented by this threat. As shadowy cybercrime gangs step up their efforts, even interfering in COVID-19 vaccine research, it’s clear that nation-state cyberattacks against public and private sector targets are here to stay – and that fact that needs to become a part of every company’s risk calculus immediately.
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10 Essential Facts About Nation-State Cyberattacks
Nation-state cybercrime gangs are especially problematic for businesses because they’re not just your average hackers. These threat actors are sophisticated, practiced, and innovative, with deep playbooks and access to cutting-edge technology to facilitate their attacks – and they’ve got their fingers in every pie. They’re patient and willing to do slow, personalized work to take down the right targets, as was exemplified by the FireEye and SolarWinds breaches.
Keep these facts in mind as you explore the danger that nation-state hackers could pose to your business:
- Over 90% of security alerts released by Microsoft about nation-state cyberattacks in 2020 warned of danger against non-governmental or infrastructure targets.
- Just over 60% of nation-state activity zeroed in on IT organizations.
- The next most common targets were commercial facilities, critical manufacturing, financial services, and the defense industrial base.
- Over a dozen states that are ranked by international relations experts as hostile to the United States and its allies are actively involved in launching offensive nation-state sponsored cyberattacks.
- Ransomware is the most commonly used tool of nation-state cybercriminals.
- The first half of 2020 saw 41,000 intrusions, a higher figure than the 35,000 detected during all of 2019, according to researchers.
- Interpol detected about 907,000 spam messages, 737 malware-related incidents, and 48,000 malicious URLs featuring COVID-19 honeypots traced to nation-state hacking groups.
- 52% of nation-state hacking incidents between July 2019 and June 2020 related to Russian hackers, with 25% traced to Iran, 12% to China, and the rest tied to North Korea and other smaller players.
- 25% of data breaches in the last 12 months have been tied to espionage.
- 36% of companies in North America reported nation-state threats in 2020
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Every Industry is at Risk
In the past, nation-state hackers were a more distant concept for average businesses. While they’ve always been a national security concern and a possible threat to infrastructure on a national level, less publically-directed companies, and local governments were unlikely to ever have to deal with nation-state hackers interfering in their operations. Quasi-government sponsored groups like Russian intelligence-adjacent APT 29 have been responsible for attacks against government agencies around the world but generally steered clear of businesses.
But that all changed in 2020, and now nation-state hacking is everyone’s problem. State-sponsored or state-adjacent cybercrime gangs with origins in Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, and other countries that are active in the espionage game have been expanding their efforts to include targets that directly impact our everyday lives. These bad actors have been responsible for everything from industrial sabotage to infrastructure interference in 2020, including a recent spate of ransomware attacks from nation-state actors on healthcare targets.
In December 2020 the true impact of a massive, precisely targeted nation-state attack was felt by the United States government and many large corporations in the wake of a breach at cybersecurity software giant SolarWinds. A messy tangle of back doors, fake patches, malicious code, email compromise, phishing, and more was unraveled exposing the alarming fact that likely Russia-sponsored nation-state hackers had been inside US government and defense agency systems for months, accessing all sorts of information. The same group of hackers was also linked to attacks at Microsoft, Cisco, FireEye, and more major tech players.
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Damaging Businesses and Services is the Name of the Game
Data theft is typically the purpose behind cybercrime, but that’s not the only goal of these threat actors, or even the most common. Instead of just snatching data, nation-state hackers like to take it a step further, using tools like ransomware and other malware to shut down manufacturing, interfere with logistics, and disrupt important research. They’re especially predisposed to finding their way past a company’s security by sneaking in through a third-party vendor or in the supply chain.
Just in the last few months, we’ve seen these gangs hit:
- Drug companies around the world developing COVID-19 vaccines
- Shipping, trucking, and logistics targets
- Manufacturers of consumer goods including beer
- Government contractors and suppliers
The idea that disrupting production, transportation, and services is an effective attack tactic has been used in conventional warfare for years, but the ability to do that without leaving the house is a newer concept that calls for increased vigilance and increased protection for every business.
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Don’t Tempt Fate and Wait Until It’s Too Late
In today’s tumultuous world and a correspondingly rapidly evolving threat landscape, every business needs to be prepared for the possibility of cyberattacks from nation-state cybercrime gangs, especially healthcare, manufacturing, and infrastructure targets. Contact ID Agent today to speak with a security consultant who can help you make a plan to protect your business from nation-state cybercrime.
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