Dissecting Cyber Threat Actors and Safeguarding Against Attacks

Cyber Threat Landscape Overview

Image Cyber Threat Landscape Overview

Myriad threat actors with malicious intent populate the cyber landscape, whether sophisticated nation-state groups, coordinated cyber criminal gangs, ideological hacktivist cells, insider threats from within organizations, or lone wolf script kiddies probing systems for status or profit. Their capabilities, tools, tactics, and weaknesses differ, yet common motivations around accessing sensitive assets unite them in posing formidable dangers to individuals, corporations, governments, infrastructure, public figures, and average netizens alike.

Threat actor motives typically involve exfiltrating sensitive documents, customer data or embarrassing emails for extortion, resale on dark web markets or exploitation in spear-phishing campaigns. Access to proprietary source code, critical infrastructure management interfaces or election systems enable cyber espionage and catastrophic kinetic consequences. Ransomware attacks disrupt vital services, patient records, government functions for handsome cryptocurrency payouts. Distrust and instability follow spoofed or manipulated information leaks, data breaches tied to negligence, website defacements and disinformation or propaganda campaigns poisoning public discourse. Even mere website downtime dents bottom lines and shareholder confidence. While threat actor toolsets and capabilities span the gamut, their multifaceted financial, political and ideological motivations pose existential trials for modern civilization’s digital fabric upholding critical power grids, emergency services, military defense systems and consumer conveniences alike.

Financially-driven organized cyber crime groups and state-sponsored Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) willing to invest tremendous resources into compromising high-value targets represent the most skilled adversaries through tailored social engineering, zero-day exploits and custom backdoors hidden within hardware or legitimate software. In contrast, unsophisticated script kiddies may simply purchase commodity crimeware tools, botnets and brute forcers to target lower hanging victims without customized precision. Between these extremes lie ideological collectives like hacktivist rings focused on website defacements or data leaks more so than exfiltration for profit. Insiders likewise exploit intimate access rather than external technical feats to unleash data deletion, manipulation, disclosure attacks.

Common Cyber Attack Methods

Image Common Cyber Attack Methods


Oftentimes excessive user permissions, inadequate system hardening and patching exacerbated by IT staffing deficits, outdated legacy platforms and lack of stringent supplier reviews constitute organizations’ greatest liabilities outside threat actor tools or techniques alone. Nevertheless commonly successful attack channels include emailed phishing links and attachments bearing drive-by downloads or embedded macros as infection vectors, phone-based social engineering schemes known as vishing, SQL injection attacks targeting application databases, poisoned QR codes leading to phishing or exploit sites, fake software updates hijacking authentic channels, man-in-the-middle assaults on unencrypted connections or session hijacking leveraging stolen credentials or session tokens, weaponized PowerShell scripts avoiding traditional endpoint defenses and more. Attribution tracking and linking attacks to known advanced persistent threat groups or nation state sponsors resides among the greatest challenges in cultivating threat intelligence given technical misdirection efforts. Nevertheless meticulous malware analysis, infrastructure patterns, public exposure of state-funded operations and leaked attack toolkits trace responsibility to Chinese APT12, Russian Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, Iranian OilRig and North Korean Lazarus Group among dozens more.

Combating Cyber Threats