Cybercriminals Taking the Reins from Nation-State Adversaries


Nation-state cybercriminals have allegedly been behind some of the most destructive cyberattacks on record thanks to their government-backed resources and willingness to provoke their adversaries. However, this trend is changing as other hackers are taking tools and tricks from nation-states and unleashing them on companies and organizations, according to a recent CrowdStrike threat report.

In 2017, the WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware attacks and the Equifax Inc. data breach have all shown the hallmarks of a nation-state cyberattacks. China, Russia, and North Korea have been the likely suspects behind many nation-state cyberattacks in the past including the 2014 Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. hack and the 2016 Democratic National Committee breach. These attacks are generally politically-motivated, precision-targeted, and sometimes a proof-of-concept for a larger hacking attempt.  

Nation-states use “a lot of advanced tactics and techniques” to either gain a profit or enact political revenge on an adversary, Thomas Etheridge, vice president of services at cybersecurity company CrowdStrike Inc., told Bloomberg Law. Alarmingly, many of these tools “are migrating into the hands of e-crime actors—those not directly linked to a nation-state,” he said. This development is “blurring the lines on a threat perspective level on whether or not a nation-state or e-crime activist” is behind a cyberattack, he said. 

Attribution is becoming increasingly difficult because cybercriminals not affiliated with a nation-state often launch attacks with similar motivations and leave behind tracks that lead in a different direction, Etheridge said. These cybercriminals will drop misleading clues pointing to nation-states to take the onus of their backs and cause law enforcement agencies to scramble to find the actual attackers, he said. 

Cybercriminals not affiliated with a nation-state aren’t getting direct funding or learning their trade directly from foreign adversaries. Instead, they often buy these tools off the dark web or malware markets to enact their next attack for either political or financial gain, Etheridge said. 

The future may be bleak for companies that don’t up their cybersecurity posture. But there are steps companies and organizations can take to limit the impact and spread of cyberattacks from whatever source they come from. To limit the impact from these attacks, all organizations should follow basic cybersecurity hygiene practices including having adequate backups, implementing incident response plans, working with government agencies, and investing in machine-learning or artificial intelligence-assisted security solutions. 

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