A growing number of cyberattacks affecting businesses and other important entities in the US and beyond seem to be state-sponsored incidents. Groups of hackers and ransomware gangs often set up shop in certain regions where the threat of discovery or persecution is nominal. Whether the problem emanates from commonly known political adversaries like Russia and China or perhaps from countries with less global clout, threat actors have a way of finding safe havens that allow them to conduct an ever-increasing amount of criminal activity.
What happens when the governments of these locations facilitate and support cyberattacks on organizations well outside of their jurisdiction?
What are the looming threats that this type of state-sponsored and state-led hacking can have on your business?
Your organization stands to benefit from examining these questions in further detail.
A Growing Trend
Recent incidents have thrust the notion of government-supported cyberattacks into the spotlight. Attacks believed to be perpetrated by members of China’s Ministry of State Security dominated headlines in July. These reports pointed back to a widespread attack earlier in 2021 on Microsoft’s Exchange Server software. Many businesses and organizations across the world were affected by this incident, with private emails and other critical data quickly becoming compromised. While China officially denied these allegations, the US and several key allies condemned the actions and made a very public accusation of state-sponsored cyber espionage.
The high-profile SolarWinds attack was another recent major state-sponsored incident. Believed to be led by SVR, an arm of Russian intelligence operations, the hack appeared as a phony software update to a program again used by a large number of businesses and entities. This incident quickly raised alarms because critical government agencies, such as the Pentagon and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, were on the list of compromised organizations. The hackers made off with large amounts of valuable information and data before the scope of the attack was realized and remediation efforts could be put into place. Russia also officially denied leading this attack amidst public accusations from the US and Britain.
These incidents have been followed by the threat of sanctions on the accused countries behind the attacks, with the US and its allies also working together to form strategies to combat and confront similar issues moving forward. NATO even joined the ranks of condemners, showing the growing push to fight the problem on a global scale – the first time this alliance has addressed China’s increasing cyberattacks activity.
These higher-profile incidents seem to represent state-led attacks organized and perpetrated by intelligence agencies. However, there is also growing evidence that state-sponsored attacks using known cybercriminal gangs and organizations are increasing. This trend allows for even more nefarious and threatening activity and an obvious way for the government patrons behind the attacks to deny accountability. The combination of high-level hacking ability with vast government resources increases the potential damage and effect of state-sponsored attacks to a considerable degree.
Direct Effect on Businesses
State-sponsored espionage has been around for centuries, but the new digital era of the practice poses more severe consequences outside of government actions and activities. While the goal of the attacker might be to gain critical military or strategic data, the business and public sectors can also be in the crosshairs as direct or indirect targets of a hack.
Software companies are an obvious target, as shown by the two large state-sponsored attacks mentioned above. These companies provide critical services used by businesses and government entities alike to conduct day-to-day business. State-led threat actors understand this interconnection and often use a software attack on a company to assess its effectiveness before attempting to compromise government agencies. This is how the SolarWinds attack unfolded and how future incidents might develop.
Access to government and military operations and data is not the sole end goal for state-led cyberattacks. Economic disruption, misinformation, and general interruptions in daily activities are other intended outcomes. Infrastructure businesses are becoming more at risk with recent ransomware attacks targeting major US fuel supplies and food providers. While the Colonial Pipeline and JBS meat processor attacks have not been definitively proven to be state-led incidents, the consensus is that they were at least encouraged, if not directly supported, by the governments of the countries where the hackers conducted operations.
Other industries outside of software and infrastructure are also under threat. While the big players in the cyber-espionage realm are often looking to achieve maximum effect, less prominent state-sponsored threat actors can simply be financially motivated. This further highlights the ever-present possibility of a ransomware attack on businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. The glaring fact that cyberattacks are on the rise means that state-sponsored and state-led cyberattacks will continue to pose a serious problem for businesses moving forward.
Planning and Preparation
Surveys and studies show that a vast majority (80%, by some accounts) of business owners are worried that their organization will experience a state-sponsored cyberattack. This worry is justified as these attacks are likely to increase in number and level of success in the coming years. Acknowledging the possibility is a critical step toward improving effective cybersecurity measures for your business. Proper planning is vital and having data breach planning and response services in place can help businesses of all sizes deal with an attack before it happens.
One serious issue facing organizations is a false sense of security regarding adequate cybersecurity and data breach defenses. Believing that your business is fully prepared to handle a cyberattack can make you even more vulnerable. Without prior experience dealing with this type of incident or a lack of a dedicated security team, an organization can easily be overwhelmed when they fall victim to such an incident. Whether targeted by a state-sponsored attack or experiencing other myriad cyber threats that haunt the modern business world, acknowledging the fact that no business is immune can help you better prepare and plan for a more positive outcome.
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