Most cybersecurity observers have heard the term “threat actor” before, but what exactly is a threat actor?

In simple terms, a threat actor is an entity responsible for a cybersecurity incident. They are referred to as “actors” because it is a neutral term that avoids labeling them as an individual, group, or collection of multiple groups. The term also does not ascribe a motivation to the actor, such as criminal or espionage.

The term threat actor differs from the term “hacker” or “attacker” because, unlike a hacker, a threat actor does not necessarily have any hacking or technical skills. They are simply an entity with malicious intent compromising an organization’s security. This could mean anything from copying confidential data onto a USB key to physically destroying servers in the data center. It is a broad term that can apply to both insider and external threats.

We'll Dive Into:

The most common types of threat actors and how they impact you

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How you can protect yourself against each of these threat actors

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How you can Get There First, before the threat actors, with a Top 50 MSSP

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Different Kinds of Threat Actors

Stay up to date with the latest techniques, tricks, and tools. 

Organized cybercriminals are the most common threat actors- typically behind the ransomware headlines you see so often today.

Their techniques, tricks, and tools are constantly evolving to attempt to stay ahead of your defenses. They make money by stealing your data, tricking you into transferring money, stealing your login credentials, encrypting your data, and then extorting you for a ransom, or defrauding you. 

Cybercrime is a low-risk for criminals because they can hide their identities online and launder their ill-gotten gains using cryptocurrency. 

Their favorite attack is typically through phishing emails targeted to steal your credentials or get you to download a malicious attachment. 

APT (advanced persistent threat) actors have become very busy over the last decade, as 20-30 countries wage cyberwar against each other for political, military, economic, and commercial gain. 

Think of APT groups as industrial or nation-state spies engaged in espionage, political manipulation, and IP theft. They typically target politicians and political groups, the defense industry, government institutions, and large strategic businesses.

APT threat actors are difficult to detect primarily because they tend to use custom malware or zero-day vulnerabilities that security systems cannot identify or recognize.

APT groups also engage in cybercrime for financial gain. The North Korean government-sponsored APT group Lazarus likes to engage in theft from financial organizations and SWIFT bank cyber robberies as a way of generating funds for their regime.

Sometimes, employees turn against employers, which can have a devastating impact on a business and security. Because they enjoy privileged insider access to systems and networks, they can be a much more serious threat actor than cybercriminals or APT groups. 

However, don’t just think about insider threat actors as malicious. They can also become threats through their own negligence or even through their own unintentional mistakes. According to IBM, human error is the main cause of 95% of security breaches.

To ensure your employees are a strong last line of defense against threat actors,  supply them with regular security awareness so security is top of mind.

The cybersecurity world contains a large number of individuals who want to hack computers just because they can. We call these lone-wolf hackers ‘script kiddies’.

Usually, they are younger people who acquire hacking tools built by more talented hackers. Script kiddies use those tools for fun because they can. 

There are more capable and talented lone wolf hackers who also want to hack IT infrastructure because they can, but both represent a serious threat to organizations. A good example is a former Amazon employee who, for no apparent reason, hacked CapitalOne and caused a data breach impacting 100 million CapitalOne customers. 

There are countless examples of lone-wolf hackers engaging in this sort of behavior. It's what makes this threat actor group the most unpredictable as their attacks seem to come out of the blue. 

Hacktivists, aka hacking activists, are hackers with a cause. Because their motives are often political, they do not try to be stealthy, rather send their message as publicly as possible.

Hacktivists choose targets because of their politics, the kind of business they engage in, or the kind of customers they have

Hacktivist groups like LulzSec and Anonymous have attacked the CIA and governments in the past with DDoS attacks. They have also attacked a large number of businesses and public organizations by defacing their websites and taking over their Twitter feeds to post political messages about their cause.

Since they're known to deface websites and social media feeds, it's crucial you have strong password protocols in place and implement MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) and 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication).

Stay Ahead of the Threat Actors

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Cloud SIEM

CyGuard® Cloud SIEM Blog Post

Digital Transformation initiatives have increased the organizational attack surface- creating more data, security blindspots, and vulnerabilities than ever before. The ability to manage this ever growing threat surface by ingesting massive data at speed is here with CyGuard® Cloud SIEM powered by Google Chronicle and CyGuard Maestro™. 

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SOC-as-a-Service (1)

Our 24x7x365 US-based SOCs provide essential services like the detection and monitoring of cybersecurity events that could impact your organization’s security. Digital Hands security analysts built CyGuard Maestro™ to further empower our SOC with automation, visibility, 300+ integrations, Threat Intelligence, and playbooks to fight cyber attacks at machine speed.

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Cloud Collaboration and Email Security

CCES (1)

Safeguard your organization with eliminated phishing emails before they reach your employee's inbox, protection from cloud-delivered malware, and machine learning that builds custom threat profiles to detect any unusual behavior. 

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Endpoint Detection Response (EDR)

EDR (4)

To defend yourself against criminal threat actors, you must keep your endpoints and networks protected with intrusion detection and response, high-confidence threat intelligence, and network isolation at machine speed. 

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