Inside the Motivations Behind Modern Cyberattackers

Inside the Motivations Behind Modern Cyberattackers

Attackers seeking money, dominance, and data are banding together and sharing infrastructure to target businesses.

Today’s organizations have a few key disadvantages in the fight against modern cybercrime. For one, each needs to build an indestructible defense — but attackers only need to find one crack to break in.

On top of that, each business is up against several attackers who share strategies and skills. Cybercriminals are collaborating better than white-hat hackers are, explained Paul Kurtz, co-founder and CEO at TruSTAR, during his Dark Reading Crash Course presentation at this year’s Interop ITX.

Kurtz focused his talk on the motives and methods of today’s adversaries: who are they, what do they want, and how are they targeting their victims?

Motivations for cybercrime extend beyond the obvious draw of financial gain. Attackers are also driven by espionage, dominance, and creating uncertainty, as demonstrated by the proliferation of false information during last year’s presidential elections.

“We have an evolution going on” with respect to the types of threats businesses face, he continued. Ransomware “continues to explode,” with attacks increasing by 50% in one year. Social engineering is a growing problem; social actions like phishing were present in 21% of incidents over the last year, said Kurtz.

Nation-state threats have recently become a top concern, given the current geopolitical landscape and aftermath of the WannaCry ransomware attacks. Kurtz warned against focusing too much on attribution when it comes to cybercrime.

Many victims want to know who is behind these attacks, he said, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s a nation-state, criminal, terrorist, hacktivist, or insider — they’re all working together on exploits and sharing information with one another. If the latest cyberattack didn’t affect your organization, there’s a hacker who can use its source code to launch a similar one.

“In the end, with this particular attack, we have to remember adversaries are looking at what other adversaries are doing,” Kurtz said of WannaCry. “They’ll think they can improve on what’s been done.”

Knowing who is behind cyberattacks, in a way, “doesn’t really help you much,” he noted. Instead of trying to classify individual threat actors, he urged his audience to try and better understand how these adversaries work together and use this information to inform their security strategies.

“Today, the most important information about cyberattacks is locked inside your company, which has been attacked,” he noted. However, businesses aren’t using this information to its full advantage and sharing it to protect against threats.

In his session, “Collecting and Using Threat Intelligence Data”, Polarity CEO Paul Battista emphasized the importance of leveraging intelligence for threat warnings, prevention, and informed decision-making.

“It’s important for managers, businesses, engineers, and machines to understand what they’re up against,” he explained. Security practitioners should be asking their business leaders: what keeps you up at night? What do you think are the biggest threats to our organization? What decisions do you make, and how can intelligence improve them?

Manual threat intelligence research can be time consuming, especially as the number of threat intelligence indicators grows into the billions. This data should be collected into a single repository so organizations can identify malicious activity and have a holistic understanding of the threats they face.

“We need to be able to take indicators and bring them into an environment that’s relevant to us,” said Teddy Powers, security engineer at Anomali. “We’re faced with too many fires on a daily basis not to take advantage of threat intelligence platforms.”

If threat actors are collecting and sharing information, he continued, then why aren’t businesses?

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Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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