Business security specialist WatchGuard Technologies has profiled the three greatest hacker threats facing modern businesses, identifying them as either hacktivists, cyber-criminals or nation states.
In terms of hacktivism, Anonymous still stands as the most famous politically-motivated hacking group, but it is now being joined in the limelight by the likes of the Syrian Electronic Army, which has breached numerous Twitter accounts as part of a prolific 2013.
Their purpose is to get a message across, but WatchGuard noted that these groups are usually very decentralised and disorganised, with some factions disagreeing. Despite this, these hackers pose a significant nuisance to governments and business, thanks to simple methods of attack like distributed denial of service (DDoS), which can overload and crash websites.
Far more dangerous, however, is the second category of cyber-criminals. These have been around the longest and are simply motivated by financial gain. They can be individuals or gangs and they can be responsible for stealing billions of dollars from consumers and businesses every year.
The methods of attack used by cybercriminals are extremely varied. Most malware and viruses are created and operated by them, as are botnets, and an assortment of code exploits. There are trojans, keyloggers, ransomware, and targeted attacks specifically targeting businesses or individuals.
The third category is a steadily growing one: nation states. China has been blamed for numerous attacks that fall under the name of cyber-espionage, but Western countries have also been cited for extremely damaging attacks. The best example is the Stuxnet worm, which crippled Iran's nuclear programme. The threat of cyber-war has grown over the last few years, with vital infrastructure coming under regular attack.
Since these attacks are state-sponsored, there is a lot of money and a large amount of hacking talent involved. Hacks are usually specifically targeted, so smaller businesses generally have less to fear. Large enterprises, however, may be the victim of hacks designed to steal trade secrets, and these can be hard to identify and defend against. WatchGuard warned, however, that some small organisations may be attacked as a stepping-stone to gain information about larger targets.
“We no longer live in a world of fame-seeking hackers, script kiddies and cyber criminals — there are some new kids on the block. It’s important to understand these motives and profile changes, since they dictate what each type of hacker is ultimately after, whom they target and how they do business,” said Corey Nachreiner, director of security strategy at WatchGuard. “Knowing these things can be the key to helping you understand which of your resources and assets need the most protection and how you might protect them.”
WatchGuard has also created a useful infographic that breaks down the information.