Organisations Outmatched By Nation-State Cyber Threat Actors: Report

Trellix, the cybersecurity company, and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a global report, In the Crosshairs: Organisations and Nation-State Cyber Threats, examining security professionals’ mindsets towards nation-state actors, the extent they are being targeted, how nation-state actors differ from other cybercriminals and how they view the role of government in responding to attacks. 

The report found Russia and China among the most likely suspects of being behind successful cyberattacks resulting in data loss, service disruption, and industrial espionage, which led to significant costs to the organisations attacked. 

“As geopolitical tensions rise, the likelihood of nation-state cyberattacks rises as well,” said Bryan Palma, CEO of Trellix. “Cybersecurity talent shortages, outdated IT infrastructure, and remote work are the greatest challenges in today’s operating environment. Organisations must improve their automation, remediation, and resiliency capabilities to defend against increasingly sophisticated attacks.”  

The report highlights the volume and severity of nation-state cyberattacks is a substantial problem for the international community and organisations are looking to governments to help solve it. 

Organisation Risk

Ninety-two per cent of respondents have faced or suspect they have faced a nation-state backed cyberattack in the last 18 months or expect to face one in the future. The report also finds most organisations struggle to confidently and accurately determine if a cyberattack is linked to a nation-state given technical challenges and the efforts hackers go to hide their identity. Unlike cybercriminals, nation-state actors focus on conducting intelligence operations to gain intellectual property and data to serve an economic or military goal, while also leaving backdoors in organisation infrastructure for reentry.

The risk to organisations is significant, with the average nation-state-backed cyberattack costing an estimated $1.6 million per incident. Yet the report finds 10 per cent of organisations surveyed do not have a cybersecurity strategy. 

Consumer Impact

While access to consumer data was the motive for nearly half of reported state-backed incidents, only 33 per cent of organisations reported reaching out to their customers to disclose the incident. The respondents view personally identifiable information (PII) related to either their customers or employees – as one of the main factors they would be targeted (46 per cent and 40 per cent respectively). As organisations prepare their cybersecurity strategies, risks to reputation and trust are at stake. Transparency with end customers should be considered in addition to ensuring direct communication with cybersecurity vendors, partners and government agencies. 

Government Guidance

The report found 92 per cent of respondents were willing to share information about an attack, but not always the full details. Overall, organisations are looking to the government for guidance on how they can protect themselves while being hindered by a lack of breach disclosures. 

Ninety per cent of respondents think the government should do more to support and protect critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. 

“Nation-states and their criminal proxies are some of the most dangerous cyber attackers because they are capable, best resourced and extremely persistent,” said James Lewis, senior vice president and director, Strategic Technologies Program for CSIS. “It’s not surprising that nation-states, particularly China and Russia, are behind many of the cyber-attacks organisations experience; what is surprising is that 86 per cent of respondents in this survey believe they have been targeted by a group acting on behalf of a nation-state, and only 27 per cent are completely confident in their organisation’s ability to recognise such an attack in contrast to other cyberattacks.”