State-level cyber attacks are cyber-attacks launched by a nation-state or a state-sponsored group against another country – what is their purpose?
These attacks can be launched for a variety of reasons, such as to gather intelligence, to disrupt critical infrastructure, or to interfere with political processes.
State-level cyber attacks can have serious consequences for individuals, organisations, and countries, and it is important to understand their purpose.
There are a number of reasons why a nation-state might launch a cyber attack. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Intelligence gathering: State-level cyber attacks can be used to gather intelligence on other countries, including information on military capabilities, economic data, and political developments.
- Disrupting critical infrastructure: Cyber attacks can be used to disrupt critical infrastructure, such as power grids, transportation systems, and financial networks.
- Interfering with political processes: Cyber attacks can also be used to interfere with political processes, such as elections, in order to influence the outcome.
- Military operations: Cyber attacks can be used as part of military operations to disrupt enemy communications or to gain a military advantage.
How do countries launch cyber attacks against other countries?
Countries can launch cyber attacks against other countries in a number of ways. Some common methods include:
- Malware: Countries can use malware, such as viruses and worms, to infect other countries’ systems and networks. This can disrupt operations, steal sensitive information, or gain access to sensitive systems.
- Phishing attacks: Countries can use phishing attacks to trick individuals into giving away sensitive information or login credentials. This can be used to gain access to systems and networks.
- Denial of service attacks: Countries can use denial of service attacks to flood a website or network with traffic, making it difficult or impossible for users to access it. This can be used to disrupt operations or to make a political statement.
- Spear phishing attacks: Countries can use spear phishing attacks to target specific individuals or organisations. This may involve using personalised emails or other tactics to trick the target into giving away sensitive information.
- Social engineering: Countries can use social engineering tactics, such as pretexting and baiting, to trick individuals into giving away sensitive information or taking certain actions.
- Supply chain attacks: Countries can use supply chain attacks to infiltrate systems or networks through third-party vendors or partners. This can be done by compromising the security of a vendor or by planting malware in the software or hardware they provide.
- Physical attacks: Countries can launch cyber attacks through physical means, such as planting malware on a computer or network through a USB drive or other device.
It is important to note that many cyber attacks are carried out by state-sponsored hackers or criminal groups rather than directly by the government of a country. However, the government of a country may still be responsible for these attacks if they are aware of them or have not taken steps to prevent them.
Defending against state-level cyber attacks
There are a number of steps that a country can take to defend against state-level cyber attacks effectively:
- Strengthen cybersecurity measures: This includes implementing strong passwords, regularly updating software and security systems, and training employees on cybersecurity best practices.
- Monitor for suspicious activity: It is important to monitor systems and networks for suspicious activity regularly and to report any potential threats to relevant authorities.
- Implement incident response plans: Countries should have incident response plans in place to quickly and effectively respond to a cyber attack.
- Work with international partners: It is important to work with international partners to share information and collaborate on efforts to defend against cyber attacks.
- Invest in research and development: Countries should invest in research and development to stay ahead of emerging threats and to develop new technologies to defend against cyber attacks.
- Establish legal frameworks: Countries should establish legal frameworks to deter cyber attacks and hold perpetrators accountable. This may include laws on cybercrime, data protection, and intellectual property.
- Strengthen cybersecurity education and awareness: It is important to educate the public and raise awareness about cybersecurity threats and best practices. This can help individuals and organisations take steps to protect themselves and report potential threats.
- Engage in international cooperation: Countries should cooperate to address cyber threats and promote cyber stability. This may include participation in international organisations and agreements, as well as bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
Examples of state-level cyber attacks
There have been a number of high-profile state-level cyber attacks in recent years, including:
- SUNBURST: In 2020, a state-sponsored cyber attack targeted, amongst others but most notably, the software company SolarWinds, which provides software to a number of government agencies and private companies.
- The WannaCry ransomware attack: In 2017, a state-sponsored cyber attack used the WannaCry ransomware to infect computers and demand payment in exchange for unlocking them. The attack affected a number of countries, including the UK.
- The Stuxnet worm: In 2010, a state-sponsored cyber attack used the Stuxnet worm to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program. The attack was successful in delaying the program and caused significant damage to the nuclear facility.
State-level cyber attacks are a serious threat to individuals, organisations, and countries. It is important to understand the reasons why these attacks are launched and to implement effective measures to defend against them.
By strengthening cybersecurity measures, monitoring suspicious activity, implementing incident response plans, and working with international partners, it is possible to mitigate the risks posed by state-level cyber attacks.