A threat actor is an individual or group that purposefully exploits weaknesses in computer systems, networks, devices and individuals for their own benefit. There are many different types of threat actors, with each of them having their own motives and skill levels. Some types of threat actors include cybercriminals, insiders, hacktivists and nation-state threat actors.
Continue reading to learn what threat actors do, the tactics they use and how to stay safe from them.
What Do Threat Actors Do?
Threat actors intentionally cause harm using computer systems, networks and devices in an attempt to steal sensitive data to use for their own malicious purpose, typically for financial gain. Threat actors are able to do this by exploiting vulnerabilities and weaknesses in systems and processes. When threat actors find these vulnerabilities, they exploit them by launching targeted cyber attacks.
For organizations, weaknesses are often employees with little to no cybersecurity knowledge, making them more vulnerable to fall for attacks launched by threat actors. For individuals, their weakness is often poor cybersecurity practices due to their lack of cybersecurity knowledge as well.
The Different Types of Threat Actors
The term threat actor is used to refer to any individual or group that is posing a threat to an individual or organization’s cybersecurity. However, there are different types threat actors, including:
Cybercriminals are the most common type of threat actor. Cybercriminals target individuals as they surf the internet, such as when they’re checking email or shopping online. A cybercriminal’s goal is to steal their target’s personal data and use it for their own malicious purposes.
Cybercriminals target both organizations and individuals. For example, a cybercriminal may target an organization by launching a ransomware attack for their own financial gain or they may target an individual with a phishing attack as a way to steal personal information like login credentials and credit card numbers.
Insiders are another type of threat actor; however, they don’t always have malicious intent. For example, an employee working at an organization may make an error such as installing malicious software, also known as malware, and cause sensitive data to leak. But they did not download the malware maliciously, they may have downloaded it thinking it was something else.
It’s important to understand that malicious insiders also exist. For example, there may be a disgruntled employee who has access to sensitive data and sells it on the dark web for revenge or their own financial gain.
Hacktivists are a type of threat actor who uses their hacking skills for activism and are typically not motivated by malicious intent. Hacktivists see themselves as vigilantes who use their hacking skills to enact social justice and policy changes.
Hacktivists tend to use the same tools and tactics that black hat hackers use. For example, they may spread their message by defacing a website or launching a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. A DDoS attack disrupts the normal traffic of the targeted server, which may cause it to slow down or crash completely.
Nation-state threat actors
Oftentimes, nation states and governments fund threat actors so they can steal data, gather confidential information or disrupt the critical infrastructure of another nation or government. Nation-state threat actors have malicious intent and go hand-in-hand with espionage and cyberwarfare. Activities conducted by nation-state threat actors are also highly-funded so they’re often more complex and harder to detect.
Common Threat Actor Tactics
Malware and phishing are two of the most common tactics used by threat actors.
Malware, also known as malicious software, is software installed on a victim’s device by a threat actor. Depending on the type of malware a threat actor has installed, it can do different things. For example, keylogging software can track an individual’s keystrokes as they type. Ransomware can disable a victim’s access to their device until they have paid the threat actor a specified ransom.
Phishing is another tactic used by threat actors. Phishing is a cyber attack where threat actors use social engineering to convince victims to send their personal information or sometimes even money. Personal information can include credit card numbers, login credentials and important documents like the victim’s Social Security number. Phishing is often disguised behind legitimate-looking emails and text messages from people the victim knows such as a family member or coworker.
How to Stay Safe From Threat Actors
Here are some tips for staying safe from threat actors.
Use strong, random passwords for each account
The first thing a threat actor will attempt to compromise is your online accounts because they contain all sorts of personal information like your home address and credit and debit card numbers. The best way to secure your accounts is with strong passwords. A strong password is never reused; is at least 16 characters long; and contains upper and lower case letters, symbols and numbers.
Creating strong passwords for each of your accounts can be a hassle–especially having to remember them all. We recommend using a password manager to aid you in creating and securely storing all of your passwords and sensitive data.
Always enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA adds an extra layer of security to your accounts. Rather than only needing your username and password to log in, MFA requires you to verify who you are with at least one additional verification method such as with a 2FA code generated in an authenticator app or biometric authentication like Face ID.
In the case that a threat actor was able to get a hold of your username and password, MFA would prevent them from being able to gain access because they don’t have a way to verify that they are the owner of the account.
Keep software and devices updated
Software and device updates don’t only add new features, they also patch existing security vulnerabilities and add new security measures to protect your devices. When these vulnerabilities aren’t patched, they act as holes for threat actors to infect your device with malware and other viruses.
Be aware of the latest cyber threats
Keeping up to date with the latest cyber threats and cybersecurity news will help you understand which threats you should be on the lookout for. They also help you increase your cybersecurity knowledge so you know the best cybersecurity practices you should be following.
Stay Protected From Malicious Threat Actors
While not all threat actors have malicious intent, there are malicious threat actors that you should protect yourself and your data from. The first step to protecting yourself and your data is by securing your online accounts with strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.
Start a free 30-day trial of Keeper Password Manager today to see just how simple it is to protect your online accounts from threat actors.