Digitisation and advancements in information and communication technology have revolutionised every aspect of modern life. While a connected digital ecosystem that intertwines critical infrastructure provides enormous potential for innovation and development, it also increases the attack surface. The way a country responds to the opportunities and risks that arise in cyberspace plays a crucial role in its growth and security.
Though we all acknowledge the imminent risks cyber attacks pose, are we aware of the scale of impact such attacks can have on a country and its people? Let’s explore the impact as well as who the attackers are, and how they can be stopped.
Who are the attackers and what can they do to a nation?
Based on their motives and scale of attack, cyber attackers can be classified into four groups:
• State sponsored attackers are nonstate individuals or organisations who are discreetly supported by a government entity. These attackers generally operate to fulfill political, commercial or military interests of their country of origin. In today’s world of mutual distrust where nations want to have an upper hand over others, state sponsored cyberattacks have become commonplace. Attackers use a combination of different techniques ranging from spear phishing attempts backed by well-researched social engineering to sophisticated advanced persistent threat (APT) campaigns in order to infiltrate networks and gain access to confidential information such as trade-secrets, research findings, and war strategies to name a few. Cyber espionage and insider attacks (where a trusted insider is paid for carrying out parts of the attack) are also not uncommon. State sponsored attacks have the potential to crumple entire nation-states when the right data is compromised.
• Hacktivists are individuals or groups of individuals who use cyber-attacks as a way of expressing political or ideological extremism.
Numerous cyber-attacks have been carried out in the past as a means of expressing resistance. Launching large scale distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to render government servers inaccessible and loading videos and images that criticise a state’s policies on government websites are some of the most common methods hacktivists employ to make their voice heard. While hacktivism appears to be just a form of electronic civil disobedience without malicious intent, taking down networks of organisations that provide essential services such as hospitals can have devastating impact on citizens’ lives.
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