Political cyberattacks have taken many different forms over recent months, starting from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hack, which appears to have been the work of Russian nation-state hackers to cause disruption and controversy around the US elections, to the potential information gathering of known Chinese hackers ahead of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping, to the document leaks against French President Emmanuel Macron, allegedly by an American hacker.
In our unpredictable environment, where popular opinion and political debate are constantly changing, it's no wonder that cybercrime is becoming a powerful weapon in obtaining confidential information and as propaganda.
With a deluge of big cyberattacks like WannaCry hitting the headlines, it's easy to assume that cyberthreat actors are only interested in high-value, high-profile targets. This is isn't the full picture. It's often the countless smaller, third-party service organizations and suppliers — the ones that big government agencies and companies rely on — that become ripe, easily compromised targets. And this is the reason the tactics used are often relatively basic.
Tactics of Adversarial Actors
Security is compromised most often by simple deception techniques, not by technical skill. A hacker needs only a foothold on the corporate network. Successful social engineering through spearphishing attempts typically rely on three key attributes of simple deception: a plausible method (for example, a seemingly plausible email communication designed to blend into our inbox), a plausible narrative (such as an overdue invoice), and, finally, moderation, to make the material believable. If one element doesn't make the grade and the recipient is security savvy, those behind the spearphishing attack are less likely to succeed.
The first defense against threat actors is simple in nature but difficult to execute: teach your staff how to spot poorly executed deception attempts.
Cyber defense doesn't stop with preventative techniques. Detection capabilities are just as important. In a world where perimeter defense is no longer viable, businesses must assume that hackers have already breached their network and invest in finding and expelling them. Technology can detect data exfiltration and alert the organization as it happens with the details needed to stop the next potential moves of a hacker.
The End Goal and Takeaways for Enterprises
Attacks against enterprises are like political attacks in many ways. While some are carried out in hope of a ransom payday, other attacks are meant to glean insight into confidential corporate information that can be used in negotiations. In other cases, attackers might just want to cause a stir or expose poor security practices.
Although it is important to monitor both the techniques used by hackers and their motivations to predict what might be hit next and where to apply extra security measures, the fact is that often the solution is much simpler. Because most attacks begin with a case of simple deception, the focus should be on a combination of basic security education and technology — and making sure the information hackers could access is so limited that the damage is mitigated. This is what the political attacks of recent months can teach us in the business world.
This essay was adapted from a presentation John Bambenek will be giving at Infosecurity Europe, June 6-8.