Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


// // //
01:00 PM
Jonathan Couch
Jonathan Couch
Connect Directly
E-Mail vvv

Is Your Adversary James Bond or Mr. Bean?

Especially with nation-state attacks, its critical to assess whether you're up against jet fighter strength or a bumbler who tries to pick locks.

For years, nation-states have targeted private organizations of all sizes as part of their standard operating procedure. Most major corporations realize this. But if you're a security professional at a small to medium-sized business you may be thinking: "I know I need to protect my company from cyber threats, but from a nation state? Really?" 

Yes, really. Just imagine if you worked at one of these organizations:

  • A law firm representing a dissident, a defector, or a certain population that may be in a nation-state's sights. Or a marketing or advertising firm working on a cause that undermines a nation-state's stance. In these instances, the opportunity to gain access to information that could be useful for a country's campaign against people or ideals is motivation enough for a threat actor to infiltrate your network and systems.
  • A small biotech firm with valuable intellectual property (IP) about a new life-saving drug. Stealing that IP to get a head start on producing that drug and beating you to market can have huge payoffs. 
  • A company in the oil and gas, energy, construction, or manufacturing sector that is bidding on an extremely lucrative job. Breaking in to see what your bid is going to be and undercutting it to win the contract can be well worth the effort.

Related Content:

Another COVID-19 Side Effect: Rising Nation-State Cyber Activity

Special Report: Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprises

New From The Edge: The Makings of a Better Cybersecurity Hire

The bottom line: If the goal of a particular nation state and the information they need to achieve that goal align with something you have that could help them, you're an interesting target. 

Private organizations are beginning to come to the realization that this has been occurring for years. The fruits of their research and development projects dating back a few years, are now showing up in other countries because the IP was stolen. Unfortunately, they can't turn back the clock, but they can put solutions in place now to protect their valuable digital assets and processes and preserve the future. 

For others, the SolarWinds supply chain attack was their wake-up call that no company, regardless of size, is immune. Nation-states are focused on their end goal and if they can't get access to the ultimate target, they may use smaller companies as steppingstones. So, all companies along the supply chain must protect themselves against known and new attacks and be able to detect and respond quickly. 

But here's an important thing to know: Just because you may be targeted by a nation-state doesn't mean you're dealing with a James Bond level of sophistication and the cyber equivalent of a fighter jet. It may just be sending in Mr. Bean with a basic lock pick to do the job. Unless it is targeting government agencies and government contractors, for the most part, nation-state threat actors often operate like spammers — modifying a previous exploit, creating a target list and launching a campaign with a focus on economies of scale.

Arm Yourself Against Your Opponent
It doesn't take a massive budget and time-consuming security technology deployments to effectively mitigate the risk of attacks. What it does take is an understanding of what you have that could be of interest, who may be targeting you, and the internal and external resources available to boost your arsenal of defenses. Then you can invest wisely to protect yourself, your clients, IP, and revenue stream from nation-state actors.

Here are a few tips to help.

Inventory High-Value Assets
Know where your crown jewels are kept, including IP, client files, and personally identifiable information (PII). Understand how and with whom this important data is shared, inside and outside of the company. 

Know Your Enemy
Understand the motivations of attackers and their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). Subscribe to the right external threat intelligence sources and consult with an inner circle of trusted industry colleagues to stay up to date.

Implement Good Cyber Hygiene
Go back to the basics, including strengthening passwords and implementing multifactor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. Remain vigilant in training your employees to think before they click. Hover over links to see if they resemble legitimate addresses, watch for spelling and grammatical errors and generic greetings which can indicate the email is malicious, and only click on links in emails or attachments when the sender is confirmed as legitimate.

Update Applications and Systems
Unpatched software and systems continue to be one of the top reasons companies experience intrusions. Stay current with updates that are most relevant by prioritizing patching based on threat intelligence. 

Identify and Close Gaps in Protection
Whether you have your own security operations center (SOC) or work with an MSSP, make sure you have the basic security protections in place, including firewalls, intrusion prevention and detection, antivirus, email and Web gateways, and endpoint detection and response (EDR). Bring in new technologies if warranted based on what you learn about adversaries, so you can strengthen defenses against emerging attacks. 

Assess Incident Response Capabilities
Make sure you have a strong relationship with an incident response (IR) services firm and that their IR plans are current, tested, and give you confidence that you'll be able to efficiently and effectively respond when an attack happens. 

So, back to our question: James Bond or Mr. Bean — who are you facing? The answer is likely Mr. Bean. The good news is that you don't need to bring in the heavy artillery. But you do need to make sure you take the appropriate level of action now and start mitigating the risk of nation-state attacks. 

As Senior VP of Strategy of ThreatQuotient, Jonathan Couch utilizes his 20+ years of experience in information security, information warfare, and intelligence collection to focus on the development of people, process, and technology within client organizations to assist in ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Everything You Need to Know About DNS Attacks
It's important to understand DNS, potential attacks against it, and the tools and techniques required to defend DNS infrastructure. This report answers all the questions you were afraid to ask. Domain Name Service (DNS) is a critical part of any organization's digital infrastructure, but it's also one of the least understood. DNS is designed to be invisible to business professionals, IT stakeholders, and many security professionals, but DNS's threat surface is large and widely targeted. Attackers are causing a great deal of damage with an array of attacks such as denial of service, DNS cache poisoning, DNS hijackin, DNS tunneling, and DNS dangling. They are using DNS infrastructure to take control of inbound and outbound communications and preventing users from accessing the applications they are looking for. To stop attacks on DNS, security teams need to shore up the organization's security hygiene around DNS infrastructure, implement controls such as DNSSEC, and monitor DNS traffic
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Craft is a CMS for creating custom digital experiences. Cross site scripting (XSS) can be triggered by review volumes. This issue has been fixed in version 4.4.7.
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Django-SES is a drop-in mail backend for Django. The django_ses library implements a mail backend for Django using AWS Simple Email Service. The library exports the `SESEventWebhookView class` intended to receive signed requests from AWS to handle email bounces, subscriptions, etc. These requests ar...
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Highlight is an open source, full-stack monitoring platform. Highlight may record passwords on customer deployments when a password html input is switched to `type="text"` via a javascript "Show Password" button. This differs from the expected behavior which always obfuscates `ty...
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
Craft is a CMS for creating custom digital experiences on the web.The platform does not filter input and encode output in Quick Post validation error message, which can deliver an XSS payload. Old CVE fixed the XSS in label HTML but didn’t fix it when clicking save. This issue was...
PUBLISHED: 2023-05-26
GDSDB infinite loop in Wireshark 4.0.0 to 4.0.5 and 3.6.0 to 3.6.13 allows denial of service via packet injection or crafted capture file