PALO ALTO, Calif., April 8, 2021 – HP Inc. today announced the findings of a new study –Nation States, Cyberconflict and the Web of Profit – showing that nation state cyberattacks are becoming more frequent, varied and open; moving us closer to a point of ‘advanced cyberconflict’ than at any time since the inception of the internet.
The research – which was conducted by Dr. Mike McGuire, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Surrey, and sponsored by HP – highlights there has been a 100% rise in ‘significant’ nation state incidents between 2017-2020. Analysis of over 200 cybersecurity incidents associated with nation state activity since 2009 also shows the enterprise is now the most common target (35%), followed by cyberdefence (25%), media and communications (14%), government bodies and regulators (12%), and critical infrastructure (10%).
In addition to the analysis of nation state cyberattacks, the research also draws upon first-hand intelligence gathering from informants across the dark web and consultations with an expert panel of 50 leading practitioners in relevant fields (such as cybersecurity, intelligence, government, academia, and law enforcement). The findings paint a clear picture of escalations in tensions, supported by increasingly complex structures that intersect with the underground cybercrime economy – referred to as the Web of Profit. Key findings include:
• 64% of the expert panel said 2020 presented a ‘worrying’ or ‘very worrying’ escalation in tensions, with 75% saying COVID-19 presented a ‘significant opportunity’ for nation states to exploit.
• ‘Supply chain’ attacks saw a rise of 78% in 2019; between 2017 and 2020 there were over 27 distinct supply chain attacks which could be associated with nation state actors.
• Over 40% of incidents analyzed involved a cyberattack upon assets that had a physical, as well as a digital, component – for example, an attack on an energy plant – a phenomenon labelled as ‘hybridization’.
• Tactics used by nation states to acquire COVID-19-related IP data appear to have been road-tested by cybercriminals, which is characteristic of the way nation states have become beneficiaries of and contributors to the Web of Profit that constitutes the cybercrime economy.
• There is evidence that nation states are ‘stock-piling’ Zero Day vulnerabilities, while 10-15% of dark net vendor sales go to ‘atypical’ purchasers, or those acting on behalf of other clients, such as nation state actors.
“When we look at nation state activity through the lens of this report, it comes as no surprise that we have seen such an escalation over the past year; the writing has been on the wall for some time,” comments Dr. Mike McGuire, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Surrey. “Nation states are devoting significant time and resources to achieving strategic cyber advantage to advance their national interests, intelligence gathering capabilities, and military strength through espionage, disruption and theft. Attempts to obtain IP data on vaccines and cyberattacks against software supply chains demonstrate the lengths to which nation states are prepared to go to achieve their strategic goals.”
“Nation state conflict doesn’t take place in a vacuum – as evidenced by the fact enterprise is the most common victim within those cyberattacks analyzed,” commented Ian Pratt, Global Head of Security for Personal Systems at HP Inc. “Whether they are a direct target or a stepping-stone to gain access to bigger targets, as we have seen with the upstream supply chain attack against SolarWinds, organizations of all sizes need to be cognizant of this risk. As the scope and sophistication of nation state cyberattacks continues to increase, it’s vital that organizations invest in endpoint security that helps them to stay ahead of these constantly evolving threats.”