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New Breed of Nation-State Hackers Keep Governments on Their Toes

Cyber-attacks are growing exponentially and the threat of data breaches now loom over both government and private enterprises owing to new nation-state hackers coming to the fore. North Korea leads the race in harbouring such groups for cyber warfare.

Cyber-attacks are growing exponentially and the threat of data breaches now loom over both government and private enterprises owing to new nation-state hackers coming to the fore.

North Korea leads the race in harbouring such groups for cyber warfare.

North Korea's hacking branch is known as "Bureau 121" which is behind several high-profile cyber-attacks, including the most famous "Wannacry" ransomware attack.

The "WannaCry" began in May 2017 as a global cyber-attack which targeted computers by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.

The attack was estimated to have affected more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries including in India – with damages running into millions of dollars.

They were also responsible for a massive data leak at Sony Pictures in 2014.

Cyber-security firm FireEye pays special attention to advanced persistent threats (APT) groups that receive direction and support from an established nation state.

Like other attackers, APT groups try to steal data, disrupt operations or destroy infrastructure. Unlike most cybercriminals, APT attackers pursue their objectives over months or years.

"APT38" is another North Korean regime-backed threat group responsible for conducting the largest observed cyber heists.

Although APT38 shares malware development resources and North Korean state sponsorship with a group referred to by the security community as "Lazarus", APT38's financial motivation, unique toolset, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) are distinct enough for them to be tracked separately from other North Korean cyber activity, says FireEye.

"APT38" has conducted operations in over 16 organisations in at least 11 countries.

High-profile organisations in engineering, transportation and defence industries, particularly with links to the maritime sector, are being targeted by China-based "APT 40". The group has been active since at least January 2013.

"Anonymous" is another known hacking group. Starting operations in 2003, they initially hacked into smaller social networking sites.

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old African American man, was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the city of Ferguson, Missouriin the US.

"Anonymous" shut down Ferguson City Hall's Internet following the shooting. In 2011, they took down the PlayStation Network and stole user data.

Fancy Bear is a hacking group associated with the Russian government and appears to support its cyber warfare activities.

"Despite being one of the most disruptive hackers in the world, Fancy Bear almost never takes credit for their own work," say media reports.

When it comes to Middle Eastern hacker groups with destructive capabilities, many think of the suspected Iranian group that previously used SHAMOON – aka Disttrack – to target organizations in the Persian Gulf.

"However, over the past few years, we have been tracking a separate, less widely known suspected Iranian group with potential destructive capabilities, whom we call APT33," says FireEye.

The analysis reveals that APT33 is a capable group that has carried out cyber espionage operations since at least 2013 "at the behest of the Iranian government".

APT33 has targeted organisations – spanning multiple industries – headquartered in the US, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.