What is a Threat Actor and Why Should You Care?

March 26th, 2021
Threat Actor

The threat landscape is growing every day. It’s not just organizations like businesses that need to be concerned about the increasing sophistication of attacks aimed at their network; everyday home users should be worried about these as well, because the threat landscape isn’t going to leave your home computer alone.

A component of the landscape you’ll hear often is the “threat actor.”  This is anyone who has the potential to impact your security.  The phrase ‘threat actor’ is commonly used in cybersecurity. To be more specific in the cybersecurity sphere, a threat actor is anyone who is either is a key driver of, or participates in, a malicious action that targets an organization’s IT security. But personal PCs and Macs are as susceptible to cyberthreats as an organization’s IT infrastructure.

A threat actor can be a single person carrying out a security incident, as well as a group, an organization, or even a country involved in carrying out a cyberattack.

Types of threat actors

Cybercriminal: This is the most common type of threat actor. Their attacks are intended to steal data and make that data inaccessible to them until they pay a hefty ransom, or just disrupt an organization’s key processes. Working alone or in a group, money is their primary motivation. Their attack arsenal is made up of phishing attacks, ransomware, malware and other tactics and techniques.

Insider threats:  This usually in reference to a business situation , when an employee, third-party contractor, or partner wants to get at organizational data and/or compromise key processes. They sometimes maliciously and intentionally damage an organization’s cybersecurity infrastructure, sometimes this is unintentional. For example, a staff member might fall prey to a phishing attack and share sensitive company credentials that they shouldn’t be sharing.

Can you have an “insider threat” at home? Sure. Your kids might unintentionally visit a website they shouldn’t and download some malware. Not every insider threat is motivated by greed or revenge.

Nation states: There are countries out there who target institutions in other countries to steal data, either to disrupt their security, impede some governmental function, or damage the economy, for example. They might seek access to military secrets, try to commit acts of espionage, or more.

There are also “hacktivists” who are not primarily motivated by money but rather by a need to publicize an organization’s misdeeds, or to be a part of a political or social movement. Terrorist organizations are also a type of threat actor when they indulge in cyber terrorism for propaganda and for political, ideological, and financial purposes.

Why should you care?

When we talk about threat actors, it’s often focused on businesses, but the fact remains home users like yourself are the target. Malicious actors are continuously looking for ways and means to infiltrate an organization’s network. You and your computer can be the conduit they can use. A threat actor might look at various ways to target the organization you are working for. They send a phishing message your way and trick you into sharing sensitive credentials through a cleverly worded message.

Suddenly you’ve become a threat actor, though unintentionally. Awareness about the various types of threat actors and how they go about their dirty business enables you to take proactive steps to not fall into their traps.

Protection against threat actors

Maintaining strict cyber hygiene is the low hanging protection fruit. Still, alone it’s not enough. Use an advanced antivirus solution to protect your home computer to safeguard all data on this computer and protect your computer from attacks launched by threat actors. Sophos Home aligns cutting-edge artificial intelligence malware detection, unbeatable exploit prevention, and advanced ransomware protection to keep known and unknown threats at bay.

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