What is a threat actor in cyber security? (8 types of threat actors)

    What is a threat actor in cyber security
    What is a threat actor in cyber security

    In today’s article we will be extensively discussing the topic “What is a threat actor in cyber security?”

    And we will also be discussing in detail the types of threat actors in cyber security and steps to prevent them in general.

    Let’s first evaluate what a threat actor in cyber security is in fact. A threat actor is, to put it simply, a party in charge of a cybersecurity event.

    What Is a Threat Actor in Cyber Security ?

    Threat actors, often referred to as malevolent actors or malicious actors, are any person or organization that intentionally causes harm to others online.

    They conduct disruptive assaults on persons or organizations by taking advantage of holes or gaps in computers, networks, and other systems and electronic medias.

    The term “cybercriminal” is well known to most people. It makes one think of criminals responsible for a ransomware attack or ominous pictures of private data exposed on the dark web.

    Cybercriminals are included in the phrase “threat actor,” although it is considerably wider. Threat actors include idealists like terrorists and hacktivists as well as insiders and even online trolls.

    The phrase “actors” is neutral and avoids categorizing them as an individual, a group, or a collection of several groupings, hence it is used to refer to them.

    Additionally, the phrase does not attribute an actor’s purpose, such as criminality or espionage.

    It’s also crucial to realize that the terms “threat actor” and “hacker” are distinct from one another since, unlike a hacker, a threat actor may not necessarily possess any technical or hacking abilities.

    They are only one with bad intentions that compromises the security of an organization or Businesses.

    This might entail anything from physically destroying data center servers to transferring private information to a USB drive. It’s a general phrase that covers both internal and exterior dangers.

    By 2024, the cost of cybercrime have almost exceeded  by $7 trillion, making it more important than ever to identify the threat actors that are causing this harm.

    According to CrowdStrike’s 2024 Global Threat Report, ransomware-related data exposures have increased by 82 %. Additionally, a 45% rise in interactive invasions was also discovered.

    It’s simple to get lost in such huge numbers when there are statistics like this all over the internet. Never forget that a cybercriminal is behind every cyberattack.

    Recognize your foe! You can prevent attacks and defend your whole network by being knowledgeable about threat actors.

    Whom do Threat Actors intend to harm?

    Target selection is typically indiscriminate by threat actors. Instead, then looking for specific individuals, they search for weaknesses to exploit.

    In actuality, automated hackers and fraudsters that target large numbers of computers spread like an illness throughout networks.

    The term “Big Game Hunters” or “Advanced Persistent Threats” may be used to describe some cybercriminals. They deliberately attacks the limited number of valuable targets.

    They take the time to research their target and launch a focused attack that has a higher chance of being successful.

    Nobody is immune from becoming the target of a threat actor. This danger applies to both individuals and businesses. In fact, according to University of Maryland research, a hack happens almost every 39 seconds. Which is quite huge.

    Threat actors also develop at the same rate as cybersecurity. Despite having up-to-date malware security software, hackers often develop new attack vectors.

    Threat information, on the other hand, enables you to take quicker, more informed security choices that counteract threat actors.

    Let’s now move on to a crucial section of this paper, that addresses the different types of threat actors in cyber security.

    Types of Threat Actors

    Malicious actors come in many different forms. The majority come under the general category of cybercriminals, including fraudsters, adrenaline seekers, and ideologues.

    1. Insider Threats

    Because they come from within the targeted network, insider threats are tricky to spot and prevent. Data theft and other cybercrimes can be carried out by insider threats without compromising security.

    They might be a worker, consultant, board member, or any person with special access to the system.

    Insider threats were responsible for nearly 20% of data breaches, according to the 2024 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

    The danger that takes the longest to discover, privilege misuse, is where the majority of these breaches occur. Insider threats don’t always trigger cybersecurity alarms since they don’t have to force their way into the system.

    Given that insiders have privileged access, this threat is extremely dangerous.

    Organizations are realizing that they must be vigilant against the possibility that their own employees would turn against them as this method’s popularity grows. Bad men particularly target disgruntled ex-employees.

    1. Nation-state Threat Actors

    Threat actors from nation-states operate on a national scale and typically seek for information on the nuclear, financial, or technological industries.

    This kind of danger often relates to the military or government intelligence services, who are well-trained, exceedingly quiet, and covered by their country’s legal system.

    States occasionally work with other groups. In certain cases, outside groups lack the competence to bypass a security operations center (SOC), yet the state is nevertheless able to disavow liability.

    A nation state threat actor may try sabotage or assault crucial infrastructure in addition to gathering intelligence.

    1. Cyber Terrorists

    Cyber Terrorists are a modern mutant of a persistent worldwide issue that has afflicted the majority of nations for decades.

    These threat actors typically aim to damage people and interrupt vital services. Their major objective is to injure and destroy in order to advance their agenda.

    Cyber terrorists primarily target organizations, government systems, and vital services because they can do the greatest damage, disruption, and devastation.

    By its very nature, terrorism seeks out all method available to spread anxiety, discontent, and division throughout the world.

    Cyber terrorists employ a variety of cyber weapons to damage people and disrupt vital services in order to advance their goals.

    They focus on the state activities, enterprises, and vital services that will have the most impact, albeit by no means entirely.

    As a result, this results in the worst loss, both financially and emotionally.

    1. Organized Crime/Cybercriminals 

    Criminal conduct happens everywhere, even online. There are criminals out there who want to steal cash, valuables, and private information of your Business or company.

    But because they’re chasing money, the information they get frequently ends up on the underground market or is sold to the highest bidder.

    These threat actors are also known to directly extort business owners by using ransomware.

    Their primary objective is financial gain, and they are after cash and/or data from wealthy businesses and organizations.

    Cryptocurrency growth has contributed to both reducing and boosting cybercrime, yet criminals have shown skilled at eluding security mechanisms and advances.

    Ransomware, which has dramatically increased by 13% in 2024 and is mostly employed by them as a form of modern-day extortion, is their weapon of choice.

    Cybercriminals and gangs often target cash- or data-rich enterprises, while they have also been known to target people and home networks.

    1. Government-Sponsored/State-Sponsored Actors

    These terrorist organizations are supported, controlled, or sponsored by states. To further their nation’s espionage goals, they have been known to steal and exfiltrate intellectual property, private information, and even money.

    Such individuals’ primary objective is to engage in theft, national espionage, or any other conduct that serves the interests of a certain nation or set of states. Only major corporations and Government-run organizations are their main targets.

    These cybercriminals are either sponsored, directed, or both by international organizations and National governments.

    In order to serve the objectives of a hostile nation, their aim is to snoop on or steal from enterprises or governmental institutions.

    These techniques are only employed when two nations are at war and seek to destroy one another on all fronts.

    Both the general publics of the two countries concerned as well as their economies are harmed by this.

    1.  Hacktivists

    The goal of hacktivists is to raise awareness. For instance, hacktivists who wished to reveal the truth were responsible for practically all of the information released by WikiLeaks.

    They are frequently driven by political action.

    Exposing secrets and disrupting services or organizations that are thought to be wicked are the major objectives of these hacktivists.

    As a result, they do not restrict themselves to a certain kind of business or organization. Anywhere, at any time, and with anyone.

    Because ideologies have such influence, there has been a historically high surge in hacktivism, or hacking done with the intention of bringing attention to a certain issue, making a leak public, or revealing secrets.

    The most well-known instance of hacktivism is likely WikiLeaks, which was established with the explicit purpose of disclosing secrets and changing opinions about government actions. 

    1. Script Kiddies

    Some attackers aren’t proficient or advanced enough to create their own penetration tools. Script Kids get into a network or system using tools created by other intruders.

    Their primary objective is to target computer systems and networks, vandalize them, and do the most harm.

    Additionally, they exclusively go for easy-to-penetrate systems that are weak against well-known dangers.

    Don’t be fooled by the adorable name. Script kids are threat actors that are mostly recognized for lacking the expertise or knowledge necessary to create custom penetration tools, but who are happy to pay for or use other attackers’ tools to get access to systems.

    In order to vandalize computer systems and do indiscriminate harm, they typically look for system flaws and exploit vulnerabilities.

    Since they lack any specialized knowledge or skills, their chances of success are better because there are fewer opportunities for uncertainties in such circumstances.

    1. Internal User Error/ Human Error

    Threat actors aren’t all malevolent. However, the harm they do can be extremely severe.

    Because of their enhanced rights inside an organization’s systems and networks, even basic user mistakes can result into disastrous results.

    Because we are all human, doing improperly is a human nature, not a deliberate action.

    Furthermore, not all threat actors are hostile or deliberate, which is a basic fact.

    Despite this, errors, even those that seem harmless, have the power to seriously harm corporate networks.

    Internal user mistakes also lead to system flaws that can be exploited by other threat actors.

    They are frequently unintentional and not malevolent. No matter how secure the organization, they may influence or target it.

    Such mistakes are internally produced by the propensity for human error, and they can only be corrected by working tirelessly and with unending attention on all tasks.

    Like all criminals, many cybercriminals are opportunists who take advantage of security protocol flaws, blunders, or apathy and enjoy an unmanaged network.

    “Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated.” Your odds of winning or losing are identical i.e., 50-50 when you don’t know anything about the opposition but are aware of yourself.

    You will undoubtedly lose every war if you are uninformed of both your adversary and yourself.”

    This is more than simply a catchy proverb from antiquity; it serves as a wake-up call for today’s worries about cybersecurity, which are becoming more severe, thorough, and laser-focused every year.

    Let’s now examine the reasons behind these threat actors. And why do they do these things rather than doing a regular job or running a business like you and I do?

    What are Motivation factors for Threat Actors

    An advanced persistent threat or threat actor typically looks to profit financially.

    They accomplish this by either directly taking advantage of a victim through a ransomware assault or by extracting data that they may sell to a third party.

    Insider threats may be selling information to rivals in a similar manner as other hackers.

    They could also have stronger personal motivations; for example, if they hold a grudge against their employer or supervisor, they might try to compromise the network as payback.

    Verizon estimates that 17% of insider threats are driven just by amusement.

    Finally, insider threats that want to launch a rival company could steal information to give themselves an advantage.

    Political or nationalist motivations drive nation-state threat actors. They primarily aim to strengthen counterintelligence within their country.

    However, they could also have more disruptive objectives, including spying, propagating false information and propaganda, or even meddling with important businesses, authorities, or infrastructure.

    Nation-state threat actors receive support and protection from the state for their crimes, regardless of their specific objectives.

    Politics is a driving force for both terrorists and hacktivists, yet neither engages in state-level activity.

    Hacktivists want to communicate their unique opinions and convictions, which are frequently motivated by a social or political issue.

    On the other side, terrorists seek to cause chaos and terror in order to forward their objectives.

    However, Script Kids lack the knowledge and sophistication to create infiltration tools on their own. To enter a network or system, they thus employ tools created by other attackers.

    Following our discussion of all the different threat actors, it is crucial to comprehend the strategies for avoiding them.

    How to Stay One step Ahead of Threat Actors

    The majority of threat actors enter through phishing. This takes the shape of emails that appear legitimate asking for a password change or phony login sites that steal information.

    Although your employees may no longer fall for the “Nigerian prince” hoax, phishing techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated with time.

    The following are the recommended strategies for avoiding threat actors:

    • Staff should receive cybersecurity education to reduce human error.
    • To keep data secure, use multifactor identification and often update your passwords.
    • Keep an eye on employee behaviour to spot potential insider threats.
    • Set up cybersecurity software to prevent bad actors.
    • Also, you must stay away from all phishing scams.
    • Be careful to keep all devices updated and on secured networks; any internet-enabled device might be a weak link in your defences.
    • Additionally, be wary of emails that want a speedy response.

    VPNs and guest networks, which restrict visitor access to sensitive data and devices, are two straightforward defensive systems you may deploy to defend yourself from threat actors.

    Additionally, you want to have a backup strategy for when an assault does succeed. By doing this, you can intervene right away before the harm reaches an irreparable degree.

    A strong offensive is the greatest defence. Take an active strategy by doing threat hunting rather than reacting to assaults after your system has been penetrated.

    Threat hunters use a human-powered method called threat hunting to aggressively look for, look into, and eliminate malware as soon as they notice suspicious activity.

    Cyberattacks can be stopped by a security staff before they do irreversible harm.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation should also be informed of the situation.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the country’s main federal law enforcement organization and its domestic intelligence and security service.

    Alternatively, you can file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center. This branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates alleged illegal behaviour supported by the Internet.

    The IC3 provides victims with an accessible and convenient reporting system that notifies authorities of potential criminal or civil offenses over the Internet.

    Your business may become a victim of a cyberattack as long as human mistake is a possibility.

    We have a responsibility to learn from past and present cyberattacks and work to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals trying to harm us in a world where all kinds of personal and professional affairs are conducted online and the fields of big data, AI, and interconnectivity grow increasingly complex and advanced.

    The Key Categories of Threat Actors

    It is essential to have a thorough awareness of not just the reasons for cybercriminals’ actions but also their objectives and the techniques they are constantly coming up with in order to develop effective defences.

    There is no doubt that cybercrime is on the rise, seemingly unabated. Massive data breaches are growing more frequent, and organizations of all sizes, from small start-ups to the government, are increasingly being targeted.

    According to Cybersecurity Ventures, it has never been more crucial to get knowledge about the different threat actors that are out there and those who may represent a threat in the upcoming year given the over $6 trillion in damages that hackers have caused thus far.

    The “enemy” we need to understand is what’s referred to in cybersecurity as a “threat actor”—a word that can apply to lone people, organized criminal gangs, or entire entities looking to affect the security of a person or organization.

    Over 3,138,420 GB of internet traffic are produced in the U.S. alone every minute, and as our reliance on the internet increases, we need to be more vigilant about our online security.

    So, in order to defend ourselves against such attacks, we need act and think like the attackers.

    Read more- Keep Yourself Safe: 7 Cybersecurity Tips


    Internet use has become a necessity in today’s world for both individuals and organizations, whether they are working or just having fun.

    Risk is present in all situations, including basic ones like going shopping or starting work first thing in the morning.

    Threat actors are a reality that you should be aware of. This kind of crime will never be eliminated.

    Some would claim that threat actors and cybercriminals contribute significantly to the advancement of security measures and online safety standards since, in essence, they help us learn from our mistakes and adjust safeguard our security.

    Every person’s or company’s cybersecurity procedures must start with understanding the many threat actors out there and what drives them.

    We may map our defences and safeguard ourselves for the future by predicting their manoeuvres, spotting system weaknesses, and foreseeing potential attack sources. Thus, being always awake is a tremendous skill.

    Additionally, the government has departments specifically created to cope with these threats. These organizations are constantly there to assist people.

    Critical infrastructure is protected against these threats by organizations like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the country’s main federal law enforcement organization and its domestic intelligence and security service.

    Additionally, the IC3 provides victims with a practical and simple reporting system that notifies authorities of possible criminal or civil offenses on the Internet.

    Keep in mind that malicious threat actors may be aiming their attacks at you right now; shoot them back. Learn about the many risks in your environment and quickly implement effective active security measures to defend yourself from all forms of cyberattacks.

    If you thought our article was helpful, we advise readers to share it with others who are near to them. By doing this, you might be able to prepare your loved ones for such attacks.

    Happy Reading!!!!