Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

Modern Warfare: Geopolitical Attacks in an Ever-Changing Cybersecurity Landscape

Cyber attacks have become a significant threat to the security of nations and their citizens. With the increasing dependence on technology and the internet, nation-states have become more vulnerable to cyber attacks. These attacks can take various forms, including data breaches, cyber espionage, and cyber warfare. Nation-state cyber attacks are carried out by governments or state-sponsored hackers to achieve a specific political or military objective. These attacks can be used to steal sensitive information, disrupt critical infrastructure, or spread propaganda. In recent years, nation-state cyber attacks have become more sophisticated, targeting government agencies, businesses, and individuals.

One of the most well-known nation-state cyber attacks was the Stuxnet virus, which was used to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. The attack, which was attributed to the United States and Israel, demonstrated the potential for cyber attacks to cause physical damage and disrupt critical infrastructure.

Another example of a nation-state cyber attack is the 2016 Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. The Russian government used cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to influence the outcome of the election. The attack was a wake-up call for governments around the world to take cyber threats more seriously.

The war in Ukraine has fuelled a massive increase in state-sponsored attacks, largely as a consequence of Russia’s heavy attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, as well as attacks targeting Ukraine’s allies. But even beyond the Russia – Ukraine conflict, nation state attacks have become more and more prevalent and some of them, incredibly destructive as countries are conducting cyber espionage, targeting critical infrastructure as well as hospitals or other healthcare organisations.

The Nation State threat actor

Nation state threat actors generally have much more resources at their disposal and access to more information compared to a lone hacker or other hacker groups. As a result, these actors have a higher level of sophistication and can carry out advanced persistent threats (APTs), hence the term “APT Groups”. APTs are cyberattacks that are carried out as stealthily as possible in order to remain undetected and stay in the network for as long as possible (months and even years). These attacks generally have the objective of harvesting valuable information. For instance, APTs use lateral movement (moving laterally across the target’s network) and remain undetected by blending in with the target organisation’s usual network traffic.

Although progress has been made at an international level regarding agreed-upon norms around responsible state behaviour, and what to do if these norms are not observed, the growing number and severity of cyberattacks is increasingly becoming an issue for states and their organisations. Due to the lack of penalties and the lure of big rewards it is thought that it will be years before the threat of state actors is dealt with (it has been estimated that cybercrime will cost the world around $10 trillion dollars in a couple of years, which is the same as the global energy bill!).

The 2022 Threat Landscape

The geopolitical events of the past year have had a significant impact on the cyber strategy and tactical cybersecurity operations of organisations around the world. Efforts are continually being made to bolster internal policies and processes and increase the effectiveness of cybersecurity controls with third parties. This suggests that organisational responses to cyber risks taken now will have a positive long-term impact. At the same time, geopolitical tensions are likely to cause greater variation in the nature of cyber threats, with greater variation in malware types, as well as changes in the type of assets or value-creating processes targeted by cyber-attackers. This uncertainty makes it increasingly difficult to think strategically about the operational elements of an organisation’s internal cybersecurity operations.

The geopolitical landscape that has arisen from the Russia-Ukraine war has altered how organisations think about their threat environment. Time and resources are needed to understand how the threat landscape has changed, whether the difference in an attacker’s motivation makes them more likely to be targeted, what will be attacked, and how it might be attacked. More resources are required for active monitoring of the threat picture compared to 12 months ago. The focus is now on tactical and short-term (three-month) planning and with less detail on three- to 12-month planning as the environment is so volatile.

It is important for organisational leaders to be aware of and appreciate the several fields of emerging technology that can affect their cyber risk profile. New developments such as artificial intelligence and the use of machine learning, a greater adoption of cloud technology, and advances in user identity and access management will all play a major role in how an organisation’s cyber defence structure will be shaped going forward. They will need to be implemented at speed and used across a widening range of processes. The implementation of new technologies will be done in combination, significantly increasing the complexity of an organisation’s digital environment and highlighting the need for integrated cyber risk management into all stages of the digital transformation. Organisations must balance the value of new technologies and potential cyber exposure to effectively manage their risk in the years to come.

How these attacks can affect your organisation

Many cybersecurity professionals don’t believe they are potential targets because they don’t operate industrial control systems. Every organisation has information that’s potentially valuable to nation-states. Even not-for-profits have been compromised as they provide insights into the vulnerabilities of other nations.

Cyber Espionage

Cyber ​​espionage is aimed at stealing classified and sensitive data, or intellectual property to gain an advantage over a competing business or government entity.

Bottom of Form

Physical system destruction

Many groups focus on disabling or destroying physical systems, especially energy grids, manufacturing plants, energy suppliers, telecommunications companies, and the like.

Information system denial of service or destruction. 

Sometimes, the goal of nation-state attackers is to take an organization out of operation, for blackmail, or to shut it down completely. 

Most Prominent Nation State Cyber Attacks 2022


Ukrainian power grid ‘lucky’ to withstand Russian cyber-attack

In April, the Ukrainian government revealed it narrowly averted a serious cyber-attack on the country’s power grid. On of its largest energy companies was targeted, attempting to shut down substations, which would have caused blackouts for over two million people. The malicious software used in the attack was similar to that used by Russian hackers who previously caused power cuts in Kyiv.

Researchers believe the Russian military group Sandworm is responsible. Cyber-security companies Eset and Microsoft helped identify and neutralise the malicious software used in the attack.

In this latest attack, Sandworm hackers attempted to deploy the Industroyer2 malware against high-voltage electrical substations in Ukraine and deploy several destructive malware types, including CaddyWiper. A wiper was also used to disrupt the US satellite communications provider Viasat on the first day of the Ukraine invasion.


Microsoft links Russia’s military to cyberattacks in Poland and Ukraine

Microsoft identified Russia`s military intelligence arm as the likely culprit behind ransomware attacks in September that targeted Polish and Ukrainian transportation and logistics organisations. The company stated stated that Poland and Ukraine’s transportation and logistics organisations were the target of cyberattacks that used never-before-seen ransomware – Prestige. The Prestige campaign is distinct from destructive attacks seen previously that used malware tracked as AprilAxe (ArguePatch)/CaddyWiper or Foxblade (HermeticWiper) to target multiple critical infrastructures in Ukraine.


CISA: Multiple government hacking groups had ‘long-term’ access to defense company

Several U.S. agencies announced in October that it was likely that multiple government hacking groups had “long-term” access to the network of a defense company.

A report from CISA, FBI and NSA, said some of the hackers exploited Microsoft Exchange vulnerabilities on the unnamed organisation’s server to gain access remotely and compromise legitimate company accounts to access emails, meetings, and contacts belonging to other employees. During an investigation, CISA uncovered that likely multiple advanced persistent threat (APT) groups compromised the organisation’s network, and some APT actors had long-term access to the environment. The actors used an open-source toolkit called Impacket to gain their foothold within the environment and further compromise the network, and also used a custom data exfiltration tool, CovalentStealer, to steal the victim’s sensitive data.

How to mitigate against these types of attacks

  • Ensure that security controls (technical & organisational) remain effective against the current threat landscape.
  • All cyberattacks, regardless of the type of threat actor, have an attack lifecycle and need an initial point of entry into the target organisation’s network. Organisations should ensure that there all possible attack vectors have efficient security controls in place, such as:
  • Monitor high-risk third parties with access to your systems and network. For example, due to the current political situation and cyberattacks in Ukraine, it is important to carefully monitor any incoming traffic from Ukrainian organisations due to the higher probability of a potential supply chain attack. It is important for organisations to gain full visibility and understanding of the risks associated with their supply chain. As such all potential suppliers/third-parties should be properly assessed prior to onboarding.
  • When assessing which security controls to implement and how it is important to remember there is no silver bullet solution that will provide 100% security 100% of the time. It is a matter of which controls can create the biggest hurdles for attackers to get to the organisation’s critical assets. The security solutions in place should lengthen the amount of time that hackers need to infiltrate the network. At the same time, organisations should ensure a fast incident detection rate to be able to stop cyberattacks at their early stages and minimise their impact. For example, a zero-trust network creates more challenges for hackers to overcome and more opportunities for organisations to detect the attacker due to its principle to always verify explicitly.


We are now entering an era of increasing threats from state sponsored actors seeking to disarm the global economy. This will pose a direct threat to specific sectors, such as energy and shipping. These attacks will no longer just be about the demand for a ransom. Instead, they will focus on proper disruption and the shutting down of critical operations at a national level. The war in Ukraine has seen a significant rise in hacktivism, and it’s likely these attacks will further evolve in 2023. This army of hacktivists brings extreme unpredictability to intelligence agencies and cyber defence organisations, increasing the risk of spill-over that can ultimately escalate cyber conflicts. Understanding the details of these risks, what to prioritise, and how to effectively mitigate is the best foundation for creating a plan to manage geopolitical threats for 2023.


Contact Us

The data you supply here will not be added to any mailing list or given to any third party providers without further consent. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

    Copyright Smarttech247 - 2021