Hacking’s Gold Medal: Who Is the Biggest International Threat?

The 2016 Summer Olympics has brought together top athletes from across the globe to compete on sports’ top stage. At the same time, a very different type of international “game” rages on in the cybersphere.

Unlike the Olympics, international hacking wars are not governed by a code of sportsmanlike conduct or ethics. Instead, they are a no-holds-barred battle where attackers use any means at their disposal to access precious data. The objective of these attacks can vary, from sabotaging financial systems to stealing trade secrets, but they’re almost always meant to do some sort of harm. And many times, they aim to give the attacking nation an unfair economic or political advantage — a far cry from the pride that Olympic medalists generate for their homelands.

The U.S. typically takes home the most hardware in the Olympics, but what nation has earned the dubious distinction of gold medalist in international hacking?

Since cyber attacks typically are secretive by nature, ranking the contenders can be a challenge. If you look at the overall volume of cyber attacks that originate from different countries, the short list would include a number of European countries, such as Hungary, Turkey, Italy and Romania. 2016 Olympic host Brazil would also make the list … as would the U.S., which originates 10 percent of the world’s malicious traffic.

But it’s important to look past sheer volume of hacks, which include anything from hacktivist DDoS attacks to spam-based fraud schemes. And, for most of our readers, the target of the attacks (America) certainly matters. So our medal will go to the country that has most actively targeted U.S. institutions over the past four years in hacks believed to be tied to nation states.

By those standards, the U.S. intelligence community has a clear winner. But first:

China Earns the Silver

Some would understandably consider China the most significant hacking threat facing the U.S. today. The country has by far the largest volume of international attacks (around 40 percent), and it has consistently made headlines for its attacks on U.S. government agencies and corporations. In 2015, news outlets carried stories on a continuous string of attacks targeting corporate trade secrets, despite an agreement with the U.S. to terminate cyber hacks between the two countries.

But the Gold Medal Goes To …

Russia takes the top prize, not for its frequency or volume of attacks, but for the damage its hackers are capable of.

A longtime hotspot on the world hacking map, Russia originates about 4 percent of all malicious traffic. That’s a fraction of China’s volume, but Russia’s strikes tend to hit harder. Russian hackers are known to be among the most highly sophisticated in the world, and some of the more challenging programs, such as the Uroburos rootkit, are born in the country.

Examples of the Russian hacking threat include several of the most highly publicized attacks in recent years. The catastrophic Sony breach is believed to be tied to Russian-backed hackers, as is the recent infiltration of the Democratic National Committee’s databases.

International cyber espionage and attacks originating from nation states are a concern that stretches far beyond federal government systems, and they may be a particular concern for financial firms in the coming months and years. Last year, Russia launched a series of hacks targeting American banks, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has warned that hackers represent the greatest threat to a vulnerable global financial system.

Gotham Security, a specialist in providing cyber security solutions to financial firms, can help your organization achieve an enhanced security position and peace of mind in the face of threats from Russia, China and other nation states that may be targeting your networks.

For more information on Gotham Security and our solutions, contact us today at 917.734.4120 or info@gotham-security.com.