What is a threat actor in cybersecurity?

These days, businesses face more cyber threats than ever before. The potential sources of a cyberattack range from “script kiddies” using simple tools to incredibly sophisticated organized crime groups, terrorist organizations, and state actors.

So what is a threat actor in cybersecurity, exactly, and how can you protect your organization against cyber threat actors? This article will go over everything you need to know about threat actors cybersecurity topics.

What is a threat actor in cybersecurity?

In the field of cybersecurity, a cyber threat is some activity that seeks to gain unauthorized access to information systems and networks. A cyber threat actor, then, is an individual or group of people that attempt to enact a cyber threat against a designated target by exploiting a security issue. You may also see the terms “malicious actor” or “bad actor” used synonymously with “threat actor.”

There are many types of threat actors, each with their own incentives. According to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigation Report, which studied nearly 4,000 cyberattacks, 86 percent of threat actors had a primary motivation of financial gain. However, more sophisticated threat actors often have the backing of an organization or even a nation-state with broader political goals. For example, the Lazarus advanced persistent threat (APT) is a hacking group that has been linked to North Korea.

Why should you care about cybersecurity threat actors?

cybersecurity threat actors pose serious risks to your organization. In order to deal with these challenges, many businesses enlist the help of a managed detection and response provider.

A successful cyberattack can seriously harm your company financially and reputationally. One study found that 60 percent of small businesses are forced to close their doors after a data breach or cyberattack—perhaps not surprising when the average cost of recovery for a small business is $690,000.

For larger companies, the damage is even greater. IBM’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report estimates that the average cost of a data breach has reached $4.24 million, the highest figure in the report’s 17-year history.

Beyond the immediate costs of incident response and recovery, your business will also suffer reputational damage from customers and investors. Users will view your company with greater suspicion, wondering if you can be trusted to keep their sensitive data secure. Depending on your industry, you may also suffer regulatory penalties under laws such as HIPAA.

What are examples of what threat actors can do?

Just a few tactics used by threat actors include:

  • Social engineering — Clever threat actors can use social engineering techniques to trick people into revealing security credentials. For example, “spear phishing” attacks target specific individuals by impersonating a trusted third party.
  • Data breaches — Many threat actors’ ultimate goal is to exfiltrate sensitive or confidential data from your network. This information can then be exploited or sold to the highest bidder.
  • Malware — Some threat actors seek to wreak havoc on your IT systems by installing viruses, worms, Trojans, bots, and other malware. Ransomware is a special type of malware that holds your files hostage, locking down your computer until you pay a hefty ransom to the attackers.

How can you protect your company from cybersecurity threat actors?

The good news is that there are many ways to protect your organization from cyber threat actors. The tactics at your disposal include:

  • cybersecurity software — Installing robust cybersecurity software is the first line of defense against threat actors. You can use a comprehensive tool like an MDR or XDR, or a tool for capturing log and event data like XDR or SIEM.
  • Threat intelligence — Threat intelligence is the knowledge that helps organizations prevent and/or mitigate cyberattacks from threat actors. This may consist of everything from technical data on a particular attack to geopolitical insights about a threat actor’s motivations.
  • IT security providerTechnology alone isn’t enough to defend against cyber threats, but many businesses don’t have the capability to maintain an in-house IT security team. Joining forces with the right IT security partner will significantly improve your cybersecurity posture.

How to get started with cybersecurity defenses

There are many things you can do to better protect your business against threat actors. If you’re just beginning with cybersecurity, however, the right move is likely to speak with a managed services provider who can offer the right advice and guidance.

If you’re searching for an IT security managed services provider, we’re here to help. 

UncommonX’s unified BOSS XDR platform gives users the cutting-edge insights they need to bolster their IT security posture.

Ready to get started? Contact our team of IT security experts today to have a chat about your situation, schedule a security assessment, or see a demo of the BOSS platform.

About the Author

At the center of our U.S.-based Security Operations Center (SOC) is a distinctly skilled team of security architects, engineers, analysts, and data scientists. Each is an expert in their respective field and dedicated to protecting our customers 24/7.