Cybersecurity for Busy Executives - The Different Types of Attackers

81% of large companies have reported a cyber breach at some point and the average cost of a breach is between £600k and £1.15m[1]

‘Nearly half of UK businesses identified at least one cyber security attack in 2016, according to UK government data.’[2]

In order to defend your organisation from cyberattacks, it is worth understanding the different profiles of attackers because some organisations will only be randomly targeted, whereas others, particularly large multi-national corporations, will be targeted specifically.  In order to protect your organisation as well as possible, it is important to understand the motives of the different types of potential attackers.  Each type will also likely use different methods of attacking your organisation and we will discuss different attack methods later in the series.

Broadly, these are the following different types of attackers:

1.     Cyber criminals

2.     State Sponsored

3.     Industrial Competitors

4.     Hackers

5.     Hacktivists

6.     Employees

We will now explore each one in more detail:

1.     Cyber Criminals.    This type of attacker has become far more prominent over the past 5 years since traditional criminals have realised it is easier to make money illicitly through cybercrime than traditional crime, and they are also less likely to get caught.  Issues around jurisdiction also mean that it is far harder to catch and bring charges against people who are committing cybercrime.  These types of hackers will generally commit fraud or make money from selling individuals’ or companies’ financial and sensitive personal data, looking to redirect funds.  Ransomware is also a common methodology.  Potential attackers have access to an entire ecosystem of tools which can be rented or purchased to help facilitate different types of attacks.  They are based all around the world, but there is a prominence in Eastern Bloc countries where there is a high standard of computer programming and a tendency to turn a blind eye to the state. 

Their characteristics are as follows:

  • Very commercial.  Usually part of a wider group or syndicate.  They will often go for easier (cost-effective) targets.
  • Technically proficient and will be able to use the latest hacking skills.
  • Good resources to draw from and able to move fast.
  • Their targets are usually: Financial Services, Retail, Healthcare.
  • Will also target individuals performing high value transactions – e.g. someone buying a house.

2.     State Sponsored.  Often linked to Industrial Competitors (below) and they have overlapping goals, including spreading misinformation, facilitating economic instability, gaining economic advantage and to steal Intellectual Property.   They are:

  • Highly trained and well-motivated, often performing determined protracted attacks.
  • Fiercely nationalistic.   
  • Have a huge resource pool from which to draw on and will often have the cutting-edge hacking tools.  Often use special care to hide their activities and minimise traces of their activities.
  • They target: Defence, Government, Energy and Utilities and also high-tech companies.  We can expect that anyone with access to future technology to be focussed-on over the next few years.
  • State sponsored hackers often make some of their tools available for the rest of the Hacking community to further their own ends and increase their own attack surface. It also won't be "state attributable" so you wouldn't really know that was happening anyway.

3.     Industrial Competitors.  This group are more interested in gaining economic advantage for their own company and stealing Intellectual Property.  A recent study puts cost of cybercrime at $24 billion to $120 billion in the U.S. and up to $1 trillion globally.[3]

  • Often from countries with less regulation regarding Intellectual Property theft.
  • Will often coerce employees to steal financial information or Intellectual Property.
  • Will also employ Hackers to steal the information themselves by gaining access to companies’ systems.
  • Sometimes works in collaboration with the state.
  • Targets all industries.           

4.     Hackers.  This is a wide range of individuals and they will often work for some of the other types of attackers, and also draw some of their tools from the other groups.  These are often individuals who see breaking into an organisation as an intellectual challenge.  Often this is just a hobby for some, but for others they want to gain notoriety and to increase their standing within the hacking community, who communicate through forums and message boards.  State sponsored hackers often make some of their tools available for the rest of the Hacking community.  The two different types are:

a.     Hobbyist.  Often known as ‘script kiddies.’ 

  • Resourceful and skill levels can vary.
  • Will often use ready-made hacking tools widely available on the dark web.
  • Motivated by boredom, the intellectual challenge or a desire to prove themselves among the hacking community.

b.     Professional Mercenary.  Can evolve from the ‘Hobbyists’ in order to make money.

  • Guns for hire and will work for any of state actors, criminal gangs or industrial competitors.
  • Access to cutting edge hacking tools through the underground hacking community.
  • Very proficient and difficult to catch, or even know if you have been breached.

5.     ‘Hacktivists.’  These are usually Hackers who are ideologically motivated, anarchists or anti-capitalists.  They usually attack companies or Governments for political or ideological reasons.  They attack commercial entities for anti-capitalist reasons or if they disagree with how the corporation behaves and what they stand for.  They may also be disaffected by social and economic inequality.

  • De-centralised, often operating in cells in a similar way to terrorist organisations.
  • Varied skill levels.
  • Their goals are to disrupt companies and government entities.  Think F-Society from Mr Robot.

Mr. Robot.jpg

6.     Employees.  These can be malicious employees acting as insiders or those making errors accidentally.  We will mainly focus on malicious insiders in this instance.  This is more commonly known as the ‘Insider Threat,’ encompassing all threats from employees, malicious or accidental, and is often the largest vulnerability to any organisation.  This is contrasted between employees supplying information unwittingly to hackers who wish to gain access to the company’s IT estate and data; or disaffected employees who are maliciously stealing data or assisting hackers in their attempts to access the organisations IT estate and data.  We will discuss this in more detail in later blogs, but organisations with strong cultures, where employees genuinely buy into company goals, are less likely to have malicious insiders, and will also be more likely to spot insiders, malicious or otherwise. 

  • Malicious insiders may be commercially, or ideologically motivated.  Or they may be a former employee who still has access to systems, or who has stolen data.
  • They are likely to know exactly where to look and will often be highly professional.
  • Their goals are usually to steal intelligence (from Government organisations – think Edward Snowdon), trade secrets or Intellectual property, or to divert funds.
  • A well-motivated and intelligent insider is extremely difficult to protect against, but there are a number of safeguards that organisations can put in place – developing a strong culture, only giving access to systems people need, robust internal audit, transparency in monitoring of leavers and joiner’s procedures are just some of them.  It is worth pointing out that when Edward Snowdon worked for the NSA, via Booz Allen (a Consultancy), he went through extremely stringent vetting procedures and was not deemed a threat, so sometimes it is just impossible to identify an insider.

So, that’s the end of our third blog.  Next week we will be giving an overview of some of the most common attacks.

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[1] CESG, ‘Common Cyber Attacks: reducing the Impact.’

[2] City AM, ‘Access Denied: The fight against cyber criminals.’ -

[3] ‘The case for enhanced protection of trade secrets in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement,’ US Chamber of Commerce:

Cybersecurity for Busy Executives - What is Cybersecurity?

“Cyber security, computer security or IT security is the protection of computer systems from the theft and damage to their hardware, software or information, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide.

Cyber security includes controlling physical access to the hardware, as well as protecting against harm that may come via network access, data and code injection. Also, due to malpractice by operators, whether intentional or accidental, IT security is susceptible to being tricked into deviating from secure procedures through various methods.

The field is of growing importance due to the increasing reliance on computer systems and the Internet, wireless networks such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the growth of "smart" devices, including smartphones, televisions and tiny devices as part of the Internet of Things.[1]

Ok, so here we are with the second blog in your Executive (Cyber) education. Firstly, I need to make an apology.  I made some grand statements in the last blog about providing practical advice.  That will come, but before we get to that, it is important to understand some basic Cybersecurity terms, as these underpin everything else.  Cybersecurity practitioners are a precise bunch – who can blame them, they have to be - so although practitioners need to be able to speak the same language as the board, Executives can meet them half way by understanding some of the key concepts and terms.

People are key to protecting your organisation, and they need to have the right level of understanding for them to be effective. The next few blogs will help raise your level of understanding.

It is not just about Technology…….

We will start with some context and basic explanations on what cybersecurity really is.  It is a common misconception that Cybersecurity is only about the technology that protects an organisation’s IT infrastructure, network, applications and devices (I will shorten these to IT Estate for ease) - and the data and information that they contain.  Yes, that is a very important part of it.  Cybersecurity, however, is a much wider concept.  It is also about empowering the people who have access to an organisation’s IT Estate and data; the culture of an organisation; policies and processes/procedures; the governance of the organisation; and lastly physically protecting the organisation itself.


 Let us delve a bit deeper into each one:


Cybersecurity can seem like a scary concept to non-practitioners, as it is assumed that it involves complicated technology that only expert developers and cyber professionals can understand.  Whilst that is not entirely untrue, good Cybersecurity is no different to the smooth running of any other part of an organisation.  There are complicated elements to it, as there are in a Finance Department, Strategy Department or on the production line of a car manufacturer, for example.  However, like all parts of an organisation, there is a need for clear understanding and communications at the interface between general management and Cybersecurity practitioners, and effective governance (with underlying policies) should seek to do just this.  Cybersecurity practitioners need to empower the people as well as enabling the Executive.

One of the reasons for a disconnect between the board, Executives and cybersecurity practitioners, is that practitioners can struggle to articulate cybersecurity in a language the management understands, and its applicability, i.e. in the context of the wider business.  This is to be expected.  Cybersecurity is a relatively new concept – the definition of cybersecurity only appeared on Wikipedia recently, and there is no seat on the board for the Chief Information Security Officer – but as it starts to establish itself even more, I would expect this to change. 

To make the whole concept easier for you to understand, we have built a diagram below which shows a highly simplified example of what your organisation’s IT estate might look like, and how Cybersecurity applies to that.  As we go through this blog series, this will form the basis of how we describe the different concepts.  We will be using a fictional company XYZ Ltd.  The larger and more diversely technical an organisation, the more complicated this diagram can become, but it forms a good building block on which to explain the key concepts.


Most people’s understanding of cybersecurity is focussed on protecting the organisation itself and its customers’ interests, and people mistakenly believe good cybersecurity defence is simply building a wall around the organisation.  When you consider that the diagram above is a simplistic representation of an organisation and reality is that organisations could have over 2,000 third party suppliers and possibly 100 offices, organisations have multiple areas that hackers could target.  The image above does help to give us a starting point and we will add to this as we develop your knowledge.

So now, it is hopefully clearer that Cybersecurity is a much broader topic than people realise, and you now understand a little bit more about the different areas that are part of it.  Next week, we will move onto talking about the different type of attackers who could be targeting your organisation.  Until next time.

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[1] Wikipedia

Cybersecurity for Busy Executives - Increasing Boardroom Awareness

Ask your business, IT, and security managers the following questions to see where your enterprise stands:

  • Do we know what is connected to our systems and networks?
  • Do we know what’s running (or trying to run) on our systems and networks?
  • Are we limiting and managing the number of people who have the administrative privileges to change, bypass, or override the security settings on our systems and networks?
  • Do we have in place continuous processes backed by security technologies that would allow us to prevent most breaches, rapidly detect all that do succeed and minimise damage to our business and our customers?
  • Can you demonstrate all this to me, to our Board, and to our shareholders and customers today?

If they can’t say yes to all these questions, you may still be compliant with regulations, but your company’s data and customers are not safe. If you don’t ask these questions, your customers and shareholders will – or will ask soon!

Jane Holl Lute (Board of Directors of the Center for Internet Security)

We are currently seeing a lot of disconnect between the Executive Board (of companies) and Cybersecurity professionals who work for them.  Although there has been a significant increase in Board Cybersecurity awareness, we believe they are still not sufficiently knowledgeable about Cybersecurity issues. 

There is a further issue in that Cybersecurity professionals are struggling to articulate the problems in a language that the Board understand.  Our view is supported by a recent survey by Harvey Nash, the recruitment firm, who found that of C-Level execs, 30% or less CEOs and COOs are well informed on Cybersecurity issues, and 20% or less CFOs and CMOs are well informed.

In a series of blogs, we will aim to address these issues, starting with the first part of the problem -  raising Board level awareness on Cybersecurity which will

  • provide Executive Level awareness on what the Boards of companies need to be thinking about around Cybersecurity. 
  • speak the language of the board
  • be a short and easily digestible paper, which will allow Executives to build up their Cybersecurity knowledge bit by bit. 
  • educate Executives the key things they need to know so they can ask the right questions of their Information Security Teams. 
  • drawing on real life examples and case studies.

The four areas we will cover are:

1.     Cybersecurity 101.  What are the key things, as an Executive, you need to know.  We will cover Risk Management basics; what are the different threats to your organisation – and how to mitigate them; what are the most common attacks; what does the attack surface of your organisation look like, and what are the most common vulnerabilities.  We will also provide a go-to glossary of common cybersecurity terms and jargon.

2.     Making your organisation more robust.  What are the main areas you should be asking your Information Security or IT team about.  Here we will break down the different areas of best practice Cybersecurity defence, which will allow you to ask the right questions of your IS team, and also allow you to dig below the surface to ensure you are satisfied that you are on top of what is going on.  We will cover the following topics (amongst others):

  • Patching
  • Home and Mobile Working
  • User Education and Awareness
  • Incident Management
  • Information Risk Management Regime
  • Managing User Privileges
  • Removable Media Controls
  • Monitoring
  • Secure Configuration
  • Malware Protection and Anti-Virus
  • Network Security
  • Third Party Supplier Management

3.     Cybersecurity Macro Trends.  Once you understand the basics and have ensured your Information Security team have a robust plan, you then need to think about the future.  There is a lot of change currently happening within the Cybersecurity industry and it is important that you (a) have a strategy; and (b) this strategy is aligned with your overall business strategy.  You therefore need to be aware of some of the trends that are underway, to ensure your cyber strategy is incorporating these macro trends, and it is relevant.  As part of this section, we will look at the following trends:

  • Shortage of talent
  • The possibility of a future Cyber fatality
  • Increased regulation (GDPR) and compliance overload
  • Industrialisation of the most common attacks     
  • Expansion of the attack surface
  • The Internet of Things
  • Breaches - Not if, but when
  • Possible cybersecurity scenarios

4.     The future.  Linked to the previous section, we will look even further into the future and discuss what the future holds for the cybersecurity industry.  We will look at some of the technology advancements underway, including Artificial Intelligence, and what impact they will have on Cybersecurity defences and attackers.  We will discuss the potential cyber arms race between governments and corporations, and the hacking community, and how you can take advantage of the advances in technology to improve your Cybersecurity defences and to save money.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this and look forward to our next blog in the Cybersecurity for Busy Executives series.

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Supply chain Cyber Security Risk Management

The global WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017 pointed out some weak points when it comes to patching out of data systems, and the insidious nature of phishing emails.   But the speed and sheer global reach of the attack - the way it spread over 150 countries in just a matter of hours - really bought home the cyber-risk to organisations from their extended supply chains.

The question is, how do you manage the cyber security risks that come from your supply chain? You may have painstakingly achieved and maintained 27001, NIST or PCI, but, if you are sharing data, networks, and devices with hundreds, perhaps thousands of third parties, how does that factor in to your cyber security and business risk management process?

The answer is to weave together your information security and supply chain, vendor management and purchasing processes.  Vendors and suppliers must be quickly,  appropriately and continuously assessed if your organisation is not going to import additional risk with each new organisation you do business with.

Joining up vendor & supplier management with information security is easier said than done.   In the heat of commerce and getting things done, asking new & existing vendors or suppliers to wade through cyber security questionnaires, make declarations and provide evidence, can very easily get overlooked.  There is also the delicate issue of getting different cyber teams to "play nicely" and agree any common frameworks that are needed.

However challenging it is, it has to be done.  Crossword's approach is to make it as easy as possible.  We use our Cyber Security Risk Assessment tool, Rizikon, to collect supplier data and analyse it using algorithms developed by City University.   This gives an immediate Supplier Scoring which can be aggregated and viewed over the entire supply chain. Assessments are completed in just minutes or hours rather than days and weeks. Each supplier is given a list of prioritised recommendations which can be reviewed jointly with Supplier Management, the Information Security team and the supplier - all online and securely encrypted.

Rizikon can support frameworks mandated by Governments and Defence Procurement such as NIST (recently updated to include more supply chain assessment), Cyber Essentials, & DCPP.

Rizikon is available in the cloud as SAAS, or installed on suitable infrastructure as an Enterprise or Programme solution.  Find out more about Rizikon Supply Chain, or by contacting Crossword Cybersecurity.






GDPR Consulting tool from Crossword

Rizikon started life as a Cyber Security Risk assessment tool, which has been adopted as a standard by a number of Consultancies and Professional Advisers.  In February 2017, we chose to add a substantial GDPR readiness assessment and planning section - so that it now also works as a strong GDPR consulting tool.

With everyone declaring themselves a GDPR expert, well ahead of comprehensive guidance from the ICO, Rizikon now actually allows Consulting organisations to offer a comprehensive GDPR readiness audit and planning tool - for as little as £50 per client (at volume.)

Consultants and Advisers who want to offer up-to-date guidance on GDPR should take a look at Rizikon and how it deliver GDPR assessments at low cost.

The advisory reports are kept up-to-date with the latest from the ICO, with updates every 4 to 6 weeks.  

To find out more about our GDPR Consulting tool Rizikon, just contact us or request more informatino about becoming a Rizikon Partner.

2017 will be the year of GDPR preparation

What is the GDPR?

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will, from May 2018, significantly extend the provisions of the Data Protection Act
  • It defines the data covered to include anything about an individual EU citizen that could identify them e.g. an IP address captured at login
  • It requires that clear and affirmative consent to collect, store and process data is obtained (and sustained) from the individual.  e.g. Not just pre-filled tickboxes.
  • It requires you to tell them, free of charge and in a timely manner, what data you hold about them.  And in a portable electronic format if they so request.
  • It requires you to respond if they withdraw their consent for you to process it, or request that you rectify it (if wrong), or to request full erasure of the data. There are some circumstances in which you can keep data but the onus of proving the need is on you.
  • If you have passed on their data to third parties, then you have an obligation to inform those third parties of any changes in consent, in the data and to advise of erasure.
  • It has provisions to fine you up to the higher of €20M or 4% of Global annual revenue  for some categories of personal data breech.  So you had better have really good cyber security! A personal data breach means a breach of security leading to the destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, personal data. 
  • In case you're now wondering, it also has provisions to fine you up to €10M or 2% of Global annual revenue if you fail to report a notifiable personal data breech to the relevant authorities within 72 hours.  In the UK that will very likely be the Information Commissioners Office
  • If you sign up to a GDPR related certification scheme, and fail to adhere to the rules, there are also provisions to fine you up to €10M/2%.

More accurately it is Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation).  

GDPR and Brexit

Some news for those in the UK.  The GDPR is probably not going away because of Brexit.  The UK is already committed to implement it by 25th May 2018 when the country will still be in the EU.  Even if the UK Government subsequently waters it down or implements it's own version, it will still apply to any data held about EU citizens.

Governance & Accountability

The main two drivers of the legislation are to increase citizen's rights concerning the data held about them, and to increase the accountability of the organisations and their management in taking those responsibilities seriously.  This will require you to have better governance of data, privacy issues and cyber security.

In many cases you will need new policies & procedures and it is likely that new roles & responsibilities will need to be created.  More than anything a new mind-set is needed amongst non-technical leadership to both demand the right things from their IT providers, and to pay for them.  Not that it's exclusively an "IT problem".  The whole organisation will need to readjust how it looks upon data about individuals.

You need to start your GDPR preparations in 2017

Thinking prudently, once the regulation is active you should assume that;

  • Individuals will start exercising their rights (to know what data you have about them, to request erasure, etc.)  Potentially some will exercise these rights quite aggressively.  You will want self-service for most of this by then.
  • You will be fined if you have serious breeches - and that you will have to report breeches within 72 hours, or be fined.  You'll need better defences, better monitoring and slick breech-reporting.
  • You will have to show that you have serious governance in place managing these regulatory requirements.  Covering everything from doing data impact assessments, having good cyber security, breech reporting, data requests and so on.

 All of this means that, even though some of the details are yet to be decided, you need to start work now.  This is because these are not trivial changes.  This is of the order of magnitude of a Y2K.  It means looking at all of your systems that hold affected data and working out how the regulation impacts it - and then implement the changes and get them live. It means putting someone in charge of the programme and giving them a budget. It means understanding where you are now and where you need to get to in good time for May 25th 2018.  

Three GDPR suggestions to do right now

  1. Read about the GDPR (here is a good starter for ten on the ICO web site) but also discuss it with your legal advisors.  Review your existing DPA processes and understand how much more you will need to do.
  2. Because it's a long process (and getting harder), start improving your cyber security by taking a cyber security risk assessment - you must reduce the risk of personal data breeches well before 25/5/2018!
  3. Discuss the possible impact of GDPR at management meeting(s) and assign someone the responsibility of pulling together a cross-functional action plan covering IT, HR, Marketing and "the business".  Get some expert help in if you need support.

Bridging the Valley of Death

If you're involved in a startup company or tech-transfer then you have probably already heard of the ‘Valley of Death’. For those of us who have never heard the term, the Valley of Death is the gap the exists between an idea and the reality of a commercialised product. There are many great research ideas that look promising on paper, yet for some reason never realise their potential.

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