Study: 64% of Businesses Suspect They’ve Been Targeted or Impacted by Nation-State Cyber Attacks

Venafi, provider of machine identity management, today announced the findings of new research that evaluates the security impact of the increasing number of nation-state attacks and recent shifts in geopolitics. Venafi research into the methods used by nation-state threat actors shows the use of machine identities is growing in state-sponsored cyberattacks.

The study of over 1,100 security decision makers (SDMs) globally found that 66% of organizations have changed their cybersecurity strategy as a direct response to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, while nearly two-thirds (64%) suspect their organization has been either directly targeted or impacted by a nation-state cyberattack.

Other key findings from the research include:

  • 77% believe we’re in a perpetual state of cyberwar
  • 82% believe geopolitics and cybersecurity are intrinsically linked
  • More than two-thirds (68%) have had more conversations with their board and senior management in response to the Russia/Ukraine conflict
  • 63% doubt they’d ever know if their organization was hacked by a nation-state
  • 64% think the threat of physical war is a greater concern in their country than cyberwar

“Cyberwar is here. It doesn’t look the way some people may have imagined it would, but security professionals understand that any business can be damaged by nation-states. The reality is that geopolitics and kinetic warfare now must inform cybersecurity strategy,” said Kevin Bocek, vice president, security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi. “We’ve known for years that state-backed APT groups are using cybercrime to advance their nations’ wider political and economic goals. Everyone is a target, and unlike a kinetic warfare attack, only you can defend your business against nation-state cyberattacks. There is no cyber-Iron Dome or cyber-NORAD. Every CEO and board must recognize that cybersecurity is one of the top three business risks for everyone, regardless of industry.”

Venafi research has also found that Chinese APT groups are conducting cyberespionage to advance China’s international intelligence, while North Korean groups are funneling the proceeds of cybercrime directly to their country’s weapons programs. The SolarWinds attack — which compromised thousands of companies by exploiting machine identities to create backdoors and gain trusted access to key assets — is a prime example of the scale and scope of nation-state attacks that leverage compromised machine identities. Russia’s recent HermeticWiper attack, which breached numerous Ukrainian entities just days before Russia’s invasion of the country, used code signing certificates to authenticate malware in a recent example of machine identity abuse by nation-state actors.

The digital certificates and cryptographic keys that serve as machine identities are the foundation of security for all digital transactions. Machine identities are used by everything from physical devices to software to communicate securely. The only way to reduce risks of machine identity abuse commonly used by nation-state attackers is through a control plane that provides observability, governance and reliability.

“Nation-state attacks are highly sophisticated, and they often use techniques that haven’t been seen before. This makes them extremely difficult to defend against if protections aren’t in place before they happen,” continued Bocek. “Because machine identities are regularly used as part of the kill chain in nation-state attacks, every organization needs to step up their game. Exploiting machine identities is becoming the modus operandi for nation-state attackers.”

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