The recent official opening of the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre, which is a part of Government Communications Headquarters (GHCQ) and now the region’s main authority on cybersecurity, posed a question about how we perceive those responsible for cyberattacks, whether they are hackers, cybercriminals or script kiddies, to name but a few labels.

It seems the world of hackers and cybercriminals has an image problem, and it’s distorting how we perceive these threats. The current image of a cybercriminal is represented by a shadowy, hoodie-wearing teenager in a dimly lit bedroom bathed in the light from the screen. This is the Hollywood hacker. This stereotype was prevalent at a recent industry conference where many advertisements and displays showed similar images to illustrate the threat.

How to Spot a Cybercriminal

However, the truth is different. The majority of larger breaches and incidents are instigated by state-sponsored actors. These entities are, by definition, employed by a government, either for political gain, to gather intelligence, or to incite fear or disruption. In some cases, these attacks could be classified as military operations.

A quick look at the news over the past year points to many attacks attributed to these actors. A recently disclosed Yahoo breach, for example, which happened in 2014 but only came to light in late 2016, compromised between 500 million to 1 billion accounts. Another example is the attack on Ukraine power networks in December 2016, which could be a clear attempt at disruption and destabilization by a foreign government, according to U.S. researchers.

Preventing Insider Attacks

The other major source of breaches is attacks from the inside. IBM discovered that in 2016, over 60 percent of attacks were carried out by insider threats. These are typically people within a company or organization, such as current employees or perhaps even contractors, who have access to key systems and platforms. They are usually aware of the security measures in place and have the knowledge to avoid or defeat them.

So how do we defend against these attacks? For starters, it’s critical to understand what drives these attacks and manage the access rights for your users. Chief information security officers (CISOs) must ask questions such as: Who has and needs access to key systems? How is this monitored? How can we audit access?

There are still many smaller, malicious and, of course, criminal breaches that can be attributed to disaffected individuals. One example is the TalkTalk hack in 2015, which affected up to 157,000 customers and was carried out by a 17-year-old who claimed he was “showing off” for his friends.

Winning Cybersecurity Chess

The message is clear: Many pieces are at play in the game of cybersecurity chess, and organizations shouldn’t be complacent when it comes to investigating. Perhaps it’s not the hoodie-wearing teenager but a bigger player who attacked you, or perhaps the attacker is closer to home and, in fact, sits in the same building.

CISOs must understand why a cybercriminal would want to breach their systems. This enables them to bring the right intelligence and tools to help security analysts track and respond to threats.

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