What is a threat actor? - definition, types and more | USA test point (2023)


What is a threat actor?

Enterprise data loss prevention data sheet Request your free trial

A threat actor is any internal or external attacker who could compromise data security. Anyone can be a direct agent of data theft threats,identity theft, compromise a system by exploiting vulnerabilities, or createMalware. The security infrastructure detects, contains and eliminates threat actors and their various attacks.

Types of Threat Actors

There are different types of threat actors, people who create malware and attack your infrastructure and applications. Typically, each type has a specific purpose, be it financial or simply destroying your data. Understanding the different types of threat actors will help you better detect and investigate potential attacks.


Cyberterrorists primarily target companies, governments or a country's infrastructure. They are named for the disruption these threat actors can inflict on entire communities. A cyberterrorist's goal is often to harm a country's citizens and businesses, resulting in physical and economic harm.

State-sponsored actors

Like cyberterrorists, state-sponsored threat actors are typically supported and paid by a country's government to attack an opposing country's infrastructure. The difference between a cyberterrorist and a state-sponsored threat actor is that a state-sponsored threat actor typically wants to blackmail a government or steal protected secrets. could usedata theftor rootkits to gain remote control of critical machines used to run the infrastructure. State-sponsored actors also target companies and providers that support state infrastructure and aim to disrupt productivity.


Hackers sometimes target governments and corporations because they oppose the ideology of their target. Anonymous is a popular hacktivist group made up of people from around the world, but other hacktivists can also work alone. These threat actors are often not financially motivated and seek to damage data or infrastructure for political reasons. These can be internal or external threats focused on performing malicious activities and disrupting normal business productivity.


Many companies make the mistake of entrusting all work to employees or contractors. for example oneinternal threatit could be a recently disgruntled employee or a person intentionally targeting a company or government. Governments or competing companies pay insider trading to steal intellectual property and trade secrets, but some insider threats are simply aimed at hurting your employer. Insider threats have become more prevalent in recent years, cause the most damage and are the hardest to detect because they have legitimate access to infrastructure and data.

scripts for children

Not all threat actors are experienced attackers. Many scripts, code repositories, and malware are free to download and use by anyone. Threat actors are called script kiddies because they often don't know how to code or exploit vulnerabilities. Even without programming and hacking skills, script kiddies can undermine a company's productivity and private data. A kiddie script can also unknowingly add malware to the environment, believing it will download tools it can control.

Internal user errors

Inside threat actors don't always have malicious intent, but their damage can be as dire as a deliberate attack on the organization. Accidental damage from an insider threat is often associated with phishing. External attackers send phishing emails to insiders, tricking them into opening a malicious attachment or accessing a webpage that tricked a victimized employee into revealing their credentials. Because the employee has legitimate access to the data, insider threat actors can expose a large amount of sensitive data to an attacker.


The type of threat actor targeting your organization also has specific motivations. Motivation may not seem important when building a security infrastructure, but understanding the attackers will help you develop better planning. The security tools you install are designed to block specific attacks and target specific threat actors.

For many attackers, the focus is on financial gain. Ransomware is a valuable tool for threat actors to extort money from targeted companies and governments. Ransomware targeting individuals can demand a few hundred dollars worth of bitcoin, while ransomware targeting corporations and governments often demand payments in the millions. Once ransomware encrypts files, companies cannot recover their data without paying the ransom or restoring files from backups. Ransomware is widespread and effective, so a security infrastructure must be in place to detect and stop ransomware.

Political motivation drives state-sponsored attackers and cyberterrorists. These motives can be an element of financial gain, but the main purpose is to disrupt commercial services and harm governments. Attackers are often located outside of the target country, making them difficult to track down, investigate, and prosecute.

Some attackers do this just for fun or for research purposes. Finding vulnerabilities in software is a task for some threat actors, but these white hat hackers will not intentionally cause harm. White hat hackers notify organizations when a vulnerability is found to help them identify problems and patch their systems before attackers steal data. Attackers who do this for fun use the same methods as other attackers, but they can do enough damage to impact business productivity.

Threat actors who hack for fun may also want to be known so they can be more easily targeted if they leave a calling card. Others do it out of revenge, which can lead to better identification if the attacker makes mistakes and leaves an audit trail. Most attackers try to hide their activities, but attackers seeking revenge or notoriety may intentionally leave behind information about themselves.

Motivations can also overlap. State-sponsored attackers may do so for political reasons, but they may also seek financial gain. Ransomware can extort millions of dollars from businesses and governments, but it also saps business productivity and can cripple governments for weeks.


Since most attacks are financially motivated, threat actors target deep-pocketed corporations and governments to pay ransoms or recover their data. Some threat actors target individuals, but these attacks are based on volume rather than high-quality, high-revenue businesses.

Attackers know that individuals have less money than companies. Most attacks, like ransomware, target individuals and demand small amounts of money. Threat actors also target individuals for financial data or identity theft. Businesses and individuals need to be aware of the threats, but businesses are particularly targeted by major data breaches and large ransom payments.

Businesses large and small are the target of threats. Unlike individuals, organizations also have numerous employees and contractors who contribute to privacy risk due to human error. Insider threats often cause a data breach or ransomware infection, but external threat actors using multiple vectors are also a cause of data breaches.

Threat actors take longer to target specific organizations and often use reconnaissance to gather information about a target before launching an attack. For example, threat actors useidentity theftTechniques to increase your chances of compromising a highly privileged user account or tricking an accountant into sending money to the attacker. An attacker can be a disgruntled employee, an employee being paid by a competitor to steal data, or an outside threat trying to commit a data breach.

Governments are targeted by state-sponsored threat actors who exploit the same vulnerabilities as corporate threat actors, but these attackers are better funded and often work in groups. They are just as dangerous and can lead to severe government agency closures with the aim of disrupting the country's infrastructure and harming residents.

Why should companies care?

Security infrastructure is expensive, but becoming a victim of a data breach is even more expensive. Most companies store customer information and have at least one compliance policy they must follow. Failure to comply will result in high costs of paying fines if the company is a victim of adata leakan unsupported vulnerability. Most compliance regulations require organizations to have a reasonably secure infrastructure in place to protect consumer data.

Loss of data and paying for data breaches aren't the only consequences of ignoring threat actors. After a data breach, damage to your brand can have long-term consequences. If consumers lose trust in their brand, the company could see a drop in sales and a loss in customer loyalty.litigationthe costs are also long-term, as collective and consumer litigation is a real possibility. These lawsuits can continue for years after the initial data breach.

privacyrequires daily updates and ongoing maintenance. Cybersecurity infrastructure needs to be kept up to date as the cybersecurity landscape changes daily and threat actors constantly change their methods to defeat current defenses.threat intelligence systemsfocus on the evolution of cybersecurity and changes in threat actor methods. These systems are an integral part of any organization's proper defenses to ensure their data is protected from current and future threats.

This keeps you one step ahead of threat actors

Current cybersecurity standards advise organizations to move from a reactive approach to data security to a more proactive one. Proactive controls automatically monitor, detect, and contain threats before they result in a data breach. Older security models provided analysts with information to analyze a potential data breach, but intrusion detection, prevention, and monitoring are much better at mitigating risk and keeping data safe.

Administrators can take several steps to stop threat actors and the data-stealing attacks they launch. Some ways organizations can use Proofpoint to help:

  • Education:Employees need to know what to look for when they receive suspicious emailsSecurity awareness training programsare a great way to do this. Training employees to identify threat actors, malicious messages, and malicious websites helps them learn how to avoid interacting with them.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA):Threat actors focus many of their initial attacks on phishing emails. If an employee falls for a phishing attack and reveals their credentials, MFA will prevent an attacker from continuing their campaign.
  • Network monitoring:Monitoring tools are required for some compliance standards, but they also play a critical role in a proactive cybersecurity infrastructure. Monitoring employee activity will deter insider threat actors with malicious intentions or mistakes.
  • Detection and prevention of intruders:Automated AI-powered tools monitor an organization's environment and automatically contain a threat before it becomes a data breach.

Proofpoint offers several services that track threat actors and monitor their environment and activities. test pointProtection against targeted attacks(TAP) provides insight into an organization's environment, an attacker's goals (e.g., deploying ransomware or attempting to gain access to endpoints), an attacker's technique (e.g., an attack macro or script, PowerShell) and progress (e.g. employees click on a malicious file). Connection).

Managed Services provide organizations with enterprise-class Security Operations Center capabilities that enable administrators to protect against external and internal threats. Technology is just one component of good cybersecurity. Good experts and analysts are needed to configure the technology, maintain it and respond to alerts. Proofpoint gives your organization the technology to stop threats and train employees to manage their cybersecurity infrastructure.

previous glossary

Next glossary


What are threat actor types? ›

Types of cyber threat actors and their motivations

In general, each category of cyber threat actor has a primary motivation. Nation state cyber threat actors are often geopolitically motivated. Cybercriminals are often financially motivated. Hacktivists are often ideologically motivated.

What are 3 types of threats? ›

A threat can be spoken, written, or symbolic.

What are threat actors briefly define the following? ›

A threat actor is any inside or external attacker that could affect data security. Anyone can be a threat actor from direct data theft, phishing, compromising a system by vulnerability exploitation, or creating malware.

What is threat and types of threat? ›

Threat can be anything that can take advantage of a vulnerability to breach security and negatively alter, erase, harm object or objects of interest. Software attacks means attack by Viruses, Worms, Trojan Horses etc. Many users believe that malware, virus, worms, bots are all same things.

What is a threat actor in cyber security? ›

What it is: A Cyber Threat Actor (CTA) is a participant (person or group) in an action or process that is characterized by malice or hostile action (intending harm) using computers, devices, systems, or networks.

What are the 6 common types of threats? ›

The six types of security threat
  • Cybercrime. Cybercriminals' principal goal is to monetise their attacks. ...
  • Hacktivism. Hacktivists crave publicity. ...
  • Insiders. ...
  • Physical threats. ...
  • Terrorists. ...
  • Espionage.
Mar 25, 2015

Which four 4 steps make the threat model? ›

A typical threat modeling process includes five steps: threat intelligence, asset identification, mitigation capabilities, risk assessment, and threat mapping. Each of these provides different insights and visibility into your security posture.

What are 4 methods of threat detection? ›

Generally, all threat detection falls into four major categories: Configuration, Modeling, Indicator, and Threat Behavior. There is no best type of threat detection. Each category can support different requirements and approaches depending on the business requirement.

What is threat in short answer? ›

A threat to a person or thing is a danger that something unpleasant might happen to them. A threat is also the cause of this danger.

What are threat examples? ›

A threat is the presence of anything that can do harm to your business or asset.
Other examples of threat include these:
  • Bank robbers for banks.
  • Car thieves for cars.
  • Fake money.
  • False checks, and/or.
  • Computer viruses.
Dec 1, 2022

What are the types of threats quizlet? ›

  • Natural disasters.
  • Human threats.
  • Environmental threats.
  • Physical threats.
  • Technical threats that are not deliberate.

What is the legal definition of a threat? ›

If someone communicates any statement or indication of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action in an illegal manner, to include in a manner that manipulates the US legal system, that's a threat.

What is threat and its types in information security? ›

Common categories of cyber threats include malware, social engineering, man in the middle (MitM) attacks, denial of service (DoS), and injection attacks—we describe each of these categories in more detail below.

What is the other meaning of threat? ›

The word threat can also refer to someone or something that may potentially cause harm or damage, and threaten can mean to be a source of potential harm or damage. A disease threatens your health. A security threat is someone or something that threatens to make a situation unsafe.

What are the three 3 types of cyber threats *? ›

Types of cyber threats your institution should be aware of include: Malware. Ransomware. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

What are the 5 threat levels? ›

There are 5 levels of threat:
  • low - an attack is highly unlikely.
  • moderate - an attack is possible but not likely.
  • substantial - an attack is likely.
  • severe - an attack is highly likely.
  • critical - an attack is highly likely in the near future.

How many threat actors are there? ›

There are a number of threat actors including: cyber criminals, nation-state actors, ideologues, thrill seekers/trolls, insiders, and competitors. These threat actors all have distinct motivations, techniques, targets, and uses of stolen data.

Who do threat actors target? ›

Threat actors also target individuals for financial data or identity theft. Businesses and individuals must be aware of threats, but businesses are specifically targeted for large data breaches and high ransom payments. Small and large businesses are targets of threat actors.

What is the difference between threat and threat actor? ›

Threats are actions that can result in risk to a system. A threat actor is the source of the threat on the system. Vectors are the methods that threat actors use to attack a vulnerability in a system in order to achieve their objective.

What are the 7 threats? ›

Many threats fall into one or more of the following seven broad categories: adverse interest, advocacy, familiarity, management participation, self-interest, self-review, and undue influence.

What are the 6 threats to cyber security? ›

The main types of cybersecurity threats that companies face today include malware, social engineering, web application exploits, supply chain attacks, Denial of Service attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks.

What are the elements of threat? ›

The following are two of the main elements of a criminal threat:
  • Intent: A criminal threat must be made with the intent to cause fear of injury or death in another person. ...
  • Specificity: A threat cannot be considered criminal if it is either unreasonable or vague.
Jun 14, 2017

What are the key components of a threat? ›

With the combination of hostile intent, capability and opportunity, a threat actor can pose a real threat to a system, increasing its risk. Threat mitigations should work to eliminate one or more of these three essential components.

What are the three key elements of threat intelligence? ›

Three Key Elements that a modern CTI program includes:

Security Orchestration, Automation, and Response (SOAR) ensure security teams detect and respond faster to emerging threats.

What are 3 examples of threat detection technology? ›

These include, but are not limited to: Cloud access and security brokers (CASB) Endpoint detection and response. Intrusion detection prevention systems (IDS/IPS)

How do you identify threats? ›

Threats can be viewed and categorised in light of the following: • the likelihood that the threat will take place • the impact if and when it does. Likelihood and impact are concepts which help us determine risk: the higher the likelihood or impact of a threat, the higher the risk.

What are the four 4 elements of data security? ›

Digital security

Having up-to-date Software. Implementing firewalls. Encrypting hard drives, files, and emails. Managing mobile devices.

What is a threat quizlet? ›

A threat is a person that seeks to obtain data. A vulnerability is the opportunity for threats. A safeguard is the measure taken to prevent it. A target is the asset desired by the threat.

What is the most common security threat? ›

Social engineering attacks (or phishing)

Most security breaches are due to social engineering — where criminals trick people into giving out confidential information, clicking on malicious links, or providing entry to secure systems.

What are the types of threats direct? ›

Direct threat - a direct threat identifies a specific act of violence to be carried out against a specific target. Direct threats are clear and explicit such as, “I am going to bring a gun to school tomorrow and shoot students as they try to exit the main doors.”

Are threats legal in the US? ›

Technically, you could be charged with a crime for verbally threatening someone. Making threats is a form of assault. You could face criminal charges for assault if it can be proven that you made a threat of violence and had the ability or intent to see it through. You may also face charges for written threats.

What is the meaning of threaten in one word? ›

: to utter threats against. : to give signs or warning of : portend. the clouds threatened rain. : to hang over dangerously : menace.

What does It threaten mean? ›

/ˈθret. ən/ B2 [ T ] to tell someone that you will kill or hurt them or cause problems if they do not do what you want: They threatened the owner of the storewith a gun.

What is the nearest meaning of threat? ›

threat. 1 (noun) in the sense of danger. Definition. a person or thing that is regarded as dangerous and likely to inflict harm.

What are the 3 Veris threat actor field types? ›

VERIS recognizes three primary categories of threat actors - External, Internal, and Partner.

Which of the following are examples of threat actors? ›

There are a number of threat actors including: cyber criminals, nation-state actors, ideologues, thrill seekers/trolls, insiders, and competitors. These threat actors all have distinct motivations, techniques, targets, and uses of stolen data.

What are examples of threat agents? ›

Examples of threat agents are malicious hackers, organized crime, insiders (including system administrators and developers), terrorists, and nation states. [a]n individual, group, organization, or government that conducts or has the intent to conduct detrimental activities.

What are the threat actors attributes? ›

Attributes of threat actors include: internal vs external actors, level of sophistication and capability, resources and funding, and intent and motivation.

What are the three main tools of an actor? ›

Actors use their tools (body, voice and imagination) to tell and respond to stories.

What are the six common types of threats? ›

The six types of security threat
  • Cybercrime. Cybercriminals' principal goal is to monetise their attacks. ...
  • Hacktivism. Hacktivists crave publicity. ...
  • Insiders. ...
  • Physical threats. ...
  • Terrorists. ...
  • Espionage.
Mar 25, 2015

What is threat explain with example? ›

A threat is a statement indicating that you will cause harm to or create some other kind of negative consequences for someone, especially to pressure them to do something or not to do something. Many threats involve a promise to physically harm someone in retaliation for what they have done or might do.

What does a threat actor target? ›

Threat Actor Targets

They look for vulnerabilities to exploit rather than individual people. In fact, mass scammers and automated hackers attack as many systems as possible and spread between networks like an infection.

What is the difference between threat agent and threat actor? ›

Per the OCG a Malicious Actor is the actual entity that takes advantage of a vulnerability while the "path" used by such actor is known as the threat agent or threat vector. Later on Threat Actors are defined as defined as the entity (individual or group(s)) that perform the attack, thus meaning The Attacker.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Velia Krajcik

Last Updated: 07/10/2023

Views: 6044

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Velia Krajcik

Birthday: 1996-07-27

Address: 520 Balistreri Mount, South Armand, OR 60528

Phone: +466880739437

Job: Future Retail Associate

Hobby: Polo, Scouting, Worldbuilding, Cosplaying, Photography, Rowing, Nordic skating

Introduction: My name is Velia Krajcik, I am a handsome, clean, lucky, gleaming, magnificent, proud, glorious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.