Nation state hackers work for governments, looking to gain access to data or intelligence from other governments or organisations. The results of these attacks can be immense, holding international significance and gaining worldwide media attention.
Most cyber crime is undertaken by generally low-skill criminals taking advantage of security vulnerabilities. With the use of good cyber security practices, most of these threats can be mitigated against. This is where nation state hackers are different- they are sophisticated and highly skilled, their attacks extremely difficult to protect against. Within cyber security, nation state hackers are referred to as an APT (Advanced Persistent Threat), reflecting the practiced, selective and persistent nature of their attacks. While other cyber criminals are likely to move onto another target if they fail to gain what they want from them, nation state hackers will simply find another way to gain access. Nation state hackers will have access to cutting-edge technology, and will have their government on their side, meaning they will not fear prosecution from their justice system.
Although these hackers may be much more knowledgeable than, say, financially motivated cyber gangs, their methods will often start much the same, just with the potential to become more sophisticated. Employing methods of social engineering, taking advantage of vulnerabilities and using forms of ransomware, the wider methods are very much comparable to those of other threat groups. Where the threat is much larger in nation state hackers, due to their substantial expertise and equipment, most organisations and individuals will not be a target of these groups. Nation state hackers target other governments, as well as other industries or infrastructure systems which will contain sensitive data or intelligence. It is true that others may be impacted as collateral damage of targeted attacks, though the direct threat from nation state hackers to most people and companies is extremely minimal.