The largest battlefield in history – 30 Cyber warfare statistics

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Abraham Lincoln once referred to the battlefields of the past as “hallowed grounds” – places frozen in time to forever commemorate those who have fought and fallen. While places like Gettysburg serve as monuments for future generations, in our day and age the greatest battles are not fought on plains and mountains, but in the shadowy realms of cyberspace. Times have certainly changed, but have the rules of warfare changed along with them? Let’s go through some of the most interesting cyber warfare statistics from the past decade and find out.

Key cyber warfare statistics

  • Cybercrime statistics reveal that as many as 64% of companies across the globe have experienced some sort of hacking attacks.
  • Cyber warfare statistics show that 26.3% of all cyber warfare strikes are directed towards the United States.
  • Cyber attack statistics show that 20% of global organizations consider cyber-espionage to be their number-one threat.
  • Cyber warfare statistics indicate that as many as 35% of all politically-motivated cyberattacks have links with China or Russia.
  • Statistics on cyber warfare reveal that about 11% of all cyberattacks are espionage-related.

Most notable cases of cyber warfare in the past decade

1. In 2013, the FBI was forced to notify more than 3,000 companies in the private sector that their confidential data had been breached.

(Washington Post)

Not only did this event trigger an avalanche of criticism, but it also revealed how much of a target for hackers the American private sector had become. Retail magnates like Target got caught up on this unflattering list as tens of millions of customers had their credit card information and personal data exposed and stolen by cybercriminals. The sheer scale of the operation indicated that the breaches were orchestrated by a nation-state, although to this day there is no substantial evidence to support this claim.


2. US cyber warfare statistics registered as many as 61,000 federal government cybersecurity breaches in 2013.

(CNN)

In 2014, a wave of attacks targeting the records of former and current US government employees revealed to the public the scope of the foreign cybersecurity threat. Since stale data is far less protected and therefore easier to crack, hackers managed to collect personal information dating as far back as 1985. We can only imagine what their motives were. The first few ideas that pop to mind range from acquiring credentials for future breaches to staging large-scale phishing operations. Any way you look at it, such incidents pose a threat, as they could result in further damage if the data collected is put to use and the response from the government proves inadequate.


3. In 2015, Chinese hackers were deemed responsible for breaking into US government computers and accessing the data of 4 million current and former federal employees.

(Reuters)

Another data breach attributed to the work of Chinese state security agents hit the US in 2015 when as many as 4 million government workers - both current and former - were put at risk. According to Chinese cyber attack statistics, information regarding employee performance, training, and job assignments was targeted, with the hackers exclusively trying to gain access to the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management databases.


4. In 2017, the federal government reported more than 35,277 cybersecurity incidents.

(Statista)

As for cyber warfare attacks on the US, statistics show a decline in the overall number of attacks over recent years. However, the international cyberwarfare chessboard is more complicated than that; how many of these attacks were politically motivated or ordered by foreign governments is quite hard to say for sure. In 2015, there were more than 75,000 incidents reported by the federal government. Since then the figure has dropped significantly, but the issue remains as hot a topic as ever.


5. Among the string of recent cyber attacks that has shaken the public was the hacking of 100,000 Navy personnel records.

(US Department of Justice)

This is also a rare instance in which the alleged culprits were caught and indicted by the US Department of Justice. After their arrest in 2018, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong claimed to have belonged to the APT 10 hacking group believed to be associated with the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s Tianjin State Security Bureau. According to the Department of Justice, the duo was indicted for participating in more than a decade worth of cybercriminal activity in service of the Chinese state. One of their crimes was stealing Navy personnel records.


6. As many as 10,000 US Defense Department employees were targeted on Twitter by Russian-backed hackers in 2017.

(Time)

Cyber warfare statistics from 2017 included this unprecedented case of spear phishing, in which thousands of Defense Department employees were compromised by Russian hackers. Although the 2016 election saw Russian-sponsored cyberattackers use rudimentary emails en masse to influence the course of the election, the Twitter operation was performed in a much more sophisticated manner. Employees were hand-picked and fed with fake articles that targeted their personal interests. By clicking on the links, those employees unwittingly allowed hackers to take control over their devices.


7. In 2018, Iranian hackers targeted 144 US universities and 33 businesses, stealing up to $3.4 billion worth of data.

(Bloomberg)

As far as nation-state cyber warfare statistics go, Iran is considered one of the fastest-growing cyber warfare belligerents today. The Middle-Eastern country, locked in a decades-long dispute with the United States, has been actively developing its offensive capacities in cyberspace since 2009. In 2018, Iranian hackers got the chance to make the headlines.

Following the heist of $3.4 billion worth of secrets and data, the US Justice Department charged nine Iranian citizens. The hacking operation proved to be connected to the Iranian-based Mabna Institute and the attack was claimed to have been orchestrated on behalf of the infamous Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.


8. In 2016, US-based ISIS operative Mohamed Elshinawy received money transfers worth $8,700 via PayPal.

(Wall Street Journal)

Although Elshinawy was arrested, he received funding from ISIS via legal means. The ISIS operative pretended to sell computers on eBay in order to receive money, with which he planned terror attacks in the US. In total he received five payments amounting to $8,700. Elshinawy used to money to purchase a laptop, cell phone, and VPN software. According to the FBI, these tools were purchased solely to enable him to communicate with the group. His arrest uncovered a network of schemes through which the group managed to move funds worldwide without drawing too much attention. Elshinawy’s arrest led to the capture of other ISIS agents in Britain and Bangladesh who used the same scheme for the same ends.


9. Cyber terrorism statistics show that more than 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters in 2014 to spread the group’s propaganda across the web.

(The Brookings Project)

The so-called Islamic State established a strong virtual presence by using Twitter as both an online mouthpiece and a potent recruiting tool. Fishing for new members, each of the group’s Twitter accounts had an average of 1,000 followers. Furthermore, approximately a quarter addressed followers in English, while three-quarters tweeted in Arabic. Although the group had an abundance of supporters on social media, not all accounts were active all the time. Moreover, the lion’s share of the group’s success on Twitter came down to around 2,000 of the most vocal fanatics who contributed the largest number of tweets, usually delivered in concentrated, high-volume bursts. Since 2014, ISIS accounts have been met with a crackdown that has eventually managed to isolate, contain, and destroy their presence on Twitter.


Cyber warfare statistics that show the scale of global information conflict

10. For more than a decade, individuals associated with the Chinese government have stolen hundreds of gigabytes of confidential data.

(WLFI)

In 2018, the US Department of Justice charged two Chinese nationals with hacking 45 companies from countries including the USA, Japan, Germany, United Arab Emirates, and Canada. The culprits were charged with stealing data from NASA, IBM, and other high-profile institutions and companies, thus jeopardizing national security.


11. Hacker statistics show that 69% of breaches and cyber attacks on the USA in 2019 were perpetrated from outside the country.

(Verizon)

The study contains sources from 86 countries and uses data analyzed from 41,686 security incidents and 2,013 data breaches. The results show that it’s more common for hackers to be acting from abroad. That way, not only is it harder to trace the cybercriminal, but it’s also much harder to have him/her extradited if caught.


12. The same set of cyber security and attacks statistics points out that 23% of breaches amount to acts of cyber warfare.

(Verizon)

Another 39% can be traced back to crime syndicates and hacking groups that act purely out of financial interest. This goes to show that the global cyberwar is alive and kicking. With belligerents hailing from all corners of the world and new players emerging each day, the underlying layer of the internet has become nothing less than a battlefield on which the future of nation-states is being decided as we speak.


13. According to cyberattack statistics published in 2018, Chinese cyberattacks are once again on the rise.

(New York Times, The Straits Times)

Although the 2015 cyber agreement between the two countries led to a significant reduction in cyber warfare attacks on the US, statistics clearly show that the peace was short-lasting. While the Obama-Xi Cyber agreement promised to put an end to Chinese industrial espionage on the web, it proved to be nothing more than a truce within which forces regrouped, only to strike again with more diligence. In 2018, hacker groups related to Chinese state security services focused on hitting telecommunication companies and hotel chains known for accommodating VIP guests. The basic strategy behind Chinese cyber warfare remains unchanged; it involves the simultaneous pursuit of intellectual property theft, along with hoarding personal data belonging to people of interest.


14. World cyber warfare statistics show an incredible increase in activity between 2009 and 2018, with cyber warfare attacks surging by 440%.

(Business Information Industry Association)

During this period, the internet truly became the new field of battle between superpowers and rogue states alike. As if coming straight out of a cyberpunk dystopia, hacking is a method of war that employs both wit and technology. The past decade saw a –huge expansion of cyber warfare, with thousands of politically motivated attacks on at least 56 countries.


15. Cyberwarfare statistics indicate that as many as 35% of all politically-motivated cyberattacks have links with China or Russia.

(Privacy Affairs)

Russia’s cyber activity increased dramatically after 2014, reaching its crescendo in 2018, when an estimated 47% of the decade’s Russian-backed hacks took place. The country reportedly has ties with 75 state-sponsored cyber incidents, with China’s cyber warfare agents proving to be responsible for as many as 79 separate cases. Bear in mind that these are only the attacks that have been proven to be ordered by the two superpowers; the real figures remain the subject of heated dispute.


16. Cyber warfare statistics show that 26.3% of all cyber warfare strikes are directed towards the United States.

(Statista, Privacy Affairs)

The United States Department of Defense represents one of the most popular targets for hacktivists, terrorists, and foreign intelligence agents alike. With the aggressive digitization of government and military institutions over the past decade, vulnerability issues are becoming more pressing than ever. The result? More than 100 attacks on government and military institutions in 2018.


17. Since 2009, 31.6% of Chinese cyber warfare activity has targeted the US, making the country the single most desirable target for Chinese hackers.

(Privacy Affairs)

Chinese cyber attack statistics also rank Hong Kong as a high-profile target due to the recent political crisis. Allegedly, Chinese hackers recently staged a DDoS attack on the popular encrypted messaging app Telegram, which was used during the anti-government protests in 2019. As for the United States, China stepped up its game significantly between 2018 and 2019, targeting US businesses as part of the ongoing trade conflict between the two economic giants.


18. In response, the US government has set a budget of $17.4 billion to spend on cybersecurity in 2020.

(US Whitehouse)

Cybersecurity statistics show a proportional increase in spending when it comes to the protection of government files, which are under constant threat of being breached. The figure represents a 5% or $790 million increase compared to 2019. The largest contributor to the budget was the Department of Defence, which is single-handedly providing $9.6 billion. However, this is only the figure that is known to the public. Due to the secretive nature of the activities conducted by military cybersecurity experts, the total budget could be much larger than it appears to be.


19. Statistics on cyber warfare reveal that about 11% of all cyber-attacks are espionage-related.

(Hackmageddon)

Reminiscent of the golden days of espionage during the Cold War, cyber warfare consists primarily of gathering intelligence. According to cyber security statistics, stealing data from governments, companies, or individuals is more common than you would think, with more than a quarter of all cybercrime activities classified as espionage. Manufacturing, education, and public administration all hold invaluable data when it comes to espionage, which is why they are targeted most often.


20. Cyber attack statistics show that 20% of global organizations consider cyber espionage to be their number-one threat.

(Information Age)

Furthermore, 26% report having difficulty keeping up with the scale and complexity of possible threats, which generates serious doubts about their cybersecurity measures. Moreover, as many as one in five US organizations say they’ve been the victim of some sort of cyber espionage-related incidents in the past.


21. Hacking statistics show these organizations have reason to be concerned, as 41% of phishing attacks are espionage-related.

(Swedish Security and Defence Industry Association)

Although phishing attacks are more commonly motivated by money (59%), there are still many cases where this form of social hacking is used for political ends. In these cases, phishing is used to acquire credentials that enable hackers to gain access to sensitive files, plant malware, and steal sensitive data. The three industries that most commonly fall prey to social hacking are health, education, and the public sector.


22. US cyber warfare statistics suggest that non-espionage-related cyber warfare constitutes 3.2% of all cybercrime activities in the country.

(Hackmageddon)

From DDoS attacks to acts of sabotage, cyberterrorists have a powerful arsenal of means of disrupting national internet security online. Cases like the 2015 Ukrainian power grid cyberattack pop to mind as some of the most definitive examples of cyberwarfare. The large-scale operation believed to be orchestrated by Russian-backed hackers left hundreds of thousands of homes without electricity for up to six hours. As for the United States, the much-debated 2016 fake news campaign also illustrates just how effective political hacking can be.


23. According to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Russian hackers targeted election systems in all 50 states before and during the 2016 election.

(New York Times)

Cybersecurity statistics from 2019 continue to shed light on what was perhaps one of the most serious cases of cyber warfare so far. The orchestrated interference supervised and sponsored by Russian intelligence services was recently deemed to be far wider-reaching than was previously acknowledged, with evidence suggesting that each of the 50 states was targeted by fake news campaigns and other means of large-scale disruption. Although the committee stressed that not all of these attacks were successful, the size of the operation itself serves as cause for alarm ahead of the forthcoming 2020 election.


24. According to cyber warfare preparation statistics, since 2015, Moscow has reportedly supported a 400-strong full-time “troll army” to stage cyberattacks worldwide.

(New York Times, Radio Free Europe, Forbes)

The same troll army that swarmed the US web with countless comments, tweets, and articles in 2016 was allegedly established a year before to disrupt public opinion by spreading misinformation. It’s believed that the Kremlin trolls have carried out more than just that well-known campaign to influence the US elections; it’s believed that they’ve also taken part in similar propaganda efforts supporting Russia’s involvement in the Ukrainian Civil War. Fueled by a $400,000 monthly budget, these people allegedly fill a daily quota of posting 135 comments via Twitter and Facebook during their 12-hour-long shifts. They also post around 50 articles a day and maintain an average of six Facebook and 10 Twitter accounts each.


Other cybersecurity statistics you should know about

25. Cybersecurity statistics show that just three industries accounted for 95% of record breaches in 2016.

(Forrester)

Government, retail, and technology are by far the most popular targets for hackers, regardless of whether or not they conduct state-sponsored cyber attacks. While all three fare quite well on cybersecurity tests, the vast troves of valuable personal data they hold still make them highly prized assets for countless cyberbandits looking for money, recognition, or both.


26. Every 39 seconds, someone, somewhere experiences a cyberattack.

(University of Maryland)

According to data breach statistics provided by the University of Maryland, three cyberattacks take place every two minutes. Another source claims that every 44 seconds, a record gets stolen on the web. Multiply it, count it, and either way you’ll find a staggering amount of non-stop malicious cyberactivity.


27. Cybercrime statistics show that nearly 90% of all breaches occur due to human error.

(Chief Executive Magazine)

Following on from our previous information security stats is this very important revelation, one that reveals just how determined hackers are to exploit the weakest link within any organization. The vast majority of cybersecurity incidents happen due to employee negligence, while only 18% come from a direct external threat. Most hackers, political or not, rely on somebody from the inside to unwittingly let them in instead of forcing entry.


28. Ransomware statistics show that 24% of all cybersecurity incidents that include malware also come with a ransom note.

(Verizon)

The global infestation of the web with ransomware has made this particular niche of cybercrime so normalized that it’s only worthy of becoming information security news if it involves a high-profile target and multi-million dollar prey. On the other hand, cryptocurrency-related theft – which accounts for just 2% of malware activity – remains hyped. Most media outlets pay close attention to cryptocurrency heists as they are often related to North Korean cyber warfare.


29. Cybercrime statistics reveal that as many as 64% of law companies across the globe have experienced some sort of hacking attacks in the past year.

(Nominet)

The most common hacks include phishing and other forms of social engineering attacks (62%). Companies also often fall prey to ransomware and hacking (57%) as well as DDoS attacks. Cybersecurity has become one of the prime concerns for businesses, with 76% of respondents considering it to be among their top priorities in the near future.


30. Cyber attack statistics forecast that, in 2020, each major data breach will cause an excess of $150 million worth of damage.

(Forbes)

Companies and institutions hemorrhaging data from various breaches are expected to lose an average of $150 million per incident this year. In the meantime, cybercrime’s toll has quadrupled since 2015, costing businesses worldwide an estimated $2 trillion in 2019. Most network breaches remain undetected up to 197 days, by which time hackers can cause serious financial and infrastructural damage, exposing data and placing it on the black market. If cyber warfare statistics and predictions are correct, rogue governments are nowadays more concerned with causing financial damage and getting away with it than waging exhausting wars or sponsoring terrorism.


FAQ

1. What are the 4 types of cyber attacks?

Some of the most common types of cyberattacks include denial of service (DoS), distributed denial of service (DDoS), phishing, spear phishing, password attacks, SQL injection attacks, and cross-site scripting attacks.

2. Which country has the most cyber attacks?

When it comes to the countries that stage the largest number of cyber security attacks, statistics rank China and Russia at the very top. The two countries account for as much as 35% of all cyberattacks directed towards the US. Unsurprisingly, the US is by far the largest target.

3. How often do cyber attacks occur?

According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland to quantify the rate of cyber attack activity aimed at computers with internet access, a hacking attack takes place every 39 seconds online, affecting as many as one in three Americans each year.

4. What are some examples of cyber warfare?

The definition of cyber warfare includes the involvement of a nation-state or an international organization that takes up hacking as a means of accomplishing a political goal by attacking another country’s government or non-government networks.

5. What are common attack vectors?

Cyberwarfare uses all vectors accessible to cybercriminals. These include viruses, email attachments, web pages, pop-up windows, instant messages, and other forms of deception on the internet. Most of these methods involve some level of programming, apart from deception, which simply relies on tricking a human operator into compromising system defenses and allowing the hacker to enter.

6. Which country has the best hackers?

China. According to a range of cyber warfare statistics, Chinese hackers are responsible for 41% of cyberattacks worldwide.

Sources