Geopolitical Tensions Enabled Increased Hacktivist Cyber Threats

New report from FS-ISAC highlights opportunity for cyberattacks against public and private institutions

FS-ISAC, the member-driven, not-for-profit organisation that advances cybersecurity and resilience in the global financial system, today announced the findings of its annual Global Intelligence Office report, Navigating Cyber 2023

The latest report showcased the effect that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had on the global cyber threat landscape, sparking a flood of ideologically driven “hacktivism” that continues to this day. Driven from both sides of the conflict, the threats have increased substantially within the financial services sector, particularly for institutions in countries that Russia considers hostile. These threats can come from hacktivist groups or directly from the nation-states themselves. 

In Asia-Pacific (APAC), FS-ISAC members in the first half of the year reported rising concerns around the cyber impact of the Russia-Ukraine War and around state-sponsored attacks by China and North Korea. In the second half of 2022, members reported an increase in cyber incidents involving impersonation of specific individuals. According to a mid-December survey of members, APAC members consider ransomware to be a major threat, along with reports of rising cyber insurance premiums and exemptions for ransomware. The APAC region, home to a significant number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with limited resources and insufficient cybersecurity measures, has been particularly vulnerable to these attacks.

“Unfortunately, the growing involvement of non-state actors attacking on an ideological basis and the manipulation of information by malicious actors will continue to sow uncertainty across the landscape in actual and perceived security threats,” said Steven Silberstein, CEO of FS-ISAC. “The best tool available for financial institutions to combat this is intelligence sharing, allowing collaboration across the global industry and ensuring better cyber preparedness. Cyber threats often evolve faster than the tools we use to combat them, but our strength is in our community.”

The report also highlights that some of the more traditionally common cyber threats, such as DDoS attacks and ransomware, are becoming more sophisticated and the suite of tools at a malicious actor’s disposal continues to develop. 

Looking ahead into 2023, some of the key drivers of change in the threat landscape include: 

  • A growing market for malware-as-a-service: As threat actors become specialised in specific aspects of the kill chain and offer their services in skills and code for sale, cyberattacks become easier to orchestrate, less attributable, and of lower risk. Supply chain threats proliferate as key software, authentication, technology, and cloud service providers are increasingly targeted. 
  • The accessibility of AI helping attackers, and defenders: The emergence of new AI-technology lowers the barrier for hacking, allowing threat actors to use tools like ChatGPT to design ever more convincing phishing lures. However, those same tools will be leveraged to strengthen defences as well. 
  • Cryptocurrency offers a prime target for cybercriminals: Cryptocurrency and digital assets are becoming more integrated into global financial infrastructure, generating a complex regulatory environment for multinational firms. In addition, threat groups will continue to finance their operations using cryptocurrency, highlighting the need for better oversight and asset class protections.

“Cyber criminals are endlessly inventive and aided by technological advances,” said Teresa Walsh, Global Head of Intelligence at FS-ISAC. “The emergence of new technologies and malware delivery tactics will require institutions to ensure they keep up with evolving cyber threats on a continuous basis and focus on resilience so they can keep operating no matter what happens.” 

The threat landscape is rapidly changing, and organisations face key challenges of increasing regulation around the world, seismic shifts in the cyber insurance market, and cybersecurity talent shortages. Facing massive changes in their operational environment, the financial services sector must navigate pressures to reduce costs without compromising the ability to continuously evolve defences and enhance operational resilience.


The Navigating Cyber 2023 report is sourced from FS-ISAC’s thousands of member financial firms in 75 countries and further augmented by analysis by the Global Intelligence Office. Multiple streams of intelligence were leveraged for the curation of the round-up, which examined data from January 2022 to January 2023. The publicly accessible version of the report can be found here. The full report is only available to member financial institutions.