4Types of Cyberattacks

The acronym CHEW stands for the four motivations behind cyberattacks: Crime, Hacktivism, Espionage, and War, each illustrated by the following examples:


In 2016, cyber criminals infiltrated a closely guarded communications network used by banks to transfer funds around the world. The perpetrators successfully routed $81 million into unauthorized accounts. Cyber crime also includes incidents like ransomware (occurs when criminals encrypt an organization’s data and will only unlock it if paid a ransom), email scams (occurs when criminals spoof emails, for example “from the CEO,” to trick employees into wiring money to a criminal’s account), hijacking vendor payments, or stealing personally-identifiable information to sell on the black market.


Hacktivism occurs when groups or individuals hack information systems to advance a political or social cause. Strategies range from disrupting services to disclosing secrets, aiding their goal to raise awareness about an issue. Beginning in 2012, Wikileaks published millions of emails that had been stolen from the global intelligence company Strategic Forecasting, Inc., or Stratfor, by hackers associated with the hacking collective Anonymous.


In 2014, a grand jury indicted five Chinese-military hackers for computer hacking and industrial espionage that targeted six American companies in the energy and manufacturing sectors. In 2015, personal information on more than 20 million government employees was stolen from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in a case of government espionage. Espionage also includes traditional covert action and interference executed by cyber means. In October 2016, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Homeland Security issued a joint statement stating that Russia’s “senior-most officials” directed cyber- enabled thefts and disclosures of emails from U.S. institutions “to interfere with the U.S. election process.”


In the summer of 2008, Russian tanks rolled into Georgia at the same time cyberattacks disrupted Georgian political and media websites, an early demonstration of cyberattacks’ role in wartime. Cyber operations figure prominently in the military plans of multiple nations, although precise capabilities are secret.