Navigating the Cyber Landscape: Strategies and Capabilities of Iran, China, North Korea and Russia

Since the dawn of the internet thirty years ago, its underpinning technology and networks have been adopted and used by billions of people worldwide. This includes academic and medical institutions sharing cutting-edge research at lightning speed, social platforms meant to engage communities and share photos, memories, and culture, as well as its use by our governments, commerce, and work environments – the internet enters every part of our lives.

However, along with all the good the internet has brought, there are unfortunately a multitude of malicious actors who operate on the internet and in the cyber realm. They conduct espionage, steal data, attempt to infiltrate, and shut down systems critical to everyday life: water and power supplies, financial infrastructure, the medical sector, and more. As of late, the medical sector has been a prominent target, facing attacks from actors trying to disrupt treatment and hospital systems crucial for patient care.

Since the start of notable cyber operations and programs circa the early 2000s, the United States and its Western allies consistently identify four primary nation-state adversaries in cyber: Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea, or “The Big 4.”

Each country covered in this paper has military and civilian intelligence services that conduct cyber operations. Their specific strengths and skills vary, but they all have a common goal: to establish a new digital and physical world order in which they are the global leader.

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