When defining Cybersecurity Threat Actors it is common practise to include ‘Nation-states’. Recently when presenting on cybersecurity initiatives, I was questioned regarding the meaning of nation-state, which at the time I could not give a precise answer for.
After investigating the definition of Nation, State, and Nation-state; I am going to suggest that Nation-state is being used incorrectly in defining Threat Actors and that State is actually the intended meaning.
A Nation-state is defined as,
… a sovereign state of which most of the citizens or subjects are united also by factors which define a nation, such as language or common descent.
Source: Oxford Languages
Difference Between a Nation and a State
According to Britanica, the difference between a nation and a state is,
A nation is a group of people with a common language, history, culture, and (usually) geographic territory. A state is an association of people characterized by formal institutions of government, including laws; permanent territorial boundaries; and sovereignty (political independence). A state may comprise one or more nations (as did the Roman Empire and Austria-Hungary), and a nation may be represented in (or ruled by) one or more (usually contiguous) states, as in the early modern principalities of Germany. A state comprising or dominated by a single nation is often called a nation-state.
Nation-state Threat Actors
In terms of attacks against the US, the big four Nation-state Threat Actors are,
- North Korea
From the definitions above, China and Russia cannot be classed as Nation-states due to their diversity of language and culture.
It should be noted that the definition of Nation-state Threat Actor is going to depend on your perspective as the United States (through the NSA and CIA) is very active.