Microsoft has a new way of naming security threats

Microsoft threat actor naming categories
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is banking on our human obsession with the weather to help make identifying security threats easier with a shakeup to its taxonomy.

As of April 2023, Microsoft will now be using weather events to help identify threats across five key groups, including financially motivated, private sector offensive actors (PSOAs), influence operations, groups in development, and finally nation states.

The company hopes that simplifying its naming structure will make it easier for customers and professionals to quickly identify a security threat and what it might entail without having to delve deep into the literature.

Microsoft’s weather-based threat taxonomy

Nation state-based threats will include Typhoon (China), Sandstorm (Iran), Rain (Lebanon), Sleet (North Korea), Blizzard (Russia), Hail (South Korea), Dust (Turkey), and Cyclone (Vietnam), with each gaining an adjective suffix to denote actor groups. Each weather event is accompanied with its own icon, making it easy to visually identify a country, too.

Previously referred to as PHOSPHORUS, the Iranian threat actor shall now be known as Mint Sandstorm, which Microsoft says instantly indicates the country of origin and potential associated threats.

The final revisions include Tempest (financially motivated), Tsunami (PSOAs), Flood (influence operations), and Storm (groups in development) which is used for “newly discovered, unknown, or emerging cluster of threat activity.”

Storm threats will be assigned a series of numbers (Storm-####) ahead of proper categorization later down the line as more information surfaces.

Currently, Microsoft tracks over 300 unique threat actors, including 160 nation-state actors and 50 ransomware groups.

Microsoft Threat Intelligence Corporate VP John Lambert explained that the previous naming approach (Elements, Trees, Volcanoes, and DEVs) has been retired and that all existing threat actors have been reassigned names, pointing out to a blog post to help eliminate confusion during the transition period.

Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!