A cyberattack is a deliberate effort to penetrate an organization or individual for information theft, financial gain, or cyber espionage.
Outdated software presents a significant vulnerability in device systems. Attackers will often exploit any known vulnerability to launch a cyberattack as soon as it is discovered.
Ransomware is malware that prevents users from accessing their computer files, systems, and networks. Attackers demand money, usually cryptocurrency, to decrypt an organization’s data.
Cybercriminals launch ransomware attacks by hiding code in email attachments, ad campaigns, and compromised websites. These attackers can then spread the malware through a compromised application, infected external storage devices, or remote desktop protocols. Once ransomware is downloaded, it will lock the user’s access to all applications and stored files. Worse, it may even encrypt entire systems, preventing access to data and systems.
Businesses hit with ransomware can experience significant monetary damage, lost productivity, and brand damage. Moreover, they are likely to get blackmailed into paying the attackers to avoid the risk of losing essential data. As a result, these organizations must focus on implementing robust cybersecurity measures to reduce the chances of an attack. For example, cybersecurity in healthcare need to maintain backups of critical information to avoid losing valuable data. Similarly, law firms and utilities must keep their systems running to continue operations without losing revenue or customer data.
Cyber extortion continues to be one of the most prevalent cyber threats. Whether its hackers demanding that individuals pay them to keep their personal information private or companies being threatened with Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks until they pay the ransom, extortion is a severe cybersecurity risk for businesses and individuals.
DDoS attacks can cause websites to be temporarily unavailable to all legitimate users, which can result in loss of revenue for businesses and can even threaten a business’s reputation. This cyber threat involves attackers sending vast requests to web servers, overcrowding them until the server becomes unresponsive.
Blurring lines between personal and professional life presents new vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit. This includes the growing popularity of working from home, which increases the number of possible entry points for hackers and creates a larger attack surface. The proliferation of intelligent devices also increases the potential impact of cyberattacks. These devices are often more vulnerable than laptops and desktop computers because they lack security features like firewalls and antivirus software.
As businesses embrace the cloud, they face new vulnerabilities that standard security controls cannot address. For example, an organization’s cloud infrastructure could host unauthorized services or applications that can cause malware infections, data exfiltration, or even a data breach. Often, these unauthorized services aren’t adequately configured and overlooked by IT or sysadmins.
Another common problem is the misconfiguration of APIs. Attackers can use these to gain direct access to the cloud platform and cause heavy data loss or theft. This type of vulnerability is typically caused by human error. Still, teams can minimize the risk by regularly checking for misconfigurations and using tools to scan for them.
The responsibility for maintaining cloud security falls on the CSP and the customer. The latter must ensure that its sysadmins and developers have visibility into its cloud infrastructure. In the event of a breach, they should also be able to quickly respond and mitigate the threat by having a centralized way to store secrets like API keys and passwords, e.g., by using a secure secret management solution.
Social Engineering Attacks
Cybercriminals know it’s easier to exploit human error and behavior than to find a network or software vulnerability. That’s why many attack campaigns start with social engineering tactics. Think of Frank Abagnale (the real one, not the movie star) impersonating people to gain their trust and take advantage of them. Or the 2011 data breach of security company RSA, in which attackers sent phishing emails to small groups of employees and included Excel spreadsheets with malicious code that exploited Adobe Flash vulnerabilities to install backdoors.
Examples of physical, social engineering attacks include “USB baiting,” in which criminals leave USB sticks loaded with malware in public places, such as cafes and restrooms, hoping someone will pick them up and plug them into their computers. Other techniques include “diversion theft,” in which attackers entice victims into bypassing security measures, such as 2FA, by pretending to be romantically or sexually interested in them.
To help prevent these attacks, IT departments should incorporate social engineering testing into regular penetration tests. Employees can also protect themselves by using different passwords for personal and work accounts, not sharing credentials with anyone, and keeping their devices away from the office.
Although many cyberattacks are indiscriminate, targeting anyone unlucky enough to download the wrong app or click on a malicious link, most attacks conducted for economic espionage have a specific target and motive. These attacks might seek access to consumer information, financial data like account numbers, or digital infrastructure businesses rely on to run their day-to-day operations. They could also steal advanced technology or intellectual property or spy on competitors, political opponents, dissidents, etc.
Vulnerabilities — flaws in software, firmware, and hardware that attackers can exploit — are another significant threat to organizations. Examples include distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which flood a targeted server with connection requests or packets to slow the system down or even crash.
Hackers may also try to bypass security measures using man-in-the-middle attacks, in which they intercept and relay messages between two parties who believe they are communicating directly. For example, in 2022, hackers with ties to the Iranian government compromised the US Merit Systems Protection Board by exploiting a vulnerability and installing malware on computers that enabled them to capture audio from microphones and video cameras.