While terms like malware and ransomware may be common knowledge, it can be disconcerting to realize how many ways cyber-attacks are delivered. These threats can impact individuals personally, such as financial loss or the inability to access vital services. Most cyberattacks are opportunistic, with hackers surveying or scanning for vulnerabilities and exploiting them. Some attacks are also targeted and may be aimed at stealing valuable data or destroying computer systems.
Attackers leverage human psychology and behavior to compromise data. They rely on our curiosity and willingness to act quickly to gain information, such as passwords, bank details, or Social Security numbers. Nearly all cyberattacks involve some social engineering. As an illustration, a quid pro quo attack entails attackers impersonating technical support to convince victims to provide critical information or download malware. The same applies to tailgating, where hackers follow authorized users through a secure door or access point. Or, baiting, where an attacker leaves malware-loaded USB sticks in places people will find — like bathroom stalls or elevators. These sticks are often labeled in a curious way and then plugged into computers, which downloads the malicious software. Attackers also use different forms of cyberattacks to lure victims into exposing their private credentials. These attacks can be general, like spam phishing or targeted, such as whaling, which targets specific individuals. Also, attackers can use malvertising, which embeds malicious code into a display ad on a trusted website.
Cybercriminals use malware, or malicious software, to damage a device or system. It may be a simple experiment, quirky code — like the 1982 Elk Cloner virus that hijacked Apple II systems — or a fully formed, self-replicating program such as the worm that infected computers in the early 2000s. Malware can steal data, sabotage web-based applications, and disrupt information systems. Cyberattackers also employ tools such as DNS attacks, phishing, SQL injection and man-in-the-middle attacks. They can use these to breach a company’s IT infrastructure, hack into a business account, steal sensitive information or hold data hostage for extortion.
Despite the ubiquity of cyberattacks, there are ways to avoid them. Using strong passwords, multifactor authentication and creating an awareness of cybersecurity risks are some of the best practices for staying safe. But other steps can also be taken, such as installing a firewall, updating operating systems and using software with security patches. Cyberattacks can be costly for businesses, both financially and in terms of productivity. That’s why companies must focus on prevention, starting with a strong password policy and implementing MFA.
In a ransomware attack, cybercriminals lock computer systems so their owners and authorized users can’t access applications or data. They then demand money to unlock the computers. Criminal groups, state actors and hacktivists can launch ransomware attacks. They can target commercial entities, government agencies and nonprofits. Some hackers attack for financial gain, while others steal proprietary information for competitive advantage or hack for fun, savoring the intellectual challenge. Some attackers use targeted attacks to sow disruption and revenge. For example, hacktivist Anonymous hackers launched a 2022 distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against Minneapolis police after officers fatally shot a Black man.
A “man in the middle” attack is a breach in cybersecurity that allows an attacker to spy on conversations between two people, networks or computers. This attack is often used to collect PII, passwords and banking information or convince the victim to take a specific action, such as changing login credentials or transferring funds. The most effective defenses against ransomware are frequent, safe backups and robust recovery procedures. Once an organization is aware of an attack, it should isolate infected systems, limit network access, re-establish backups, and follow appropriate data regulation protocols.
Phishing is a type of social engineering that takes advantage of cybersecurity’s weakest link: humans. It involves attackers masquerading as people the victim trusts, like their boss or a company they do business with, to trick them into sending money or assets to the wrong place. Often, victims are tricked by an email that appears to be a legitimate alert from their bank, and they provide login credentials or information on a fake website. The attacker then uses that data to steal the victim’s money or credentials.
Attackers can also use shortened URLs to hide the destination, making it hard for victims to determine whether the link is legitimate or malicious. Other common techniques include cloning and whaling. Whaling attacks target executives and other privileged users within organizations and attempt to steal sensitive or financial information. These attackers can cause significant harm to companies and individuals and wreak havoc on their bottom line. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources. Additionally, never respond to messages requesting money in exchange for sensitive information or access to private systems. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
A botnet is a group of malware-infected devices—from personal computers to servers and Internet of Things (IoT) systems—remotely controlled by an attacking party. Cybercriminals can use the network of zombie devices to carry out a variety of attacks, including DDoS and data theft. Attackers launch the malware comprising a botnet onto computers and IoT devices by spreading it via email spam, phishing and other malicious software. They then use the compromised devices to perform tasks like harvesting credentials, injecting malware and running CPU-intensive operations.
The size of a botnet and the types of attacks it can carry out make it a serious threat to organizations, especially since attackers can command all devices simultaneously from one central location. To stop the botnet from inflicting harm, law enforcement agencies and computer emergency response teams work to shut down command-and-control centers—a difficult task if they’re located in countries with weaker law enforcement. It’s also important for companies to continuously monitor their networks and implement security tools to detect malware infections. It can help them isolate and clean devices before they can connect to a malicious server.