Organizations of all sizes can fall victim to modern cybersecurity threats. A malicious actor may have several motives for carrying out an attack, the most common being financial gain. Depending on the company’s disaster recovery policy, a cyberattack can significantly impact business continuity, revenue streams, and customer trust.
Monitoring and studying the evolution of cyber threats is essential for a better cybersecurity strategy. This article will discuss the most common types of cyber threats, threat actors’ techniques for infiltrating enterprise networks, and best practices for improving enterprise defenses.
Cyber threats refer to any potentially malicious attack that aims to gain unauthorized access to a network to steal sensitive data, disrupt business operations, or damage critical infrastructure and information.
Cyber threats can come from numerous actors: hackers, hacktivists, hostile nation-states, corporate spies, criminal organizations, terrorist groups, or disgruntled insiders.
A cyber attacker can use an employee’s or company’s sensitive data to gain access to financial accounts or delete, corrupt, or steal data for personal gain. Left unattended, cyber threats can corrupt a company’s IT network, halt business processes, and cause indefinite downtime.
Types of cyber attacks
Modern Cybersecurity threats can come in many forms. That’s why studying potential cyber dangers and preparing to combat them is crucial.
Malware (short for “malicious software”) is software designed specifically to inject malicious code into a target device or network and enable other harmful actions, such as corrupting sensitive data or preempting a system.
Ransomware attacks are a type of malware attack that blocks access to computer systems or data until a ransom is paid. These attacks are typically triggered by downloading malware to the target system. Some attacks aim to steal data before encrypting the target system, which would classify them as data breaches.
Phishing attacks are malicious emails, phone calls, text messages, or websites designed to trick users into downloading malware (drive-by download attack), sharing sensitive information, or personally identifiable data (Social Security numbers, credit card information, login credentials), or attracting other actions that expose victims or your company to cyber threats.
A successful phishing attack can lead to identity theft, ransomware attacks, data breaches, credit card fraud, and financial loss for the organization.
The five most common types of phishing attacks are email phishing, spear phishing, SMiShing phishing, whaling, and angler phishing.
Advanced persistent threats
An advanced persistent threat (APT) is an increasingly sophisticated cyberattack in which cybercriminals establish an undetected presence on a system or network to steal information over an extended period. APT attacks are meticulously planned and designed to target a specific organization, bypass existing security means, and remain undetected for as long as possible.
APT attacks typically require more extensive customization than traditional cyberattacks. Attackers are typically experienced teams of cybercriminals with significant funding to pursue high-value targets. To exploit vulnerabilities within the target system, they have invested considerable time and effort in investigating all possible entry points within the organization.
The four general reasons for APTs are cyber espionage (including state secrets or intellectual property theft), hacktivism, for-profit electronic crime, and destruction of data and infrastructure.
Social engineering attacks
The social engineering attack aims to trick users into doing something by playing on their emotions and decision-making process. Most social engineering attacks typically involve a form of psychological manipulation to trick unsuspecting employees into handing over sensitive information. Social engineering typically uses email, social media, or other communication channels to invoke urgency or fear in the user so that the victim reveals critical data, clicks on a malicious link, or otherwise executes malicious code. shape.
Domain Name System (DNS) Attack
Domain Name System (DNS) attacks occur when cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in a server’s DNS. The purpose of DNS is to use a DNS resolver to translate user-friendly domain names into machine-readable IP addresses.
First, the DNS resolver will query your local cache to obtain the domain name and IP address. If it does not locate the required records, it will query other DNS servers. If that step of the process also fails, the resolver will look up the DNS server that contains the canonical domain mapping. Once the resolver locates the specific IP address, it will return it to the requesting program and cache it for future use.
DNS attacks typically take advantage of plain text communication between users and DNS servers. Another common type of attack is logging into a DNS provider’s website through stolen credentials and redirecting DNS records.
Denial of service (DoS) or distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
A denial of service (DoS) attack aims to shut down a machine, system, or network, making it inaccessible to intended users. DoS attacks flood the target with traffic or send sets of information specifically designed to trigger a crash. Both scenarios will block access to legitimate users of the resource or service.
Although DoS attacks do not typically involve data theft or loss, they can cost a company a significant amount of time and money to restore systems to their original state.
A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack follows a similar pattern to DoS attacks. However, a DDoS attack will use multiple compromised systems to deliver attack traffic. Exploitable machines can be computers, IoT devices, or other network resources.
Intellectual Property Theft
Intellectual property (IP) theft refers to the unauthorized exploitation or theft of ideas, creative works, trade secrets, and other confidential information protected by IP laws. Intellectual property theft can involve various violations of confidential information, including trademark, copyright, and patent infringements.
Intellectual property theft can impact individuals, SMEs, and global business leaders and threaten national security. Intellectual property theft can undermine economic growth and innovation, making IP network security a must for organizations of all sizes.
What are data breaches?
A data breach refers to a security incident in which unauthorized parties gain control of sensitive or confidential information: personal data, such as Social Security numbers, bank account details, healthcare data, or corporate assets: business records. customer data, financial information, intellectual property, etc.
“Data breaches” are often used interchangeably with “cyber attacks.” However, not all data breaches are cyberattacks, and not all cyberattacks are data breaches. An attack can be considered a “breach” when it leads to the compromise of data confidentiality. For example, a DDoS attack that blocks network traffic is not considered a “breach.” On the other hand, computer viruses that aim to steal or destroy data on the company’s network are a “gap.” The same applies to the physical theft of storage media drives: external hard drives, USB drives, and even paper files containing essential information.
How do attackers access computer networks?
Numerous exploits can enable cyber attacks on a company’s network. Below, we will discuss the most common approaches that cyber attackers use to penetrate system defenses.
Man-in-the-middle (MiTM) attacks
A man-in-the-middle (MiTM) refers to attacks in which threat actors secretly intercept and relay messages between two authorized parties to make them believe that they are communicating directly with each other. The attack can be classified as “espionage”, in which the attackers intercept and monitor the entire conversation.
MiTM attacks provide the malicious actor with the ability to capture and manipulate sensitive personal information (login credentials, credit card numbers, and account details) in real-time and therefore pose a significant threat to security networks. the company.
Third-party vulnerabilities (suppliers, contractors, partners)
Third-party vulnerabilities can be introduced into an organization’s ecosystem or supply chain by external parties. Such parties may include suppliers, vendors, contractors, partners, or service providers, who may access internal company or customer data, processes, systems, or other critical infrastructure data.
Structured Query Language (SQL) Injection
SQL injection (SQLi) is a vulnerability that allows attackers to interferdze with an application’s queries to its database. Typically, these attacks will allow the threat actor to view sensitive data: user account data or other sensitive information that the application can access. In most cases, attackers can modify, corrupt or delete such data and cause persistent changes to the behavior or content of the application.
In some scenarios, attackers can escalate a SQL injection attack to compromise the target server or other key infrastructure or conduct a DoS attack.
Accidental actions of authorized users
Sometimes, employees can inadvertently invoke insider threats. Accidental actions that can lead to a data breach include:
- Misspelling an email address and accidentally sending critical business data to a competitor.
- Open attachments in phishing emails that contain a virus or malware.
- Unknowingly clicking on a malicious hyperlink.
- Improper disposal of confidential documents.
Unpatched software contains known vulnerabilities that allow attackers to exploit weaknesses and deploy malicious code to the system. Attackers often probe company software to look for unpatched systems and attack them directly or indirectly.
A zero-day vulnerability is a software vulnerability discovered by malicious actors before the software vendor has become aware of it. Because the developers are not aware of the vulnerability, they have not released a patch to fix it.
A zero-day exploit takes advantage of these vulnerabilities to attack systems with previously identified weaknesses. A successful zero-day attack leaves suppliers and companies with “0 days” to react, hence the name of the attack. These attacks can wreak havoc on a target system until the vulnerability is fixed.
Attackers can use machine learning (ML) methods (generative adversarial networks, reinforcement learning, etc.) to create new, highly sophisticated cyber threats that can penetrate traditional cyber defenses more easily.
Through generative AI tools (e.g. ChatGPT), cybercriminals can create better and more sophisticated malicious code, write AI-powered personalized phishing emails, generate deepfake data, sabotage ML in cyber threat detection, decrypt CAPTCHA and enable efficient password guessing and brute force attacks.
Supply chain attacks
Supply chain attacks occur when attackers use a third-party vendor with access to target systems or data to infiltrate critical infrastructure. Because the external party has been granted access to the company’s applications, sensitive data, and networks, attackers can breach the third party’s defenses to more easily infiltrate the system.
Tampering with sensitive data
Data manipulation is a next-generation cyber threat. Instead of bluntly bypassing antivirus software, attackers make subtle and stealthy adjustments to the target data for some effect or gain. Some threat actors may decide to manipulate data to intentionally trigger events and exploit them. The more sophisticated the fraud, the greater the chance that the manipulation will compromise data integrity.
What are examples of cyber threats?
Let’s examine two examples of cybersecurity threats that turned into full-blown attacks.
IoT (Internet of Things) Attacks: The Verkada Hack
Cloud-based video surveillance service Verkada was hacked in March 2021. Following the attack, threat actors were able to access private customer data through Verkada software. Additionally, the attackers had access to more than 150,000 cameras in hospitals, schools, factories, prisons, and other institutions through legitimate administrator account credentials they found online.
More than 100 Verkada employees were later identified as having “super administrator” privileges, allowing access to thousands of customer cameras, defining the significant risk associated with a large number of users with too many privileges.
Phishing attacks – Ubiquiti Networks Inc.
Ubiquiti Networks Inc., an American networking technology company, was the victim of a spear phishing attack. The cybercriminals posed as an external entity (along with some high-level employees) to attack Ubiquiti’s financial team and trick them into transferring a total of $46.7 million.
Following the attack, external advisors and the company’s audit committee reported significant deficiencies in the organization’s internal financial reporting controls, leading to the resignation of the chief financial officer.
How can companies manage cybersecurity risks?
Even if they do not threaten national security, cybersecurity threats can severely impact an organization’s daily processes, revenue streams, and business continuity milestones.
To combat cybersecurity risks from the outside, as well as internal threats, companies must rely on data security best practices.
- Data encryption and regular backups
Saving critical data in a normal text format makes it easier for attackers to access. Data encryption limits access to assets to users with an encryption key. Even if hackers manage to access the data, they will not be able to read it unless they decrypt it. Additionally, some encryption solutions will alert you if other parties attempt to alter or manipulate the data.
Another critical aspect of data protection is regular backups of all important information. Sometimes, cybersecurity threats can turn into full-blown data breaches, leading to data loss. After such a scenario, you will not be able to recover the lost data unless you keep a reliable and secure backup on the storage.
Failure to restore operational data can lead to downtime, lost revenue, and customer distrust. In this case, the security team must follow solid backup guidelines, such as the 3-2-1 backup rule. The rule suggests that you keep two copies of your data locally on different media, with an additional copy stored in an external location.
- Periodic employee training
Phishing emails are one of the main ways hackers infiltrate company networks. If your employees interact with fraudulent emails, they may unknowingly install malware or grant network access to attackers.
Phishing emails are difficult to detect as they appear legitimate at first glance. Without proper training, your employees can be tricked into clicking on a malicious link, opening a corrupted attachment, or sending sensitive information to the attacker. That’s why conducting regular cybersecurity awareness training is crucial to educating your employees about the main forms of cyber threats and the best ways to block them.
- Systems and software updates
Software and system patches are vital to your cybersecurity strategy. They add new features and functionality and fix security flaws and software vulnerabilities that malicious actors can otherwise exploit.
Promptly updating your systems is critical to countering malicious code that seeks to exploit software weaknesses. It is best to rely on a patch management solution to automate the process and deploy all critical updates as soon as they are issued.
- Supplier evaluations and supervision
As mentioned, threat actors can exploit vulnerabilities in your vendor’s environment to breach the company’s defenses. That is why it is essential to have comprehensive supplier risk management. This will help you mitigate third-party risk rather than relying solely on incident response.
- Strong passwords
A staggering number of data breaches are the result of weak passwords. Since password-cracking technology has come a long way in recent years, simple passwords often become obsolete when fighting cybersecurity threats.
Everyone in your organization should use complex passwords combined with multi-factor authentication to deny access to unauthorized parties. It is also best to eliminate password sharing to isolate an attack if a single device is compromised. Additionally, it is best to keep all passwords in an encrypted format.
- Minimize attack surface
The attack surface of a network comprises all potential entry points that attackers can exploit (software, web application systems, IoT, employees, etc.) to penetrate security defenses.
The three main types of attack surface are:
- Physical: includes company assets that a hacker can use if they have physical access to your offices.
- Digital: includes assets that can be accessed over the Internet (and that are not protected by a firewall). These include corporate servers, operating systems, outdated assets, such as an old but still active website, and more.
- Social engineering: In this often-overlooked type of attack surface, attackers exploit human psychology and manipulate employees into sharing sensitive information.
- Improve physical security
Most cyber risk management strategies focus on the digital aspect of your environment, neglecting the company’s physical facilities. However, organizations should conduct regular security assessments to determine the security status of critical infrastructure and protect it from attackers trying to break into their offices.
- An off switch
A kill switch can protect your organization against large-scale attacks. This form of reactive cybersecurity protection allows your IT security team to shut down all systems as soon as they detect suspicious behavior until the issue is resolved.
Additionally, you can implement comprehensive threat scanning to inspect server logs frequently and perform cybersecurity framework audits to ensure system integrity. Lastly, it is beneficial to implement network forensics tools to analyze network traffic.
A reliable firewall system will protect your network from brute-force attacks and prevent cybersecurity incidents from causing significant damage. Additionally, firewalls monitor network traffic to detect and identify suspicious activities that could compromise the integrity of your data.
- A robust cybersecurity policy: Comprehensive cybersecurity policies are integral to detecting threats and preventing data breaches. When creating your cybersecurity guidelines, you must cover several critical aspects:
- Disaster recovery (DR): A disaster recovery plan ensures that all staff know what to do during or after an attack. It also minimizes downtime and ensures unhindered business processes.
- Security Testing: A security testing policy outlines the frequency of cybersecurity testing, allowing you to discover and fix vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
- Access Control and Management: This policy describes which parties can access sensitive information, thereby reducing the risk of unauthorized access.
- Incident Response (IR): IR planning documents the steps and procedures to implement in the event of a data breach. It also assigns levels of responsibility to different members of the organization and reduces your company’s response time.
How to Update Your Cyber Risk Management Program with NIST
The NIST Risk Management Framework (RMF) provides companies with a comprehensive, flexible, and measurable 7-step information security and privacy risk management process. NIST guidelines and standards support the implementation of risk management programs to protect increasingly vulnerable systems, prevent data breaches, and design a robust cybersecurity strategy in line with the requirements of the Federal Security Modernization Act of Information (FISMA).
It includes essential activities and processes to prepare the organization for managing security and privacy risks.
It refers to the categorization of the target system and all data processed, stored and transmitted based on a threat impact analysis.
Includes a selection of NIST SP 800-53 controls necessary to protect your computer system based on comprehensive risk assessments.
It refers to the implementation of established controls and the documentation of the control implementation process.
It refers to evaluating whether security controls are properly established, working as expected, and providing the desired results.
Refers to senior officials who authorize the operation of the system after a risk-based analysis and decision.
It refers to continuous monitoring, implementation of control, and identification of potential risks to the protected system.