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Cyber Security Threats: Everything you Need to Know About Cybersecurity (Part I)

Cyber Security Threats

What is a Cybersecurity Threat?

Cybersecurity threats can be broadly defined as threats posed by malicious actors, including individuals or organizations, that try to infiltrate a network for unauthorized access. This access can then be used to steal or corrupt data, spy on the organization, and jeopardize the company’s operations in various other ways.

Cybersecurity threats pose a grave threat to individuals, business organizations and public sector organizations alike. Cybersecurity threats can virtually come from anywhere with basic level threats, such as, generic phishing emails, to highly sophisticated and targeted attacks that may use cutting edge technologies, such as AI and ML.

The fallouts from cybersecurity threats may include equipment failure, data loss that can be significant and permanent, electrical blackouts, disruption of essential services and more. Cyber security definition refers to all the defensive tactics and strategies that can be implemented by organizations in order to protect themselves from a range of cyber threats.

Main Types of Cyber Threats

Cyber Security Threat Types are diverse. We have included the most common Types Of Cyber Threat here:

Malware

Malware refers to malicious software that can include a variety of spyware, ransomware, Trojans, viruses and worms. Malware is generally distributed through malicious links and attachments sent through emails and messages.

Clicking on these can result in the installation of dangerous software in the user’s system. Malware can result in a complete hijacking of the user’s system, installation of spyware that silently monitors all traffic and actions on the affected system, holding sensitive data hostage by encrypting the data and demanding ransom or, even complete destruction of the system.

Some systems can also be infiltrated in order to install a backdoor into the network wherein authentication procedures can be bypassed by malicious actors and enable unauthorized remote access for issuing or altering system commands and overall functioning.

Phishing and spear phishing

Phishing attacks can range from mass mailed generic emails to highly sophisticated social engineering attacks that target individuals within a complex corporate hierarchy. Phishing attacks are generally perpetrated through the attackers posing as highly trusted people or businesses known by the victim.

This kind of social engineering attack is generally designed to dupe users into divulging sensitive information, such as, key credentials, sensitive business information, bank account information, Social Security numbers, and financial information including credit card data.

Phishing attacks can also make use of spoofing websites that resemble highly trusted websites almost exactly fooling users into entering their personal information. Attachments sent through Phishing emails can result in the installation of malware that can then be used for remote access of the system, installation of spyware, and more.

Spear phishing, on the other hand, is a more targeted form of Phishing attack that is used to Target more privileged users, such as, financial team members with authorization for significant transactions, system administrators, and C-suite executives. These attacks are fine-tuned to elicit specific responses from the victims and generally involve high-level research into their backgrounds and all available social information.

Phishing attacks can also include smishing, vishing, clone phishing, URL phishing, and evil twin phishing.

Emotet

Emotet is a type of advanced Trojan that can be used as a downloader or dropper of other banking Trojans. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) ranks Emotet as one of the costliest and destructive malware currently in function.

Denial of Service (DoS)

A denial of service (DoS) attack disrupts the functioning of a computer or a network by flooding it with false requests. Hackers use denial of service (DoS) attacks to target and overwhelm a system’s processing capabilities. It can even be used as a cover for launching other kinds of cyber attacks.

Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks

Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks are generally orchestrated through malicious actors inserting themselves in between a two-party transaction in order to ‘eavesdrop’ on the conversation. Once they manage to interrupt the traffic flow, MITM attacks can be used to filter and steal data and return different responses to the end-user. The intent is to gain unauthorized access to sensitive and private business or customer data.

Distributed denial of service (DDoS)

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks an organization’s server by overwhelming it with requests. In this type of attack, requests are generated from many thousands of compromised IPs. DDoS attacks are highly effective in overloading an organization’s servers, resulting in significant performance delays or complete shutdowns. With servers out of reach, the company’s productivity takes a hit as genuine customers are unable to reach them.

Some hackers can even deliberately disable the service in order to launch a secondary and possibly more powerful attack. He would likely two have already come across botnet attacks that are a type of DDoS attack. Botnets typically target millions of systems with malware to take over control and cripple a target system. What makes botnets harder to defend against is that they may be located in different geographic locations and nearly untraceable.

Structured Query Language (SQL) injection

Company databases can often be the target of SQL injection attacks wherein hackers try to gain access to the databases by uploading malicious SQL scripts. If the scripts are successful, the hackers get a degree of administrative control wherein they can view, modify, or delete data stored in the SQL database. Malicious code can be inserted through as simple a strategy as entering it into the target website’s search box.

Domain Name System (DNS) attack

This kind of an attack takes place when hackers try to compromise a network based on the website’s DNS vulnerabilities. DNS attacks can take place in many ways including attackers trying to divert site visitors to malicious pages through DNS hijacking or trying to steal data from compromised systems, commonly referred to as DNS tunneling.

Emerging Cyber Threat Types

Cloud breaches

Nearly all individuals and businesses working today make use of cloud applications in one way or another. This is especially true for companies trying to maintain pre-pandemic levels of productivity through remote work. These companies typically make use of cloud technologies extensively for collaboration and delivery of products and services. With workloads shifting to the cloud, cybercriminals have also followed suit with some targeting the cloud almost exclusively.

The risk is magnified because the cloud is already vulnerable to a variety of security risks including but not limited to cloud misfigurations, incomplete data deletion, and application vulnerabilities.

IoT attacks

IoT has been plagued by security concerns since it’s inception. In order to meet consumer demand, a lot of companies have released IOT devices with minimal or no security features embedded. Since these devices are typically cheap, they often come with no further security features than a basic password that users may or may not be able to configure at their end. Many companies do not update security features once the product has been released. Given the raw data accumulation and processing power IoT devices possess, and the fact that all of them communicate over the Internet – these factors combine to make IoT devices both highly profitable and vulnerable to security threats.

Hackers have started to increasingly target smart home elements, such as smart TVs, voice assistants, connected surveillance equipment and cellphones. Some even target enterprise IoT devices for data espionage or botnet type of attacks. If the attempt is successful, hackers stand to gain access to a treasure trove of lucrative information including access to network, Wi-Fi credentials, financial data, medical records, and password keychains.

Main Targets of Cyber Threats / Most Vulnerable Industries.

Government websites/Military

Government agencies are a lucrative target for hackers as they hold vast amounts of confidential information, including biometric information, Social Security numbers, and more. Combine this with the fact that government servers and databases are infrequently updated and are often rife with vulnerabilities. Needless to say, this poses a serious threat to both the stability of the nation as well as in the seamless conduct of essential public services.

In fact we have seen a slew of high profile Government and military security breaches in the recent past that has led to the cyberattacks being rightly treated as a matter of national security. Government agencies can be targeted by a variety of threat actors including:

  • Foreign nations trying to spy and get access to privileged information
  • Hacktivists motivated by different political ideas who try to access and release classified information or, make a political statement
  • Hackers who can hold Government agencies at ransom by stealing and establishing control over critical information
  • Terrorists looking to access the abundant personal information in federal, state, and local databases

Education

Educational institutions have become a highly popular target for cyber criminals as they form lucrative sources of information for a variety of highly valuable data. It doesn’t hurt that they are also highly prone to vulnerabilities in cyber defense mechanisms. Public and private schools alike have come under the fire of rampant ransomware attacks. Educational institutions are highly valued by cyber criminals because:

  • They are typically data-rich and possess valuable intellectual property from research
  • Student and employee personal information are not well-guarded
  • They possess lucrative computer processing power.
  • High degree of susceptibility to social engineering and poor password hygiene

Healthcare

Healthcare organizations possess one of the most valuable types of data available to hackers and are constantly on the radar for Cyber Attacks On Healthcare. Also with the kind of workload that healthcare organizations had to deal with in the recent past, it’s nearly impossible for them to recruit and retain the requisite technical talent in-house to maintain proper cyber defenses. Many healthcare organizations are continuing to operate with outdated operating systems that run on legacy hardware and software. This makes them particularly vulnerable to attacks like ransomware.

Finance / Banks

Financial data is also a prime target for cyber criminals. Cyber Security Threats In Banking Sector are quite common as banks are a treasure trove for not just financial data but also, personal information. Although financial institutions are much more active in securing their defense posture against potential cyber threats, they continue to be successfully infiltrated every year.

The FDIC has now made penetration testing mandatory for financial institution compliance. This is because it is critical for banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to ensure the privacy and security of customer information to maintain customer trust. The financial sector is also prone to a much higher incidence of insider threats.

Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

well cyber attack five mostly highlighted win the target big ticket institutions, such as, Microsoft, Netflix, and financial institutions – the major brunt of cyber attacks is still borne out by small to medium businesses. Recent data suggests that nearly 60 percent of SMBs are likely to go out of business within 6 months of a major breach. With the pandemic making life difficult for most SMBs with many undergoing hurried digital transformation (nearly overnight) – this has left the sector wide open to an array of security vulnerabilities.

Energy/Utilities

Energy and utilities sectors are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks as their impact can literally cripple all esse can you gontial services in a region. If the intention is to create panic and confusion, hackers are well placed to do so by taking over the network of energy/ utility companies to cause widespread power outages that can seriously jeopardize critical security and defense infrastructure, potentially endangering many lives.

A relevant example of Cyber Attack On Energy Sector can be found in the recent US Colonial Pipeline attack. The problem becomes further complicated when it comes to hackers asserting partial or complete access to key facilities, such as nuclear facilities, power grids, and more. Although these sectors are highly regulated and face tough compliance laws (NERC), they are still a prominent target for hacktivism and cyberterrorism.

Most Common Sources of Cyber Threats

Criminal Groups

Organized criminal groups often utilize a variety of cyber crime techniques including spam, phishing, and spyware/malware for monetary gain through criminal activities such as data theft, identity fraud, and ransomware.

Hackers

Hackers commit illicit cyber activities, both for the sake of proving their prowess at breaking through sophisticated defense mechanisms and also for monetary, political and even personal advantages.

Healthcare

Anyone within the company network can act as an insider for facilitating cyberattacks. These can include anyone from disgruntled present or former employees, to contractors, or any service personnel within the network. Companies are even at risk from poorly trained employees who may unintentionally divulge privileged information.

Corporate Spies

Industrial espionage has become a formidable threat to businesses as they can hire or develop hacker talent to spy on both public and private entities. They can also leverage this talent for high-value monetary or trade secret theft or even destruction of key competitor data assets or infrastructure as their goals are motivated primarily by profit. They could even try to gain access to sensitive data in order to hold the company at ransom by threatening public exposure or sale of that data.

Nation States

Sources Of Cyber Threat Intelligence shows us that Individual nation states can also pose a significant threat to US interests. The threats can range from espionage to propaganda or even serious attacks that can involve lives lost and infrastructure meltdowns. Classified networks or critical infrastructures are not easy to penetrate and require substantial development of attack capabilities that government-sponsored programs possess.

Terrorist Groups

Terrorists can use cyberattacks to destroy, gain access to, or exploit critical government infrastructure. Their motives can vary from compromising national security, military equipment, or causing significant disruptions in the economy, and more serious attacks against civilian or military populations with lives lost.

While traditional terrorists lack the knowhow to coordinate high level cyberattacks, their ranks are increasingly infused with generations more conversant with technology and its capabilities. As years pass, we can expect to see more and more terrorist attacks being carried out through cyber terrorism.

Hacktivists

Hacktivists are politically active hackers that can include individuals and groups with agendas that run contrary to U.S. interests. They typically carry out isolated but damaging attacks to make a statement, achieve notoriety, and get their voices heard. These attacks are more inclined towards propaganda than loss of lives or damage to critical infrastructures.

Ben Ferguson

Ben Ferguson

Ben Ferguson is the Vice President and Senior Network Architect for Shamrock Consulting Group, an industry leader in digital transformation solutions. Since his departure from Biochemical research in 2004, Ben has built core competencies around cloud direct connects and cloud cost reduction, enterprise wide area network architecture, high density data center deployments, cybersecurity and Voice over IP telephony. Ben has designed hundreds of complex networks for some of the largest companies in the world and he’s helped Shamrock become a top partner of the 3 largest public cloud platforms for AWS, Azure and GCP consulting. When he takes the occasional break from designing networks, he enjoys surfing, golf, working out, trying new restaurants and spending time with his wife, Linsey, his son, Weston and his dog, Hamilton.

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