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The Most Common Cyberattacks and How To Prevent Them

06 February 2024

By Andrew Drue

Cyberattacks are attempts to steal, expose, alter, disable, or destroy data, applications, or other assets through unauthorized access to computer systems. They can affect anyone or anything connected to the internet, from individual users to large organizations, and even entire nations. Cyberattacks can have devastating consequences, such as financial losses, data breaches, reputational damage, and physical harm. In this blog post, I’ll explain what are the common types of cyberattacks, what are their effects, and what are some examples of real-world incidents. I’ll also give you some tips on how to protect yourself from cyberattacks and stay safe online. Let’s get started.

 

What are the common types of cyberattacks?

 

According to a report by CrowdStrike, a leading cybersecurity company, these are the 10 most common types of cyberattacks today:

 

  • Malware: Malware is any program or code that is created with the intent to do harm to a computer, network, or server. Malware can include ransomware, trojans, spyware, viruses, worms, keyloggers, bots, and cryptojacking. Malware is usually delivered through malicious links, attachments, or downloads, and can block access, encrypt data, steal information, or disrupt systems.

  • Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks: A DoS attack is an attempt to overwhelm a system or server with a large amount of traffic or requests, making it slow down or crash. A DoS attack can prevent legitimate users from accessing a service or website, causing downtime and lost revenue. A variant of DoS attack is a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack, which involves multiple compromised devices or networks that act as a botnet to launch a coordinated attack.

  • Phishing: Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that involves sending fraudulent emails or messages that appear to come from a trusted source, such as a bank, a company, or a friend. The goal of phishing is to trick the recipient into clicking on a link, opening an attachment, or providing personal or financial information. Phishing can lead to identity theft, account takeover, or malware infection.

  • Spoofing: Spoofing is a type of attack that involves impersonating a legitimate entity or device, such as an email address, a phone number, a website, or an IP address. The purpose of spoofing is to bypass security measures, gain access to restricted resources, or deceive the target. Spoofing can be used to launch phishing, DoS, or man-in-the-middle attacks.

  • Identity-Based Attacks: Identity-based attacks are attacks that target a specific individual or group, such as an employee, a customer, or a VIP. These attacks can involve stealing, compromising, or forging the identity or credentials of the target, and using them to access sensitive data or systems, or to perform malicious actions. Identity-based attacks can be facilitated by phishing, spoofing, or password attacks.

  • Code Injection Attacks: Code injection attacks are attacks that involve inserting malicious code into a web application or a database, and executing it on the server or the client side. The malicious code can alter, delete, or expose data, or create backdoors for further attacks. Code injection attacks can exploit vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), or remote code execution (RCE).

  • Supply Chain Attacks: Supply chain attacks are attacks that target a third-party vendor or service provider that has access to or influence over the primary target. The attacker can compromise the supply chain by inserting malware into a software update, a hardware component, or a cloud service, and use it to infect or manipulate the target. Supply chain attacks can be hard to detect and prevent, as they leverage the trust relationship between the parties involved.

  • Insider Threats: Insider threats are attacks that originate from within an organization, by a current or former employee, contractor, or partner. Insider threats can be intentional or unintentional, and can involve stealing, leaking, or sabotaging data, systems, or operations. Insider threats can be motivated by financial gain, revenge, espionage, or ideology.

  • DNS Tunneling: DNS tunneling is a technique that involves using the Domain Name System (DNS) protocol to covertly transmit data or commands between a client and a server. DNS tunneling can be used to bypass firewalls, filters, or monitoring systems, and to establish a communication channel for malware, command and control, or data exfiltration.

  • IoT-Based Attacks: IoT-based attacks are attacks that target the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as smart home appliances, wearables, or sensors. IoT devices are often poorly secured, and can be easily hacked or compromised. IoT-based attacks can use the devices as entry points to access other systems or networks, or as part of a botnet to launch DDoS or other attacks.
     

What are the effects of cyberattacks?

 

Cyberattacks can have a variety of effects, depending on the type, scale, and target of the attack. Some of the possible effects are:

 

  • Financial Losses: Cyberattacks can cause direct or indirect financial losses to the victims, such as ransom payments, data theft, fraud, fines, lawsuits, or lost revenue. According to a report by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2020 was $3.86 million, and the average time to identify and contain a breach was 280 days.

  • Data Breaches: Cyberattacks can expose or compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data, such as personal information, intellectual property, trade secrets, or customer records. Data breaches can result in identity theft, reputation damage, legal liability, or competitive disadvantage. According to a report by Risk Based Security, there were 3,932 publicly reported data breaches in 2020, exposing over 37 billion records.

  • System or Service Disruption: Cyberattacks can impair or disable the functionality or performance of systems or services, such as websites, applications, or networks. System or service disruption can affect the availability, reliability, or quality of the service, and cause customer dissatisfaction, operational inefficiency, or regulatory non-compliance. According to a report by Netscout, there were 10.1 million DDoS attacks in 2020, an increase of 20% from 2019.

  • Physical Damage or Harm: Cyberattacks can also cause physical damage or harm to people, property, or infrastructure, such as power grids, transportation systems, or industrial plants. Physical damage or harm can endanger public safety, security, or health, and have environmental, social, or economic impacts. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure are one of the top global risks in 2021.
     

What are some examples of cyberattacks?

 

Cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated, affecting various sectors and regions. Here are some examples of cyberattacks that occurred in 2020 and 2021:

 

  • SolarWinds Hack: In December 2020, it was revealed that a sophisticated supply chain attack had compromised the software company SolarWinds and its customers, including several US government agencies and private companies. The attackers inserted a backdoor into a software update of SolarWinds’ Orion platform, which is used for network monitoring and management. The backdoor allowed the attackers to access the networks and systems of the affected customers, and steal sensitive data or perform other malicious actions. The attack is believed to be the work of a nation-state actor, possibly Russia, and is considered one of the largest and most serious cyberattacks in history.

  • Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack: In May 2021, a ransomware attack targeted the Colonial Pipeline, which is the largest fuel pipeline in the US, supplying about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast. The attack encrypted the company’s IT systems and demanded a ransom of $4.4 million in Bitcoin to restore them. The company shut down the pipeline for six days, causing fuel shortages, price spikes, and panic buying in several states. The attack was attributed to a cybercriminal group called DarkSide, which operates a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model, providing ransomware tools and infrastructure to other hackers for a cut of the profits.

  • Microsoft Exchange Server Hack: In March 2021, Microsoft disclosed that a state-sponsored hacking group, dubbed Hafnium, had exploited four zero-day vulnerabilities in its Exchange Server software, which is used for email and calendar services. The vulnerabilities allowed the attackers to access email accounts, install malware, and create web shells for remote access. The attack affected tens of thousands of organizations worldwide, including government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits. Microsoft released patches and mitigation tools to address the vulnerabilities, but many systems remained unpatched or compromised.

  • Twitter Bitcoin Scam: In July 2020, a massive social engineering attack targeted the Twitter accounts of several high-profile celebrities, politicians, and businesses, such as Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Apple. The attackers posted tweets from the hacked accounts, asking followers to send Bitcoin to a specific address, promising to double the amount in return. The scam netted over $100,000 in Bitcoin from unsuspecting victims. The attack was carried out by a group of young hackers, who gained access to Twitter’s internal systems by phishing the credentials of some employees.
     

How to protect yourself from cyberattacks?

 

Cyberattacks can be hard to prevent, but there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk and improve your security. Here are some tips on how to protect yourself from cyberattacks:

 

  • Use strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone: Your passwords are the keys to your online accounts, so make sure they are strong and unique. Avoid using common or easy-to-guess passwords, such as your name, birthday, or “123456”. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and make them at least 12 characters long. You can also use a password manager to generate and store your passwords securely. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, and don’t share your passwords with anyone, even if they claim to be from a trusted source.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA is a security feature that adds an extra layer of verification to your online accounts, such as a code sent to your phone, an email, or a biometric scan. MFA can prevent unauthorized access to your accounts, even if your password is compromised. Enable MFA for any account that supports it, especially for your email, banking, and social media accounts.
  • Update your software and devices regularly: Software and device updates often contain security patches that fix vulnerabilities and bugs that could be exploited by hackers. Update your software and devices as soon as possible, and enable automatic updates if available. This applies to your operating system, browser, applications, antivirus, firewall, and any other software or device you use.
  • Use a VPN when connecting to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks: A VPN, or a virtual private network, is a service that encrypts and routes your internet traffic through a secure server, hiding your IP address and location. A VPN can protect your online activity and data from being intercepted, monitored, or tampered with by hackers, ISPs, or governments. Use a VPN when connecting to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks, such as at airports, hotels, or cafes, to prevent cyberattacks or identity theft.
  • Be wary of suspicious links, attachments, or messages: One of the most common ways hackers deliver malware or launch phishing attacks is by sending malicious links, attachments, or messages that look legitimate. Don’t click on any link, open any attachment, or reply to any message that you don’t recognize, trust, or expect. Check the sender’s email address, the URL, and the spelling and grammar of the message for any signs of fraud. If in doubt, contact the sender directly or verify the information from another source.
  • Back up your data regularly: Backing up your data is a good practice to prevent data loss in case of a cyberattack, a hardware failure, or a natural disaster. Back up your data regularly to an external hard drive, a cloud service, or both. Make sure your backups are encrypted and protected with a strong password. If you are a victim of a ransomware attack, you can restore your data from your backups without paying the ransom.
     

Conclusion

 

Cyberattacks are a serious and growing threat, but you can take steps to protect yourself and your data. Remember to use strong passwords, enable MFA, update your software and devices, use a VPN, be wary of suspicious links, attachments, or messages, back up your data, and educate yourself and others about cyberattacks and how to prevent them. Stay safe and secure online.

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