The Most Common and Most Dangerous Types of Cyber Attacks
Take a peek into the world of cybercrime and see which types of cyber attacks are most dangerous and most likely to affect you or your business.
The cybersecurity landscape is never still. According to Norton, a cyber attack takes place every 44 seconds. Worse yet, these attacks are getting increasingly sophisticated, making it much harder for individuals and businesses to protect their data.
This article will cover the most common and dangerous types of cyber attacks affecting millions of users daily. You’ll have a chance to learn everything there is to know about these threats, how to recognize them, and how to protect yourself.
What Is a Cyber Attack?
Any action aimed at compromising a computer network, software, or hardware is a cyber attack. The threat actors who carry out these attacks seek to steal data, disrupt systems, extort money, or harm crucial infrastructures of organizations.
While it’s not uncommon for lone hackers to hack renowned businesses just to show off their skills and build their credibility within the black-hat community, most of these attacks are carefully planned and organized so that large sums of money can be collected from these criminal activities.
Over the years, many threats have been developed, resulting in various types and subtypes. The reason for this is simple.
Each time the attackers realized a vulnerability could no longer be penetrated the same way as before, they came up with a new or upgraded threat that could do the job successfully. So let’s dive in and discover the most common and dangerous attack types.
Top 10 Types of Cyber Attacks
The list we compiled covers the attacks that hackers frequently use to steal data, disable systems, or completely shut down networks. In what follows, you’ll be able to find all the most common and dangerous cyber hazards.
Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks
When hackers want to disrupt a particular system to the point where it’s unable to take in and process requests, they flood the servers, systems, and networks with false traffic. We call this a denial-of-service (DoS) attack.
The goal of a DoS attack is to prevent network users from accessing the resources or services they usually visit. These users are mainly the account holders or employees of a business, and the attack stops them from doing anything on the network.
DoS attacks are typically used to target media companies, banking institutions, or government organizations. These attacks can result in financial damage that can measure in millions if the affected business doesn’t successfully respond to the attack as soon as possible.
The time and money invested in mitigating the damage is not the only reason for this - the longer an organization is prevented from running its operation, the more money it will lose. Statistics show that the average DDoS attack costs around $20,000-$40,000 per hour.
Other than denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, we also have distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. While DoS attacks overflow a system's resources from one location to prevent it from responding to service requests, the DDoS attack method is somewhat different.
The attacker uses many infected machines to launch the attack from multiple locations, eventually taking a system offline and making it easier for another threat to be launched on the same network.
Some of the most commonly used DDoS and DoS attacks are smurf attacks, TCP SYN attacks, ping-of-death attacks, teardrop attacks, and botnets.
While probably not everyone has heard of DoS attacks, the term “malware” is pretty widespread among the general public, and people mainly refer to it when they’re talking about viruses. However, this term encompasses many types of threats that can completely disrupt, disable and immobilize entire networks.
These attacks are extremely prevalent - data shows that in the first half of 2022 alone, malware attacks amounted to 2.8 billion.
Typically, a victim clicks on a malicious link sent to them via email or one they’ve come across online. Once they click on it, the malicious software is installed on their devices. Sometimes it can take years before the threat is even discovered.
Various types of malware can affect individuals and businesses to the extent of leaving admins permanently locked out of the networks. It can read and remove the information from the hard drive or completely paralyze an entire business.
The most common examples of malware are:
Let’s take a closer look at these threat types.
Viruses are particularly hazardous and hard to deal with because they replicate and attach to the executable code. They often create a virus file, naming it the same as one of the existing files but with the .exe extension.
This way, the user suspects nothing as they believe they’re looking at the file they already installed themselves. During this time, the virus is replicating and causing further damage.
Spyware is used to collect as much information as possible about a user. The information the attacker is getting is typically sold to third parties or used for blackmail or extortion.
Ransomware is another severe threat that often requires involving authorities, as large sums of money are at stake. Specifically, the attacker infects the victim’s machine and blocks them from using it until they pay the required ransom.
Businesses are at a greater risk of being exposed to this type of computer attack than individuals, as they’re more likely to pay larger sums of money to get their data back.
Sometimes, hackers take things to a higher level and use a double extortion attack, which is a type of ransomware even harder to shield from. With this attack, the data is exfiltrated and encrypted, which gives the criminals more leverage to collect money.
With ransomware attacks, attackers instruct the victims on the payment method to transfer ransom or face losing their data for good. The victim is often told that their data will be deleted or published online if they fail to pay.
All relevant authorities advise against paying the money, as there’s no guarantee that your data will be returned or that the attack won’t happen again.
Data from 2021 shows that around 37% of organizations worldwide fell prey to some type of ransomware during that year.
Trojans are different from viruses in that they don’t replicate and are used as a method to create a backdoor to the system that the threat actors later further exploit.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
This type of attack is done when a third party intercepts an online conversation or a data transfer. Once the attacker manages the interception, they can change data, steal it, or interrupt operations.
This attack is particularly dangerous because the legitimate parties usually have no idea that someone else is spying on their exchange, which is why it can take a long time to detect this breach. It’s usually done via malware, phishing, or vulnerable points such as unsecured WiFi networks.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a network of objects (as well as humans and animals sometimes) that are interconnected and exchange information with other systems or devices online.
These objects, people, or animals are embedded with software or sensors as a means of communication. Such examples can include heart monitor implants in humans or biochips in animals.
As this form of connectivity makes the lives of millions easier and more accessible, these entry points are often used as a vulnerability to launch a bigger-impact attack.
One such hack occurred in Las Vegas when a threat actor compromised a fish tank thermometer connected as an IoT device and managed to attack an entire casino’s infrastructure.
It’s imperative to keep all internet-connected devices up to date and regularly check their security status because one weakness that we may not take seriously might not only cause minor cybersecurity issues but wreak havoc for both us and our businesses - even if it’s just an internet-connected fish tank thermometer.
Phishing is one of the oldest and most common hacker attack types. The cyber attackers send fake emails to unsuspecting victims impersonating a business or an organization, tricking them into entering their login credentials, personal, or banking information. This sort of attack can be carried out via means of communication such as text, voice call, or social media.
One such example is a hacker who sends a fraudulent PayPal email to a victim. In this scenario, the email states that the user’s account has been compromised and that they must log in immediately to secure the account.
If the user doesn’t check everything properly and enters their login information on this fake page, they will just hand out their information to the attacker. In other cases, simply clicking on the link can result in unknowingly downloading malicious software that can grant the attacker access to your device.
Some of the most well-known variants of this attack type are:
- Spear phishing attacks targeting specific individuals or businesses. The attacker leverages social engineering and does thorough research about the victim so that they assume a legitimate person or institution is contacting them.
- Whaling attacks, focused on stakeholders and senior executives. These attacks are planned for extended periods because the potential gain of this scam is higher, and the targets are thought to be more careful and tech-savvy.
- Pharming, another type of phishing that works by installing malicious code on a server or a computer that redirects users to fraudulent web pages without their knowledge. Since they think they’re accessing legitimate websites, the attacker gets hold of their sensitive information once they enter their credentials.
Since passwords are the most common means of establishing identity when logging into a protected system, they are a prime target for cybercriminals. Once the password is obtained, if there are no more layers of protection, such as multifactor verification, the accounts can be instantly penetrated.
There is a range of options the attackers can choose from when it comes to cracking a victim’s password, such as accessing a password database, using social engineering, or plain guessing. However, this last cyber attack method is more automated.
This form of attack is called a “brute-force attack.” The attackers use programs that try out all the possible combinations of words and characters available until they find the one that’s a match.
A similar threat is a dictionary attack. Using this method, the person who tries to guess someone’s password uses a database of common passwords until they find the right one. For this reason, it is not advisable to use generic passwords such as “qwerty” or “password123.”
However, even if your password is hacked, no one can access your account if you’ve enabled multifactor authentication. By turning this option on, anyone with the password must enter a code sent to your email or phone number.
SQL Injection Attack
Attackers can sometimes force the server to deliver sensitive data by inserting malicious code into it using a server query language (SQL). The threat actor typically submits malicious code into a search box or an unprotected website comment.
Businesses must be vigilant and prepare for such a hacking attack type because the impact can be far-reaching and damaging for the entire organization. The attacker can get the chance to delete tables, retrieve critical user lists, and gain access to other sensitive information.
This type of attack happens when attackers act fast and exploit a software vulnerability before a patch is released. For that reason, threat actors act immediately and try to take advantage of the weak point before a proper fix is implemented.
To keep our personal or business networks safe from zero-day exploits, constant monitoring, and effective cyber security management are sine qua non.
Cross-Site (XSS) Scripting
When a user requests a specific page from the site, the server sends the HTML for that page, which includes the attacker’s payload. This triggers the malicious script. For instance, the user’s cookie could be sent to the attacker’s server and then used for session hijacking.
The danger of this attack lies in the threat actors using cross-site scripting to attack unsuspecting users whose web browsers have no way to determine whether or not the script can be trusted.
Since the browser is not registering it as an untrusted source, the code can take hold of sensitive information such as session tokens and cookies. Moreover, the script can rewrite the HTML page content.
Attackers install rootkits in software they disguise as legitimate to gain administrative access and remote control of a network or a system. The main purpose of a rootkit installed inside the attacker’s software is to steal sensitive information and critical data.
Rootkits are hard to spot because the victims usually get them when they install the software in which a rootkit has already been planted. The rootkit remains inactive until the threat actor triggers it. As with many other examples of cyber attacks, victims’ devices usually get infected with rootkits through insecure downloads and email attachments.
How To Keep Yourself Protected
The cyber attacks we had a chance to review in this article are not only very dangerous but are also extremely widespread. This means that there is a high probability that you or your business can easily fall prey to one (or more) of these attacks, so a prevention strategy is necessary. Follow these tips to add a few more layers of security to your devices.
- The first one is simple, but it does wonders. Avoid opening emails that look suspicious in any way. Always check if the email address and any attachments are from a legitimate sender.
- Use strong passwords. Dictionary attacks and brute force attacks are very effective at cracking passwords such as “password123” or “qwerty” and similar variations. Make sure to include random letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Always use a strong antimalware solution. A proper antivirus is not only good at removing the threat from your device but also very good at preventing your machine from getting infected by the most common cyber threats lurking online.
- Properly secure your WiFi and never use public WiFi systems.
- Invest in a good VPN. With proper encryption, both your privacy and security will be enhanced.
- Update your applications and operating system regularly. This is very important because, with almost any update, vulnerability patches are essential for preventing zero-day exploits and other attacks.
- Try to be up to date with the latest trends in the cybersecurity world because the new threats are ever-emerging, and it’s important to be aware of the things you can do to secure your personal and professional data.
The Bottom Line
Cyber attacks are a serious problem that is only getting worse as technology advances. These threats affect millions of users daily, and some attacks end up in immeasurable damage to those affected.
The best way to protect yourself (or your business) is to be proactive about it and take all the necessary steps to ensure that you’re safe from the most common threats. Remaining vigilant is the key.
The most common type of cyber threat is malware, mainly because it includes different sub-categories such as viruses, ransomware, and trojans. All of these subtypes fall under the same umbrella (malware) and, combined, cause the most damage and strike most often.
There are various types of cyber attacks, and their list grows with technological advances and cybercriminals’ determination to develop more effective tools for achieving their illegal goals. The most common types of cyber attacks are malware attacks, phishing attacks, password attacks, zero-day exploits, and SQL injection attacks.
The most common causes of cyber attacks are the financial information of successful businesses and individuals' personal and financial information. However, some hackers simply want to make a political statement and launch cyber attacks to disrupt the systems of organizations that they disapprove of.
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