What Is a Cyber Attack and Is It Preventable?
Find out about all the dangers lurking in the web's dark corners. Learn how to protect yourself and your data from malicious attacks that can cripple your business or ruin your personal life.
Jan 20,2023 January 20,2023
As the number of cyber assaults seems to be on the rise, many people ask the question, “What is a cyber attack?” In simple terms, it’s an attempt to harm or disable computers or networks by illegally accessing them remotely and making certain changes.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper and explain cyber attacks and see whether or not these threats are preventable. You’ll be offered tips and tricks on protecting yourself and learn more about how these attacks work, who’s behind them, and what they stand to gain.
Definition of a Cyber Attack
Every malicious attempt to compromise hardware, software, or entire computer networks is a cyber attack. They are becoming increasingly common, and their goal is to gain access to and steal sensitive information, halt operations, or even destroy systems completely. They can be used to harm a person's or a business's standing in the public eye.
Cyber attacks can be carried out by individuals, groups, or even governments and can range from simple pranks to more advanced attempts to steal sensitive information or disrupt critical infrastructure.
While it may be possible to prevent cyber attacks through security measures like firewalls and antivirus software, it is often difficult to completely protect against more sophisticated attacks. Yet, the more knowledgeable you are about the latest cyber security trends, the better your chances are of avoiding such attacks or minimizing their damage.
As most of today’s businesses rely on the internet and computers to store their valuable information, cyberattacks have become very common in the modern world. Criminals resort to various attacks to penetrate computer networks and steal and extort data for financial gain or other nefarious purposes.
We’ll list some of the most commonly used cyber attacks:
- Ransomware is an attack that uses malware to “lock” the victim’s device by encrypting everything on it. Unless the user pays the required ransom, the captured data is either deleted or published online. All the relevant authorities advise against paying the money because there’s no guarantee you’ll get your data back, or the attack won’t repeat.
- Phishing is a scam that takes hold of your credentials or banking information by tricking you into giving out your personal or banking information. They usually send an email or an SMS prompting you to log in on a fake page that’s a convincing replica of the real one. The moment you log in, the attacker gets access to your credentials.
- Malicious software, or malware, is designed to disrupt the proper functioning of a computer. Nearly all forms of malware are destructive because they remove or corrupt vital system files, typically by inserting malicious code.
Who’s Behind Cyber Attacks and What Do They Want?
There are various motives behind cybercrime. Most of these hackers are after money, but there can be other agendas behind this type of computer attack. Some hackers want fame and recognition; others are fighting for a cause and only want to send a message.
Finally, some of the most elaborate cyber attacks were carried out by state-sponsored hackers who simply followed orders. Cyberattackers can work in groups or as individuals.
Therefore, we have different types of cybercriminals.
- Hacktivists - Typically disrupt systems for a political cause.
- State actors - Hackers employed by states to sabotage or damage the enemy’s infrastructure. They sometimes steal data and commit acts of espionage.
- Insider threats - Rogue employees who use their access to steal data and/or corrupt networks. Sometimes, a breach can simply happen due to an employee’s carelessness, with no ill intent on their behalf.
- Scammers - Malicious actors who use scam schemes to trick gullible individuals in order to get money or valuable information from them.
- Cybercrime groups - Serious hacking organizations that wage full-scale wars against individuals and other organizations. Their structure is hard to crack, and some acted for decades without getting caught.
Groups such as Anonymous had their members arrested on multiple occasions, but since the structure is decentralized and has no clear hierarchy, that never affected the overall organization or its other members.
When it comes to vulnerability to cybercrime attacks, big corporations are far more likely to be affected than smaller firms, according to a report by LexisNexis Risk Solutions. This is because cybercriminals who work in groups will not waste their time and resources to immobilize a small company whose profit is not big enough to satisfy their needs.
After all, they’re risking serious jail time if caught.
With that in mind, we have interesting data regarding individual users. The data from a 2020 version of the abovementioned report reveals an increase of 10% in new users online younger than 25. This group turned out to be particularly susceptible to cyber attacks primarily due to their frequent internet use.
Similarly, people 75 or older appeared to be quite vulnerable to cyber threats due to their lack of familiarity with the internet and digital technologies. The most common cyber attacks they fell prey to were phishing attempts and scams.
Now that we’ve covered the individuals and businesses that should be extra careful let’s look at industries that are most at risk from cyber-attacks. Apart from the business sector, health care, banking, and government agencies are most commonly targeted.
Cyber attacks are aimed at the stored data in healthcare systems for two simple reasons. Firstly, patient data can be sold for enormous sums of money. Secondly, apart from medical patient information, hospitals also store financial details. This is why healthcare institutions need to employ cutting-edge security systems in order to avoid such breaches.
Apart from the immense damage caused to patients, the health service institutions that fall victim to such attacks typically go through major legal ordeals and a PR nightmare while trying to mitigate the damage. Ultimately, thousands of jobs and the reputation of major hospitals may be at stake, which is no small matter.
Banks and financial institutions are gold mines for those who wish to get personal information and money. Because of that, these institutions invest large sums of money in the cybersecurity of their systems.
In 2016, Accenture found that despite every third institution facing a breach at some point, nearly three-quarters of them are confident about their cybersecurity measures.
Military and Government
Government and military structures hold the most sensitive information possible, and any breach could cause a catastrophe and an international scandal.
The most common causes for attacking such entities are a desire to make a political statement (which is what hacktivists do), another country’s attempt to spy or sabotage a specific government, or financial gain.
Some cybercriminal groups try to steal personal data that the government bodies store so they can sell the large database of personal information to third parties.
The Latest Cyber Attacks in 2022
Unfortunately, 2022 has been riddled with thefts of sensitive data, a trend that has been prevalent for several years now. We’ll mention three of the most recent cyber attacks that took place in September 2022.
An eCommerce software developer, Fishpig, has fallen victim to a bad actor who breached its distribution server and backdoored customer systems. This company is used by more than 200,000 websites, so it’s easy to imagine the kind of mess this attack caused.
Using a credential stuffing attack, the attackers hacked over 200,000 NorthFace accounts for purchase histories, full names, phone numbers, account holders’ gender, and billing addresses. Luckily for everyone involved, no credit card information was stored on the NorthFace website.
The site’s customers were advised to change their passwords, especially if they used the same ones on other websites.
Holiday Inn/IHG Hack: The company informed the public that there had been “unauthorized access” to their networks. IHG is still trying to assess and will report on the full extent of this attack at a later date.
A month prior, there had been seven cyber attacks mainly targeted at corporations and tech giants such as Facebook.
Are Cyber Attacks Preventable? If Yes, How To Do It?
If you want to know whether or not cyber attacks can be prevented, the answer is yes. Regarding how to do it, the answer boils down to one word: knowledge.
You need to know about certain risk factors, attack types, and overall behavior on the internet. Knowledge about the tools and resources that help you remain safe online is paramount. So let’s start with a few things:
1. Strong passwords. You need to know that hackers can easily crack passwords if you’re using generic ones. While it may seem witty to use “qwerty” or just “password” as your pass, those are the first things the attacker will try.
With that in mind, you need to be aware of special types of attacks, such as dictionary attacks, that can try out all of these commonly used passwords in a matter of minutes. For that reason, always use a strong password.
2. Checking for data breaches. People who are knowledgeable about cybersecurity and take it very seriously know they can check if they have been a part of a data breach. You can check this at Have I Been Pwned, a popular site that keeps track of data breaches. If yes, make sure to change all the affected passwords.
3. Never click on any email content from an unknown sender. One click on a malicious link or attachment can plant malware onto your device. In the same vein, you can easily hand out your email and password to bad actors by entering login credentials on fake sites.
4. Protect your devices. This includes wiping functions and remote locking, where applicable. Moreover, installing reliable anti-malware software is critical. Everyone who wants to safe online needs adequate malware protection as it’s the best way of guarding you against a cyber attacker. You can also set a password for installing apps and use two-factor and biometric authentication.
Cyber attacks are becoming increasingly common, with no end in sight. They can vary depending on how much damage they cause and how easy or difficult it is to get rid of them. Remaining vigilant is the key, as cybersecurity is a process, not a destination.
We must be updated on the latest digital developments to keep our businesses and ourselves safe from the newest threats that pop up every year since cybercriminals never sleep and always work on improving their attack methods.
Some of the most common cyber attacks are ransomware, phishing, malware, identity theft, and fraud. Many of these can be combined to compromise the computer systems of businesses and individuals.
What is a cyber attack able to do to a computer that’s switched on? Quite a lot, sadly, but it all depends on the type of attack, its modus operandi, and whether the computer is networked with others.
In some cases, turning off your computer can help minimize the damage, but if critical files have already been stolen/corrupted, or the infestation has spread around the office network, turning your PC off won’t do anything meaningful to stop it.
It’s hard to single out one hacker as the best one, but Kevin Mitnick definitely checks all the boxes. He used to be a black hat hacker until he decided to build a career in consulting and is now one of the most prominent authorities on cyber security training, hacking and social engineering.
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