This blog post was updated 4/10/2023.
The advancement of the Internet and digital technology has transformed modern business. However, with the increased opportunities also came more risks. Organizations are increasingly making the headlines for being subject to cybersecurity attacks.
These threats harm their networks, equipment, business processes, and data, costing them billions of dollars in losses and missed opportunities every year. Today, it is necessary for businesses to invest in deterrents of these cybersecurity threats.
Here are the top 10 most prevalent and costly cybersecurity threats today and the steps an organization can take to prevent them.
Phishing is a common yet dangerous cyberthreat because it can be high-tech or no-tech. In these attacks, criminals pose as legitimate entities to exploit users' trust, curiosity, greed, or kindness. They send fake emails to entice their targets to provide information such as passwords, social security numbers, or bank account information.
Some of the most common techniques cybercriminals use to pull off phishing scams today include:
- Spear phishing - Using customized messages to target people in specific organizations or individuals
- Pretexting - Creating fake but realistic scenarios to exploit the target's trust to extract sensitive information
- Mortgage scams - Using stolen identities or falsified income and asset data to defraud people
- Baiting - Using tempting incentives or potential rewards to lure targets into providing sensitive information
- Pharming - Redirecting website visitors to fake websites that appear legitimate to steal sensitive personal information
- Whaling - Phishing attacks that target the senior leadership or high-profile employees of an organization such as Chief Executive Officer or Chief Finance Officier
Cybercriminals that use phishing are very skilled and often convincing. To deter such threats, an organization must educate its employees on how to identify these attempts and invest in email filtering tools to detect fraudulent websites and emails. They can also minimize these attacks by implementing multi-factor authentication on all accounts and regularly update their software with the latest patches and updates.
Alternate forms of phishing includes vishing (conducted via telephone calls) or smishing (conducted via text messaging).
Some of the costliest cyber threats in history have been social engineering attacks. These attacks involve criminals exploiting human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities to trick people into providing them with sensitive information or access to data, networks and systems. Social engineering attacks come in a myriad of forms - from phishing and baiting to quid pro quo.
Organizations can take these steps to protect themselves from social engineering threats today:
- Learning about the latest forms of social engineering attacks and training employees to detect their warning signs
- Restricting access to sensitive systems and information and regularly reviewing permissions
- Using email filters, firewalls, and anti-malware tools to scan and block malicious emails and email attachments
- Carrying out regular security audits and vulnerability assessments to detect and fix potential weaknesses in the organization's security
- Implementing data loss prevention tools to ensure data is not disclosed in an unauthorized fashion
These proactive steps can go a long way to helping an organization better defend itself against social engineering cyber threats and safeguard its sensitive systems, information, and assets.
Malware is short for malicious software. As the name hints, these are a type of computer programs that are designed to cause damage to a computer system, network, or device. Malware comes in all forms and shapes - from harmless annoying pranksters to dangerous and sophisticated programs that can render a whole computer system unusable.
Some of the most common forms of malware include:
- Computer viruses
- Fileless malware
The most effective way to protect against malware is to use up-to-date antivirus and antimalware software. Using firewalls to restrict access to sensitive systems and data also forms a layer of protection against malware. Computer users should also be cautious when clicking on links in emails and downloading email attachments. For organizations, getting a cybersecurity expert to carry out a vulnerability assessment on systems and networks can also help identify any vulnerabilities that malware can exploit.
Cases of organizations falling prey to ransomware attacks have become so prevalent of late that this malware has earned its own point of mention. This is a type of malware that encrypts files on a computer then demands payment to release them. The FBI discourages organizations from paying the ransom because there is never a guarantee that the criminals will release the files anyway.
Ransomware attacks can be particularly devastating to organizations that rely on data to operate and cannot afford downtime.
Here are some measures an organization can take to protect themselves from ransomware:
- Regularly backup important data into an offline or remote system
- Separate administrative (privileged) accounts from regular (non-privileged) accounts
- Use strong and up-to-date anti-malware and anti-virus software
- Restrict access to sensitive data and software
- Educate employees to detect suspicious phishing emails and to practice safe computing practices
Ransomware remains one of the biggest threats to organizations today because they are very profitable to criminals.
Zero-day vulnerabilities are weaknesses in a computing system that can be exploited and are not yet known. While it is not common for software programs to have gaping security flaws, when they do, criminals can develop tools that exploit them to their advantage. Zero-day vulnerabilities are very dangerous as they allow intruders to bypass existing security measures and access a computer system, network, or sensitive data, all without detection.
To protect against zero-day vulnerabilities, users and organizations should:
- Keep their software up-to-day with the latest patches
- Use heuristic (behavior-based) intrusion prevention systems with threat intelligence that can detect and block unknown attackers
- Use sandboxing technology to isolate and analyze any potential threats
- Implement access controls to sensitive data, systems, and networks.
Cybercriminals find and exploit zero-day vulnerabilities every day. It helps to stay vigilant and informed of any latest security measures required to protect against these threats.
Employees, contractors, and other people with access to a computer system or network can cause a lot of harm to an organization. These threats can be accidental or intentional and can take different forms - from damaging systems to leaking sensitive data. This threat is one of the most dangerous on this list because they are difficult to anticipate or detect.
To protect against insider threats, an organization can take these steps:
- Implement access controls to sensitive systems and data
- Strive to nurture a positive company culture to deter insider threats from disgruntled employees
- Monitor user activity, including scrutinizing system and user logs
- Put in place data loss prevention (DLP) systems to mitigate the effects of insider threats
- Conduct background checks of employees and contractors with access to systems
- Develop an incident response plan to minimize the impacts of potential attacks
Supply Chain Attack
A supply chain attack occurs when an attacker accesses a target's system using a third-party supplier or vendor. These attacks can take different forms - from malware infections and data breaches to phishing and man-in-the-middle attacks. In most cases, the attackers first target a vendor or supplier with direct access to the organization's systems to launch the full attack.
To protect against supply chain attacks, an organization should:
- Conduct full due diligence on third-party vendors and contractors and their cybersecurity measures
- Implement a supply chain management security system
- Monitor all vendor activities on their system
- Put in place security standards that all vendors must meet
- Educate staff and employees on the importance of data safety
- Roll out an incident response plan to minimize the impact of supply chain attacks
Denial of Service (DoS)
Denial of Service, or DoS, is a type of cyber threat designed to overwhelm the systems, website, or network of an organization with requests. This renders the system or network inaccessible to legitimate users. These attacks can take different forms, including flooding the system with requests or exploiting vulnerabilities in the system.
Denial of service attacks can have far-reaching consequences for organizations, including reputational damage, loss of revenue, and even legal liabilities. In some cases, denial of service attacks are smokescreens that cover up other major attacks, such as data theft. An organization can protect itself from denial of service attacks by taking these steps:
- Implementing network security controls such as intrusion detection and prevention system
- Implement a web application firewall that can thoroughly inspect incoming requests
- Implement redundancy for all critical systems
- Develop and frequently test back and recovery plan for critical systems
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is similar to a Denial of Service (DoS) attack except that it uses multiple computers or systems to overwhelm the target system. In a DDoS attack, the attackers may first infect multiple computers with malware and take control of them in order to use them as botnets.
DDoS attacks are much harder to prevent or mitigate because they originate from different sources. However, an organization can take these steps to mitigate them:
- Implement network security controls
- Use cloud-based content delivery networks (CDNs)
- Roll out DDoS mitigation services
- Use rate limiting to test and identify potential vulnerabilities in the system or network that attackers can exploit
- Investing in extra network traffic bandwidth to minimize the impact of DDoS
A system intrusion is an attack where an unauthorized person gains access to a computer system or network. Once they have access, the intruder may steal data, damage the system, or leave a backdoor for future attacks. An organization can prevent or mitigate the effects of a system intrusion by:
- Implementing strong system and network access controls
- Ensuring all software and systems are up-to-date
- Carrying out vulnerability assessments regularly
- Using network segmentation to minimize the impact of intrusions
- Monitoring and scrutinizing network, system, and user logs
- Training employees on the best cybersecurity practices to prevent social engineering
Honorable Mention: Man in the Middle (MitM)
A man in the middle is a type of cyber threat where an attacker uses special tools to intercept communication between two parties. These can be chats or email messages between two users or data between a user and a website server. The attacker eavesdrops on the communication to snoop on or manipulate the information being exchanged often to steal sensitive information such as passwords and financial information.
Users can protect themselves from Man-in-the-Middle attacks by:
- Using encryption to secure messages and data sent over networks
- Verifying digital certificates to ensure they are communicating with the intended recipient
- Being extra cautious when using public Wi-Fi or of phishing attacks
- Using VPNs and data tunnels to protect data sent and received
Organizations today face all kinds of cyber security threats. However, for every threat, there are ways to possibly mitigate the threats and even protect computer systems, networks, and data. One way to protect an organization from all these threats is to use a holistic cybersecurity platform such as Trava.