Computer servers (and other devices, for that matter) and their underlying operating systems can have vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to undermine an organisation, sometimes to a crippling extent.
A data breach can have a range of serious consequences for any business, including:
(a) Loss of company reputation and trust.
(b) The loss of critical data, such as source files or intellectual property.
All of these can cost a company financially, either through direct losses or the cost of restoring systems. Whether you are a large enterprise or a microbusiness, it’s essential that you adopt and implement a strong cybersecurity approach.
We often get asked a lot of questions surrounding cyber security, which is why we have put together some helpful information on some of the more common types of attacks to help you protect your data and personal information.
So what exactly is a cyber threat?
A cyber threat is an act which intends to steal data (personal or otherwise), harm data or cause some type of digital compromise on your computer systems or network infrastructure.
Some of the most common forms of cyber threats are:
(a) Phishing attack
(b) IoT attack
(d) OS Vulnerabilities exploit
What is a Phishing Attack?
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack often used to steal user data, including login credentials and credit card numbers. It occurs when an attacker, masquerading as a trusted entity, dupes a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message. The recipient is then tricked into clicking a malicious link, which can lead to the installation of malware, the freezing of the system as part of a ransomware attack or the revealing of sensitive information.
Phishing accounted for 90% of data breaches in 2019 with 76% of businesses reporting being victims of a phishing attack in the last year. Phishing and email attacks are not only increasing as time goes on but as an increasing amount of data is being stored online. It’s important that people and businesses understand how phishing and email fraud are repeatedly affecting executives and companies worldwide and how these can be avoided.
So how can I prevent a Phishing Attack?
Some effective counters to phishing and other social engineering attacks include:
(a) Providing necessary training to employees so they can recognise the signs of a phishing attempt.
(b) Employing a policy of least privilege for user accounts in your system-limiting the access of each user to the bare minimum needed for them to fulfill their job.
(c) Using custom anti-phishing solutions to detect falsified emails that contain dangerous links or requests for information from phishers.
Many commonly available antivirus software provide some degree of protection against malicious sites and most of the big-name email providers also scan for emails that contain malicious links (you may have to check with your system administrator that these options have been enabled).
The number of internet-connected “smart” devices in homes and businesses are starting to increase. The problem is that not all of these smart devices have strong security installed which can create openings for attackers to exploit these devices and infiltrate business networks.
What’s an IoT based attack?
Simply put, an IoT attack is any cyberattack that leverages a victim’s use of internet-connected smart devices (such as Wi-Fi enabled speakers, appliances, alarm clocks, etc.) to sneak malware onto a network. These attacks target IoT devices specifically because they are often overlooked when it comes to applying security patches which makes them easier to compromise.
How to prevent IoT attacks?
A key part of preventing IoT-based attacks is having a complete inventory of all internet-connected devices on your network, and what operating systems they run. Keeping the firmware for these devices up-to-date is also important, as this can help resolve exploits that have been patched by the manufacturer.
When adding smart devices to your business’ offices, make sure to document them, and see if there are any firmware updates that can be run before installing them in your office. Also, carefully consider how each smart device impacts the complexity and cost of executing your security strategies.
Going one step further, it may be possible to place such devices on restricted networks that are not connected to other networks that contain sensitive information.
Ransomware is one of the most destructive attacks that can affect you. The idea behind ransomware, a form of malicious software, is relatively simple: lock and encrypt a victim’s computer or device data, then demand a ransom to restore access to it.
There are several different ways in which ransomware can infect your computer. One of the most common methods utilised today is through malicious spam, or malspam, which is unsolicited email that is used to deliver malware. Often, the email might include booby-trapped attachments, such as PDFs, Word documents or external links. It may also contain links to malicious websites that infect your device.
How can I eliminate ransomware threats?
Ransomware is a profitable market for cyber-criminals to target and is often difficult to stop. Prevention is the most important aspect to deter cyber-criminals and to protect your personal data from such attacks. To help protect yourself from a ransomware attack we have outlined some steps below you can take to keep your data safe and secure:
(a) Use built-in OS protection. If your operating system provides protection against this, you should enable it. For example, Windows 10 offers this through ‘protected folders’ (Microsoft provides instructions on how to enable it).
(b) Use security software – use reputable antivirus software (which detects malicious applications, including ransomware) and ensure a firewall is in place. Again, check if it needs enabling (usually in the ‘settings’ or ‘options’ section).
(c) Maintaining a strong firewall will help prevent access from unauthorised users. Hardware firewalls (for businesses) are best but even a software firewall will offer protection.
(d) Regularly update your security software – criminals are constantly adapting and changing their attack strategies to make use of software vulnerabilities and it is critical that your security software is the latest version also.
If you do become the victim of a ransomware attack, it may be tempting to pay the ransom being demanded but our advice (as well as the advice of the police and other authorities) is not to pay it as the criminals often just take the money without removing the ransomware. If you do not have a backup of your data that you can use, there are some detailed guides online that may help you to restore (‘decrypt’) the data and some people have reported success following such guides.
OS and Vulnerability Exploits
This is where attackers target security vulnerabilities either with the operating system itself or in popular applications – bugs that often have readily-available fixes. All too often, these security updates/patches are not applied to vulnerable software, however. This leaves the business network exposed to outside attacks and compromise.
What is a security vulnerability or bug?
A security vulnerability (or security bug) is an unintentional glitch or programming flaw in a computer software or operating system that attackers can use to access systems or cause harm.
Sometimes, these flaws can arise not from a single software or operating system’s flaws, but from the interactions between two different programs – making it harder to predict when a bug will appear.
How can I prevent security vulnerabilities or bugs?
The best solution for defending against intrusion attempts is to check all software programs on the network frequently to see whether there are any available security patches from the software developer. Any out-of-date software should be patched to the latest security version.
If a software program is no longer supported by the developer, it may be time to uninstall that program and replace it with a newer one that does the same tasks. Making sure every piece of software and IT asset on your business network has the latest security patches can be crucial for preventing a data breach (or, at least minimizing your risk of one).
We hope this article has given you a good overview of some of the more common types of cyber security threats and what measures you can take to help prevent such attacks.
If you would like any further information on cyber security or have any concerns over the security of your data, please don’t hesitate to contact us – 0161 464 6101.