The importance of good cybersecurity cannot be overstated. After all, we live in a world where virtually everything depends on computers and the internet. While life itself does not depend on these things, a modern business most certainly does. That is why hackers and other cyber-attackers have become such a problem.
The cyber-attacker knows that you are dependent on the internet, as well as certain online sites and services. Thus, they know it is a lot easier to rob you digitally from afar. But, just like any other robber, the cyber-attacker prefers easy targets. The difference between a soft target and a hard target is often nothing more than knowledge and preparation. We can definitely help with that first one, so let’s look at the ten biggest cybersecurity threats about which everyone should know.
Phishing is an old and persistent threat, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Phishing is a versatile attack strategy that involves the spoofing of legitimate communications. In most cases, the intent is to trick the user into revealing sensitive data like passwords and usernames. Although there are many variations, all of them fall under the heading of “social engineering hacks.”
Social engineering hacks work by targeting the human element instead of technological defenses. All they have to do is trick you into navigating to their fake site and entering your login credentials. This is why you should always be careful about clicking links.
The best remedies for the danger of phishing are education and vigilance. Anyone who handles email for your organization needs to know that you should never just click on a link or attachment. You need to figure out a way for individuals within your organization to verify the sender of the email if possible, and no one should ever ask you to give credentials via an email link.
Improper Password Use
You might be surprised at how many security breaches are the result of simple human foolishness. Using weak passwords to protect sensitive data cannot really be classified as a smart move, and it’s one that can easily be avoided. There is simply no reason that you shouldn’t use passwords that are long and randomized, and you can’t really afford to do it any other way.
It all comes down to having a basic understanding of brute-force attacks. When an attacker wants to get past a password-protected system, this will probably be the first thing they try to do. If someone is using a short password or one made of common words, a dictionary-based program can crack it pretty easily. They do this by making many wrong guesses and learning a little bit from each failed attempt.
Once you have a password that is 19-20 characters long and sufficiently randomized, the program is no longer able to crack the password effectively. It is theoretically possible, but it would take an incredibly long time and a huge number of failed attempts, making it highly unlikely that such an approach would ever work at all.
Ransomware attacks have proven to be some of the most dangerous of them all, and even a number of government systems have been hacked in this way. As you probably know, encryption is generally a very effective method for restricting access or maintaining anonymity. However, encryption is also sometimes used as an attack vector, and the same qualities that make it useful also make it hard to defeat.
Ransomware works by penetrating and then encrypting your whole system, using a password known only by the hacker. In exchange for this password, the hacker then demands money. Unfortunately, many companies have paid these ransoms and have not recovered their data.
The best way to defeat this kind of attack is with a secure off-site backup, with new backups being made every few days. This way, hackers cannot possibly destroy more than a few days of productivity.
This is an insidious method of attack that many people never even consider. There are many things that you can do to harden your system on the user end. However, let’s not forget one thing: You still have to connect with a server in order to access the internet. If someone is able to compromise the server, none of your precautions will matter a great deal.
However, man-in-the-middle attacks don’t work that way. Instead, they compromise your access to the server instead of attacking the server itself. As their name implies, these attacks involve the hacker inserting themselves between you and your server. When doing this, they will mimic your IP address so that your ISP thinks they are still communicating with you. They may also make it appear to your machine as if you are communicating with your ISP.
These attacks, when improperly executed, can be detected with a packet monitoring tool. When done perfectly, however, they can only be prevented with strong network encryption.
Distributed Denial Of Service Attacks
This one is often more of a nuisance than a serious danger, but it can result in serious amounts of network downtime. A DDOS attack (as they are commonly called) is simply a deliberate overload of a particular website or online service. Every time you navigate to a particular web page, your device makes a connection request to that site. However, any given site can only handle a certain number of connections at any one time. When that number is exceeded, the site shuts down.
This kind of deliberate overload can be done either organically (by using a large number of actual people trying to connect to the site at a pre-selected time) or automatically (using a botnet). Obviously, the botnet approach is more common since the other one requires a dedicated and well-organized network of individuals. A number of DDOS protection services exist, and these are probably your best bet.
Malvertising is a cognate of “malware” and “advertising,” and the name says it all. This is malware disguised as advertising, and it is becoming increasingly common. The truly insidious thing about this threat is the fact that hackers will often use legitimate advertising networks to spread malware. Most of the time, this will be an advertisement that contains malicious code. When the user clicks on the ad, it activates the malicious code.
The malware then directs your machine to connect with a particular server. Obviously, that will be a compromised server that is used to steal information and/or take control of your device. Sometimes, the use of a botnet or an AI makes it easier for hackers to find and exploit any vulnerability in your system. Your best bet is to avoid online ads unless they come from companies with whom you have done business in the past.
If you must open an ad from an unfamiliar company, do so in a secure sandbox environment so that no damage can occur. A sandbox might also be described as a false system inside of a real one. It gives you a way to test software, links, etc. without risking the integrity of your physical system.
Most cyber-attacks are essentially hit-and-run attacks. They gain access, get what they want, and get out before they are noticed. In essence, their approach is not too different from that of the common burglar. However, not all bad actors take this kind of smash-and-run approach.
An advanced persistent threat (APT) is a term for those threats which dig in for a long time. They will normally find a quiet corner of the system and embed their malware, disguising it as best they can. Over time, this malware continues to send information to a third party.
The good news is that most organizations don’t need to worry a whole lot about this. APT threats are normally used for government espionage, and only the largest corporations would be worth targeting in this way. As far as we can tell, the best way to detect this sort of attack is through regular network monitoring. This allows you to recognize the suspicious traffic between the malware and the source.
AI has existed for quite some time, but it was never all that intelligent in the past. Now, however, this technology is beginning to become a lot more viable. Sadly, it is viable for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes. AI-enhanced cyberattacks have already occurred, although their use seems to be limited quite a bit. Still, there is every reason to believe that this threat will continue to get worse.
The easiest way for someone to deploy AI against you would probably be a botnet. This is a network of automated machines that are programmed to do a certain task. Normally, bots don’t really count as AI because they are only programmed to do a certain task. AI, on the other hand, can make distinctions and act somewhat independently.
It’s not hard to imagine how an entire network of AI-directed bots could be far harder to handle. Because this is an emerging threat, it is very hard to say how it can be avoided. However, there are still definite ways in which AI can be distinguished from a real user, and that is probably the key to this problem.
As vehicles begin to use computers more and more, no one should be surprised that there has been an increase in vehicle hacks. Thankfully, this one doesn’t seem to be a critical threat because of the limited ability of vehicles to connect to the internet. To be honest, there isn’t much need for a vehicle to be connected in the first place. However, many modern vehicles use computerized parts that have to be updated from time to time.
This practice has opened up the potential for hackers to control just about any aspect of a vehicle’s functionality. Sensors are used for control and feedback in all modern vehicles, and these are the points that present the most obvious vulnerability. Worst of all is the fact that this kind of cyberattack could be used to literally murder someone via a traffic collision.
Auto manufacturers will need to take the lead on this threat by developing better network encryption and a more effective restriction of outside connections. Because vehicle systems only need to connect with one source (the manufacturer) for updates, a dedicated firewall might turn out to be the best solution here.
We have already seen a few incidents in which smart devices (also known as “internet of things” devices) have been hacked. Because many of these devices are placed in people’s homes, this prospect is kind of scary. So far, most recorded IoT hacks have been little more than malicious pranks. That, incidentally, is why we listed it last. That being said, smart devices still present a serious security gap that needs to be filled.
As with vehicle hacking, this one can probably be solved with network encryption combined with a dedicated firewall. Like the vehicle, a smart device only needs to communicate with one source for updates, although it may also need to communicate with phones and computers for user monitoring. Either way, it shouldn’t be too hard to make these things refuse most connections. Until that happens, it might be best to avoid the wide-scale use of smart devices. At the very least, their usage should be limited to the most low-security tasks.
In the end, it is virtually impossible to protect yourself against an unknown threat. That is why education is so important and why you should endeavor to learn all that you can. We are glad that you chose to read this article all the way to the end, and we hope that you are better-informed as a result. If you have any further questions, or if you need the services of our dedicated security professionals, you can call PCH Technologies at (856) 754-7500.