The use of the internet continues to rise, and so does the risk of falling prey to cybersecurity attacks. It is predicted that cybercrime will cost the world US$ 10.5 trillion annually by 2025, a figure that should be enough to alarm us of impending doom. But on a positive note, organizations and businesses are leaving no stone unturned to amp up their security defenses.
However, the first step to resisting cybersecurity attacks is understanding the various cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities that jeopardize the security and integrity of sensitive data.
What are Cybersecurity Threats and Vulnerabilities?
Understanding cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities are crucial for developing effective and powerful cybersecurity policies and keeping data assets safe from various cybersecurity attacks.
A cybersecurity threat is any external danger that can steal or damage data, create disruption, or cause general harm. A threat is a malicious and deliberate attack by an individual, group of individuals, or an organization to get unauthorized access to another organization’s or individual’s network/system to steal, damage, or disrupt IT assets, intellectual property, or any other sensitive data. Common examples of cybersecurity threats include phishing, malware, and even rogue employees.
On the other hand, a cybersecurity vulnerability is a weakness or flaw in a computer system or network that can lead to a security breach when compromised by a cybersecurity threat. Vulnerabilities may be physical, such as the public exposure of a networking device, or non-physical such as an operating system that is not up-to-date with the latest security patches and susceptible to virus attack. Thus, cybersecurity vulnerabilities exist on the network or computer system itself.
Top 7 Cybersecurity Threats and Vulnerabilities
Cybersecurity professionals should have an in-depth understanding of the following cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities:
Malware is malicious software. It is activated when a user clicks on a malicious link or attachment, leading to the installation of harmful software. Once activated, malware can install additional harmful software, block access to critical network components, disrupt individual parts, or secretly transmit data from the hard drive.
The goal of most malware programs is to gain access to sensitive data and copy it. Advanced malware programs can autonomously replicate and send data to specific ports or servers that attackers can use to steal information. Typical symptoms of systems infected with malware are slow running, random reboots, sending emails without user action, or starting unknown processes. One of the most common malware is ransomware, malicious programs that can lock users out of computer applications or the entire computer system until a ransom is paid. Worms, viruses, and trojans are some more well-known malware.
Phishing is one of the most common cybersecurity threats based on a social engineering scheme. Phishing attacks involve cybercriminals sending malicious emails that appear to come from legitimate sources. The receiver is then duped into clicking the malicious link in the email or carrying out the instructions inside, such as providing bank account credentials.
The goal of phishing scams is to install malicious software or steal sensitive data like login credentials or credit card details. The most significant vulnerability that phishing attackers target is a weak email security structure. A variation of traditional phishing is spear phishing, whereby, instead of sending bulk emails, the attacker targets a specific group, individual, or organization.
3. Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks
A Denial of Service (DoS) attack aims to overwhelm a system, network, or server with massive traffic so that users cannot access critical applications. A DoS attack will eventually paralyze the network or system through any of the following means:
- Directing excessive amounts of false traffic to the target network address (Buffer overflow).
- Confusing data routing to the target network and causing it to crash (Teardrop attack).
- Initiating multiple fictitious connection requests to the target server (SYN flood).
Instead of damaging or stealing data, DoS attacks aim to impair the quality of service and cause massive downtimes. When a DoS attack affects several devices in a network, it’s called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. As a result, a DDoS attack has greater scope for damage.
4. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
A Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack occurs when a cybercriminal places themself in a two-party communication between a user and an application. It allows attackers to interrupt the traffic and interpret the communication. As a result, the attacker can filter and steal sensitive data such as account details, login credentials, or credit card numbers. The attacker either spies or mimics one of the parties to make it seem as if a routine exchange of information is taking place.
A MitM attack could also result in the installation of viruses, worms, or other malware. MitM attacks are common while using an unsecured, public Wi-Fi network. There are several ways to carry out MitM attacks, such as:
- Wi-Fi hacking
- SSL hacking
- HTTPS spoofing
- DNS spoofing
- IP spoofing
5. SQL Injection Attacks
A Structured Query Language or SQL injection is a type of cybersecurity threat whereby attackers upload malicious code into a server that uses SQL. Such codes control the database server behind a web application.
Once infected, attackers can leverage SQL injection vulnerabilities to bypass the application’s security measures and dodge authentication and authorization of a web application or web page to retrieve the entire SQL database’s content. Plus, the attackers can view, delete, or modify data stored in the SQL database. SQL injection attacks typically affect web apps and websites that use an SQL database. Such attacks not only tamper with individual machines but can also end up affecting the entire network.
6. Superuser Accounts
One of the fundamental principles of mitigating software vulnerabilities is to restrict the access privileges of users. The fewer resources the user has access to, the lesser the probability of damage if the said user account is compromised.
Superuser accounts are often used for administrative purposes and have great potential to turn into a network vulnerability. However, most often, organizations overlook the danger and fail to manage user access account privileges. As a result, almost every user in the network has the so-called admin-level or “superuser” access. Further, certain computer security configurations even give unprivileged users unlimited access to admin-level user accounts. Hence, such “superusers” can modify, create, delete files, copy information, or install any software. And if a cybercriminal gets access to such an account, the implications could be disastrous for the organization.
7. Unpatched or Outdated Software
A commonplace cybersecurity threat is neglecting regular software patching and updates. While there is a slew of new and sophisticated threats that develop daily, many exploit old security vulnerabilities. Hence, with so many threats looking to target a selected few vulnerabilities, one of the biggest mistakes organizations and businesses commit is failing to patch software vulnerabilities as and when they’re discovered.
Installing updates and constantly applying new patches may be tedious and time-consuming, but they sure save the individual, business, or organization from significant loss of time, money. Failing to install timely updates and apply new patches leaves the system or network vulnerable to defects that have been fixed by software and hardware vendors.
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From renowned multinational companies to the smallest of startups, no business or organization is completely immune to cybersecurity attacks. As technologies evolved, people started relying more on digital services, and cybercrimes became more sophisticated and seemingly invincible. The year 2020 saw us going online more than ever – be it work-from-home mandates or ordering household essentials, the uncertainty and disruption of the global pandemic increased our dependence on technology and digital solutions. Whether we are aware or not, the risk to individuals, governments, organizations, and companies has never been higher.
Now’s the time to get enrolled in a cybersecurity certification course and acquire the skills necessary to become a valued cybersecurity expert!