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Common Cyber Threats and How to Protect Against Them

CyberSecurity4 600
As technology continues to advance, companies need to do more to prepare for the drastic increases of cyber threats.

 

For business leaders of today, there are few topics as relevant – or as complex – as cybersecurity. But while there’s no questioning the importance of cybersecurity, a considerable number of companies are woefully underprepared for the rapidly increasing array of cyber threats in our modern world.

The rapid pace of technological innovation has brought about innumerable benefits, but it’s also expanded the need for effective cyber defense. A shocking majority of business leaders feel that the risks of a cyber attack are increasing, yet only a fraction of companies’ files are adequately protected. And while some common cybersecurity threats are little more than a nuisance, others can have devastating effects on your company, employees, and even your customers.

When it comes to protecting your business from security risks, the best line of defense is both simple and attainable: information. Understanding the most common types of cybersecurity threats, as well as how to identify and stop them, is key.

Here’s a useful guide to the most prolific cyber threats currently facing your business – and what you can do to stop them in their tracks.

The Most Common Cyber Threats – And How to Protect Against Them

Malware

Malware is easily the most common form of cyber threat, with an existence that dates to the early days of the Internet. It involves an unwanted piece of software or programming that self-installs, targeting specific systems on your computer or network and inciting unusual behavior.

Typically, malware is coded in such a way that the user is completely unaware of its presence. This broad category of cyber threats includes a range of malicious programming and can be distributed through emails, insecure websites, and various other methods.

The problems caused by malware can run the gamut from file deletion to data theft, and malware often quickly spreads through various systems. In my experience, malware can rapidly progress from a nearly undetectable annoyance to a full system takeover, long before you’ve even realized what’s happening.

How to prevent malware

Nearly all malware reaches its victims via email, catching them off-guard in their inboxes. In terms of protection, that makes a proactive stance your best bet. Every member of your team, both remote and on-premises, should be familiar with the “red flags” that can indicate malware in email. For example, suspicious links, files, and websites should be diligently avoided, and emails from unknown sources are also cause for concern.

Through an abundance of caution, education, and an effective anti-malware software solution, you can thwart a significant portion of attempted malware attacks.

Password Theft

Attackers have a multitude of ways to gain access to private passwords, many of them requiring next to no effort on their end.

Nearly every one of us has attempted to log into an account, only to realize that the password has been changed without your permission. The result is more than just a frustrating game of cat-and-mouse as you attempt to outpace the attacker; for a business, it could mean a massive breach of sensitive data.

How to prevent password theft

There are varying reasons that an account’s password protection may be breached, but one of the most common is surprisingly simple: a weak, poorly chosen password. Selecting common words and phrases (such as “password” or “1234”) is one of the most widespread mistakes an account user can make, but it’s fortunately also the easiest to remedy. Complicated, difficult-to-guess passwords can be remarkably effective in shutting down “brute force” attempts, in which attackers utilize programming to cycle through thousands of potential passwords.

Two-factor authentication, which has become increasingly commonplace on many major websites and platforms, is also a valuable protection method. By requiring a second device to complete the login process (such as a smartphone that receives an access code via text message), this method provides an additional layer of security.

Traffic Interception

Often referred to as “eavesdropping,” traffic interception is an attack in which a third party is able to “listen” to the stream of data flowing between host and user. Although the information gathered will depend on the traffic type, the most common goal is to steal valuable data and login information.

How to prevent traffic interception

Compromised websites (such as sites that do not use HTML5) are one of the most common targets for cyber attackers hoping to eavesdrop, so avoiding those is key in prevention. Additionally, taking measures to encrypt all network traffic, through a VPN or other method, can be highly effective.

Phishing

Much like malware, phishing is one of the original cybersecurity threats. Usually, the user will receive an email or message that appears to be legitimate, often incorporating official logos, images, and even contact information. The message may be disguised as a security alert, prompting the user to click an embedded link. Unfortunately, that link will transport you directly to a site that’s been set up to trick you into giving away sensitive data – essentially manipulating you into handing the attacker the keys to the kingdom.

How to prevent phishing

One of the easiest ways to avoid phishing messages is to remember that reputable organizations will never request personal data via email. If you or a network user receives an email that asks for information, use a critical eye to take a closer look: often, you’ll notice errors in spelling and syntax, misplaced details, and other signs of its fraudulence.

DDoS

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) specifically targets your servers, aiming to overload them with traffic and cause poor performance or a complete shutdown. Cybercriminals illicitly gain access to unknowing users’ devices, using them to send a flood of queries to the server. Because we are more connected than ever before, thanks to smart devices, DDoS is offering up a wealth of opportunity for would-be attackers.

How to prevent DDoS

Like many cybersecurity threats, DDoS is best defeated by a proactive approach. Before you ever encounter an attack, it’s vital that you assess your current network setup to get a clear picture of your vulnerabilities. For example, companies that use a VPN run the risk of losing their entire communications platform to a DDoS attack.

Once a DDoS attempt has been made on your network, speed is of the essence. Typically, working with a certified cybersecurity team to establish an emergency incident response service is ideal. This service ensures that you have professionals “on call,” ready to leap into action and mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a particularly destructive form of malware, installing itself without user consent and then preventing access to functionalities until the attacker is paid a “ransom.” Typically, cyber attackers that implement ransomware request financial compensation in exchange for removing the malignant software. Several ransomware groups have begun stealing the data before encrypting and threatening to leak the information online.

As a result, the victimized company loses money both in the paid ransom and lost productivity, data, and more. On average, a business loses a staggering $133,000 in a ransomware attack (PhoenixNAP).

How to prevent ransomware attacks

Once ransomware has been installed on a device or network, removal is extremely difficult. So, avoidance is ultimately the best tactic. Educate your team on how to spot and avoid malicious links and ensure that you have an updated antivirus software supporting day-to-day operations.

Additionally, always maintain up-to-date backups and replications, so that you can recover as much as possible from an attack. In some cases, cyber criminals don’t deliver on their promise to release the network or data, even after payment – so it’s critical that you do what you can to avoid catastrophic results.

Cross-Site Attack

Generally called an “XSS” attack, this cyber threat takes advantage of vulnerable websites, particularly those that do not have encryption. Once a target is selected, the attacker loads the malicious code onto the site and waits for a regular user to arrive. At the point of access, the payload is then delivered to the user’s browser or system, instigating unwelcome behaviors. Ultimately, the attacker is hoping to disturb services or steal user data.

How to prevent cross-site attacks

As a website host, you should be taking the proper steps to secure your site. This includes encryption, as well as enabling users to deactivate page scripts (which gives users a way to prevent the payload from activating). From the users’ side, script blocker browser add-ons can be useful for further protection.

Water Hole Attack

Organizations are typically the preferred victim for water hole attacks, with the intended result being the delivery of a malicious payload from an infected source. Cyber criminals will specifically target the websites your business or organization uses most frequently, increasing their chances of a successful attack.

How to prevent water hole attacks

Like many other forms of cyber threats, water hole attacks can often be avoided with high-quality antivirus software and strategies. The right software will passively recognize risky scripts, keeping you one step ahead of would-be attackers. If you suspect that you have encountered a water hole attack, turn off website scripts as soon as possible.

Drive-By Attack

Although there are many cybersecurity issues that require the user to complete a download or click a link, drive-by attacks are an exception. There is no action required on the part of the user, as a drive-by attack plants the malicious code onto a device or system of its own accord. This makes drive-by attacks particularly nasty, because even experienced users can be victimized.

How to prevent drive-by attacks

Utilizing effective anti-malware programs and heeding search engine warnings is the best way to avoid a drive-by attack. All users should be well-informed of the indications of a suspicious website and trained to avoid sites that appear to be compromised or have malintent.

Strengthen Your Cybersecurity Strategy with Professional-Grade Tools

Knowledge is power in the fight against cyber threats, and the ability to recognize and avoid attempted attacks is invaluable. But as our reliance on connectivity and technology expands, the complexities of an effective cybersecurity strategy will only continue to grow more challenging.

The Quest team has developed an innovative CyberDefense Suite that offers a smarter approach to cybersecurity. Rather than attempting to assemble a piecemeal strategy, you can implement a multi-layered plan for keeping your company safe. The Suite features a carefully curated selection of services, facilitated by Quest experts:

  • Endpoint Device Security, powered by Cylance: Our team will provide and monitor your endpoint platform, ensuring to-the-minute alerts of suspicious activity and critical events. You’ll see improvement in overall incident response times as we hunt down potential threats before they can escalate.
  • Email Security, powered by Proofpoint: Email is a favorite access point for cyber attackers, but our Email Security Suite will make sure your business does everything possible to avoid falling victim. This service can support cloud, hybrid, and on-premises installations alike, offering excellent versatility to suit your changing needs.
  • Denial of Service Protection, powered by Cisco Umbrella: Our DNS as a Service is a safeguard that works both on and off the corporate network, covering a full range of vulnerabilities anywhere that users access the Internet.
  • Monitoring/Alerting: Your existing firewalls and IDS/IPS can generate upwards of thousands of messages, but without proper monitoring, they become futile. Quest will provide 24/7 monitoring and rapid alerts, accelerating the speed and efficacy of your response.
  • Quarterly Vulnerability Scans: Each quarter, our team will conduct an external assessment, pinpointing both the strengths and weakness of your security policies to allow for targeted improvements and straightforward compliance.

In addition to our cybersecurity services, Quest offers cybersecurity workshops designed to solve your business’s biggest security challenges. With our expert knowledge and resources, you’ll be able to assess your organization’s current level of cybersecurity, pinpoint vulnerabilities, take corrective action, and move toward a more secure future.

Be Prepared for the Future of Cybersecurity

Whichever route you opt for, we’re prepared to help you achieve improved cybersecurity. With a diverse range of services, products, and resources to choose from, you’ll be empowered to take a proactive role in defending your business from cyber threats of all types and sizes.

Thank you for trusting us to help with your cybersecurity needs.
Contact us any time—we’re always happy to help.

Jon

Jon Bolden
Meet the Author

Jon Bolden is Quest's Chief Information Security Officer


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