Cybersecurity Awareness month is here. It’s the time of the year when we try to ruin a cyber criminal’s day. If you would like to join us and protect your business, you need to understand the most popular cybercrimes.
In this article, we will go over the cybersecurity threats most organizations face. This is your personal checklist of the most pressing areas where you should check your defenses.
Cybersecurity Awareness Month: What you can do
There are several serious cybersecurity threats to organizations everywhere. According to the Cyberthreat Defense Report, 85.7% of organizations experienced at least one cyber attack during the year. This is up from 78% in 2020. The best place to start is probably the most common issue: phishing.
Phishing scams are extremely common, representing the largest share of the above-mentioned cyber attacks. Phishing attacks take place when cybercriminals send out massive quantities of fraudulent emails. In some cases, they are more coordinated against a single organization.
Normal phishing emails impersonate a trustworthy person or another source of information. They are designed to appear legitimate so that recipients have their guard down. The goal is to gain access to data that can be used to extract funds in some way. Phishing attacks often include malware, a topic that deserves its own explanation.
While phishing is most common via email, it can take place on social media or relevant online communities. Attacks often start with a simple direct message, appearing innocent enough, but with hidden malicious intent. This online activity is often a part of the cybercriminal’s effort to gather information about the target’s:
- Professional activities
- Other information that can be leveraged to scam them
Occasionally, phone calls and SMS will fit into a phishing scam. Regardless, there are three main types of phishing:
- Spear phishing: Attacks directed at specific companies or individuals, with a precise intent.
- Whaling: Attacks directed at major decision-makers or stakeholders–this normally means senior executives and others with valuable information.
- Pharming: Broad attacks using DNS cache poisoning to get login credentials using a fake login page.
The dangers of phishing require both professional training and reporting the attempts that you catch. There are some anti-phishing tools, particularly add-ons. But in the end, a phishing attempt’s success rests on the behavior of the person receiving a phishing email. At that point, the recipient can:
- Open the email (or other type of message) and click a link, which can result in malware.
- Recognize it as suspicious and delete it.
- Recognize it as suspicious and report it.
The first option is common and can lead to massive financial and reputational damage in some cases. The second is an adequate response for the individual and their organization. But the third option is the only one that protects both the victim and the wider public. This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, why not use education to protect your organization and its members?
Malware is both a singular cybersecurity threat and a component of other types of threats. However, malware is a broad category. It can include several subcategories, each with its own motivations.
Malware is any malicious file(s) inside a computer system. These malicious files can:
- Retrieve information that the cybercriminal can use at a later stage.
- Deny access to part of a network.
- Disrupt the entire system, sometimes leaving it inoperable.
Depending on the type of malware, the goal can be simple disruption or theft. The common types of malware are:
- Viruses: They infect applications by attaching themselves to them. The virus then replicates itself, reaching other code in the same system. They can be programmed to attach themselves to executable code. But they can also create a fake copycat file, essentially a decoy that contains the virus.
- Trojans: These are malware programs hiding within legitimate programs for malicious reasons. They don’t replicate themselves like viruses. But they most often serve as a “backdoor” that can be exploited later.
- Spyware: This is malware that gets installed on a computer for the purpose of collecting information. The information collected can be broad, but its ultimate purpose is to gain access to systems or to blackmail the victim.
- Ransomware: This is a type of malware that denies the victim access to systems or otherwise disturbs their operations. Alternatively, it can be used to blackmail the victim by releasing private information. The “ransom” part describes how the victim must pay the attacker in order to regain access and be left alone.
- Worms: Worms are similar to viruses, but instead of attacking the host, they travel across the network and other computers. A worm copies itself and spreads like a virus. But the goal is to overload the victim’s systems and cause major disruptions. This is a part of DoS (denial of service) attacks.
As we mentioned, malware is often a part of phishing attempts. That’s why, again, education is a key part of fighting malware. In addition to cybersecurity training, antivirus programs and patching your software is a part of the solution.
What you can do
There are a few important steps to ensuring your organization has a strong chance of stopping all cyber attack attempts.
As phishing is a ubiquitous threat, learning to recognize and report it is the only way to fight it. Instilling a “think before you click” mentality at your organization is the first line of defense.
Patching and updates
Don’t wait to update your software. This goes for all software: if you see an update notice, just do it now.
Long, unique, and ideally randomly-generated passwords are ideal. A good password manager will encrypt them, offering convenience and security.
Hiring a cybersecurity company to provide the tools and training you need is a worthwhile decision if it helps you avoid even one major attack. You should normally start with a general cybersecurity assessment, so you have a professional opinion on your current security.
Remember the common motivations of cyber-attacks:
- Identity theft
- Insider attacks
- State-sponsored attacks
In the end, the real motivation for most of the above is financial gain. But understanding how cyber criminals try to get there can help you be more prepared.