What is a Cyber Threat? 10 Common Types

By Kasey Hewitt

Posted on Apr 21, 2021

The digital attack surface is growing for many organizations as businesses increasingly make the decision to move to permanent remote work environments, adopt cloud-based systems, and store data on the edge. These instances have caused cyber threats to grow in both volume and sophistication. Now, it’s more important than ever for IT security teams to take a proactive approach to cybersecurity as the overall cost and impact of data breaches and attacks continue to rise.

For many organizations, the first step to defending against these impending threats is to gain a comprehensive understanding of them, as this can inform teams about what to look out for and what may warrant a response. Let’s take a look at some of today’s most common cyber threats, and explore how organizations can leverage security intelligence to successfully manage an ever-growing digital attack surface.

What is a cyber threat?

A cyber threat is a malicious attempt to gain unauthorized access or steal, corrupt, or damage sensitive data. This can be carried out by a number of different attack vectors including computer viruses or data breaches, and typically include various IT assets such as critical networks or data.

Where do cyber threats come from?

Cybersecurity threats can originate from a wide range of sources, and this number is constantly growing. Some of the most common threat actors include:

  • Industrial espionage teams: In some cases, organizations may fall victim to industrial espionage attacks in which another business or competitor may be attempting to disrupt daily operations, steal insider or trade secrets, or access information that can be used to blackmail the victim organization or demand a ransom of some kind.
  • Nation-states and terrorist groups: Government-sponsored programs and national cyber warfare initiatives now include increasingly sophisticated attacks. Malicious or hostile nation-states pose a high risk as they may attempt to inflict long-term, widespread damage to a country’s national security and critical infrastructure.
  • Insider threats and third-party vendors: Insider threat attacks can be carried out by employees, contractors, or third- and fourth-party vendors that have access to your systems. Attacks can result from malicious intent, negligence, or lack of awareness around cybersecurity best practices. These trusted users typically have authorized access to an organization’s sensitive information, and this can open the door to new cybersecurity vulnerabilities and gaps in security if not properly managed.
  • Hackers and hacktivist groups: Today, gaining access to advanced attack methods can be fairly simple, and hackers are rapidly taking advantage of the increasingly sophisticated tools available to them. Another emerging form of hacking posing a threat to organizations is hacktivist groups, which target organizations’ networks as part of an attempt to promote a particular political or social agenda.

What are the different types of cyber threats?

One of the most important steps to building an effective risk management plan is to have a comprehensive understanding of the different types of cyber threats that your organization may be faced with. Common examples of cybersecurity threats include:

  • Zero-day exploits: Zero-day exploits target unknown vulnerabilities in software, hardware, or firmware. This can make it difficult to successfully protect against threats before they have already been discovered.
  • Unpatched software: Unpatched software refers to software that has not yet been updated with the latest version, which can leave known vulnerabilities exposed.
  • Malware: Malware is software that carries out a malicious attack on vulnerable devices with the intention of corrupting data or gaining authority over a system.
  • Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that attempts to gain access to a network to encrypt files on a system or otherwise deny access until a ransom payment is made.
  • Phishing: Phishing and other social engineering attacks take advantage of employees and other end-users by using various forms of communication to trick them into downloading malicious software or disclosing confidential information.
  • Advanced persistent threats (APT): Advanced Persistent Threats are typically carried out by highly-skilled cyber adversaries, and can remain undetected in a network for an extended period of time.
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS): A Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack disrupts traffic flow to a specific server on a site by taking control of botnets, rendering it inoperable.
  • Trojan attacks: A trojan attack is a malicious code or software that attempts to gain access to a network by portraying itself as one thing, while really being another.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks: In a MITM attack, cybercriminals may change or steal data being transmitted across a network, typically by leveraging public WiFi connections.
  • Data manipulation: Data manipulation attacks can occur when an attacker makes undetected changes to an organization’s data, often going unnoticed for extended periods of time.

Why is it important to protect against cyber threats?

The cost and overall impact of a data breach are on the rise, reaching nearly $4 million according to Ponemon Institute’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report. This number can rise by more than $370,000 if the breach occurs due to a third-party vendor. With the number of organizations utilizing third- and fourth-party vendors on the rise, the need to proactively protect against cyber threats is becoming increasingly clear.

Best practices and solutions for protecting against cyber threats

As cyber threats become more sophisticated and continue to grow in volume, organizations should consider the steps they can take to ensure their network is secure. Let’s take a look at best practices for protecting against existing and emerging threats:

Regularly conduct risk assessments

Cybersecurity risk assessments are a critical piece to any comprehensive cybersecurity risk management program. The goal of a risk assessment is to identify any gaps in security, prioritize vulnerabilities, and determine a course of action for mitigating the threats. Organizations should consistently run risk assessments to ensure that their cybersecurity posture is up to industry standards, both for their own network and for their third-party vendors’ networks.

Utilize cybersecurity threat intelligence

Cybersecurity threat intelligence is information that allows organizations to better understand past, present, and future cyber threats. IT security teams can leverage threat intelligence to gain a deeper understanding of the most common threats in their industry and insight into threat actor motivation, which can be used to make more informed decisions about how to effectively protect critical networks in the future.

Maintain regulatory compliance

With many industry regulatory standards growing both in number and severity, the need to consistently maintain compliance cannot be overlooked. Additionally, new privacy mandates such as the Data Security and Breach Notification Act introduce new challenges for organizations to consider. IT security teams should work to build a compliance management plan that can monitor their networks on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance is being maintained at any given point in time.

Continuously monitor your ecosystem

Continuous security monitoring is arguably the most important component of a successful cybersecurity risk management program. Today’s networks are rapidly growing in size and complexity, thus, point-in-time assessments are no longer sufficient for monitoring an organization’s cyber hygiene. Instead, IT security teams must continuously oversee the security solutions and policies that have been put in place to ensure that nothing goes undetected.

How SecurityScorecard can help protect against cyber threats

SecurityScorecard provides IT security teams with an advanced platform that enables the continuous monitoring of an organization’s cyber risk as well as that of its third-party vendors. By offering real-time visibility and a holistic view of the entire digital supply chain, SecurityScorecard allows organizations to dynamically evaluate their cyber health and make more data-driven decisions about how to improve security.

With security ratings, security teams can evaluate cyber risk across ten different groups of risk factors with an easy-to-read A-F rating. When combined with contextualized security data and threat intelligence, this objective evaluation can act as a stepping stone toward building a successful cybersecurity risk management program. By gaining complete visibility and a deeper understanding of the threats facing today’s digital landscape, organizations are empowered to confidently oversee their security posture, identify any gaps, and determine the best plan for mitigation.

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