Cyber threats (or cyber security threats) have become more sophisticated and prevalent than ever before. From malicious software to phishing attempts, hackers employ various tactics to compromise individuals, businesses, and governments.
As organizations increasingly make the decision to move to remote and hybrid work environments, adopt cloud-based systems, and store data on the edge, their digital attack surface continues to grow. This makes it 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 cyber 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. From there, to mitigate cybersecurity threats effectively, a comprehensive approach is essential. This approach involves a blend of proactive measures, advanced technologies, employee education, and regulatory compliance.
In this post, we take a look at the basics of cyber threats, common types of cybersecurity threats, and best practices for protecting against them.
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 cybersecurity 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.
10 common types of cybersecurity 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:
1. 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.
2. Unpatched software
Unpatched software refers to software that has not yet been updated with the latest version, which can leave known vulnerabilities exposed.
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 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 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 cybersecurity 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 vendor risks and related cyber threats is becoming increasingly clear.
3 biggest cyber threats in 2021
With increasing levels of remote work and cloud computing, cybersecurity threats are getting more sophisticated than ever before. Here are the top 3 biggest cybersecurity threats from 2021 to watch out for:
According to a recent Ponemon Institute study, insider threats increased by 47%, from 3,200 in 2018, to 4,716 in 2020. Unlike other cybersecurity threats, an insider threat is a security risk that stems from within an organization. This typically happens when a current or former employee with authorized access misuses their credentials to steal or corrupt the organization’s critical information systems.
According to the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI), phishing attacks nearly doubled in frequency, from 114,702 incidents in 2019, compared to 241,324 incidents in 2020. During a phishing attack, victims are tricked into disclosing confidential information by downloading malware or clicking a malicious link.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack
By the end of 2020, 5.8 billion automotive and enterprise devices were on the Internet of Things (IoT). As the adoption rate of IoT devices dramatically increases, the risk of DDoS attacks is surging accordingly. DDoS attacks aim to disrupt and shut down the traffic of a targeted server, service, or network by overwhelming it with internet traffic. This leaves the victim’s server or network vulnerable which forces them offline.
Best practices and solutions for protecting against cybersecurity 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 (and/or managing) existing and emerging cyber threats:
1. 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.
2. Regularly conduct risk assessments and penetration testing
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.
Similarly, regularly auditing security measures and conducting penetration tests help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in an organization’s systems and processes. By simulating potential cyber-attacks, organizations can assess their security posture and make necessary improvements to strengthen defenses.
3. Utilize cybersecurity threat intelligence and collaborate
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.
Collaboration within the cybersecurity community is vital in staying ahead of emerging threats. Sharing threat intelligence, attack patterns, and best practices can help organizations better understand and prepare for potential cyber threats, making the entire digital ecosystem more secure.
4. Maintain regulatory compliance
With many industry regulatory standards growing both in number and severity, the need to consistently maintain compliance cannot be overlooked.
Adhering to industry-specific regulations and compliance standards, such as DORA, GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS, is crucial. Compliance ensures that organizations follow specified security requirements and guidelines to protect sensitive data and reduce the risk of cyber-attacks.
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.
5. Provide Education and Training
One of the foundational steps in preventing cybersecurity threats is educating individuals about potential risks and proper security protocols. Employees, students, and users at every level should receive regular training to recognize and respond to cybersecurity threats. These programs should cover topics such as identifying phishing emails, creating strong passwords, using secure Wi-Fi networks, and the importance of regularly updating software.
6. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification before granting access. This typically involves combining something the user knows (password), something the user has (smartphone), and something the user is (fingerprint or facial recognition). MFA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access, even if passwords are compromised.
7. Regularly Update and Patch Software
Hackers often exploit vulnerabilities in software to gain unauthorized access or compromise systems. To counter this, organizations should consistently update and patch their software. Developers regularly release updates that address security vulnerabilities, so staying current with these updates is crucial in preventing potential attacks.
8. Use Firewalls and Intrusion Detection Systems
Firewalls act as a barrier between an organization’s internal network and external networks, monitoring and filtering incoming and outgoing traffic based on pre-defined security rules. Intrusion detection systems (IDS) detect suspicious activities and raise alerts when potential threats are identified. Implementing robust firewalls and IDS helps prevent unauthorized access and provides early warning of potential security breaches.
9. Maintain Regular Backups and Disaster Recovery Plans
In the event of a cyber-attack, having reliable backups of critical data is essential. Regularly backing up data to secure, offsite locations ensures that data can be restored in case of a breach or ransomware attack. Establishing clear disaster recovery plans helps organizations respond swiftly and efficiently to minimize damage and downtime.
10. Encrypt Sensitive Data
Encrypting sensitive information ensures that even if unauthorized users access the data, they cannot interpret it without the appropriate decryption keys. Encryption should be applied to data in transit (e.g., emails, file transfers) and data at rest (e.g., stored files, databases) to safeguard it from potential cyber threats.
11. Create and Practice an Incident Response Plan
Creating comprehensive incident response plans is crucial for efficiently managing and mitigating the aftermath of a cybersecurity incident. These plans should outline specific steps to be taken in the event of a breach, including identifying the incident, containing the damage, conducting investigations, and initiating necessary recovery and communication processes.
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.