Types of Cyber Attacks: A Closer Look at Common Threats

The unprecedented scale of remote work across the world induced by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for cybercriminals to launch their attacks. In 2020, 80 percent of firms saw an increase in cyber attacks. You need a robust defense mechanism to prevent your sensitive information from getting exposed to unauthorized users. By understanding the different types of cyber attacks and how they are executed, you can identify potential threats and take the required steps to prevent them if a cybersecurity event occurs.

What Is a Cyber Attack?

A cyber attack is a deliberate attempt to exploit vulnerable systems, devices or networks to manipulate, steal or gain unauthorized access. The motivation behind cyber attacks may vary but the top reasons that stand out are financial gain and information.

What started as a hobby to break into other systems to display one’s skills or build a personal reputation, is now a global phenomenon. According to Cybersecurity Ventures’ 2019 Cybersecurity Market Report, global cybersecurity spending is anticipated to cross US $1 trillion from 2017-2021.

What Was the First Cyber Attack?

In 1988, Robert Tappan Morris wrote a computer code to analyze the size of the internet. His intention was not to cause damage but to determine the number of computers that were connected to the internet. However, a critical error caused the self-replicating program to spread faster than anticipated, infecting other computers until the infected computers crashed. The Morris Worm infected thousands of computers, leading to the world’s first accidental distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attack and caused huge financial losses.

Where Do Most Cyber Attacks Come From?

As measures to prevent cybercrimes get stronger, attackers are getting smarter and are refining their strategies. To withstand this ever-increasing challenge, it is critical to understand the techniques cybercriminals use to deploy these attacks. Take the following statistics for example:

According to the 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report:

  • 94% of malware was delivered through email
  • 34% of data breaches that occurred were due to insiders
  • 22% of data breaches included social attacks
  • 17% of data breaches involved malware
  • 8% of data breaches were due to misuse by authorized users

CSO Online reports:

  • Over 80% of security breaches were a result of phishing attacks
  • 60% of security breaches occurred due to unpatched vulnerabilities
  • Attacks on IoT devices grew threefold in early 2019

Broadcom states that Office files comprised 48% of malicious email attachments.

How Often Do Cyber Attacks Occur?

Hackers are constantly looking out for susceptible individuals and organizations to organize malicious attacks.

As per the research conducted by the University of Maryland, a cyber attack occurs every 39 seconds on average, which translates to an astounding 2,244 attacks per day.

According to Varonis, approximately 7 million data records are lost or stolen every single day and 56 data records are compromised every second. Based on the report, approximately 2.55 billion data records are compromised annually.

The NETSCOUT Threat Intelligence Report: Findings from 2H 2019, indicates that more than 23,000 DDoS attacks were executed every day in 2019.

What Are the Most Common Types of Cyber Attacks?

The digital world is filled with endless variations of cyberthreats trying to infiltrate your network and devices. There is no denying that cyber attacks are here to stay and will continue to exist as long as the internet exists.

While the types of cyber attacks continue to grow, this is the right time to understand some of the most common and prevalent types of cyber attacks you need to watch out for:

Social Engineering Attacks

In information security, social engineering is an umbrella term for a broad range of malicious activities. Cyber attackers use social engineering to convince or trick individuals into performing certain actions or to access valuable information. They perform these types of attacks to hijack accounts, impersonate characters, make fraudulent payments and more.

The different forms of social engineering attacks include:

  • Phishing: It is one of the most exploited social engineering attacks, where attackers send malicious emails with clickable links.
  • Spear Phishing: Like phishing, spear phishing is a type of email attack that is targeted and personalized.
  • Vishing: Also known as voice phishing, it involves scammers making phone calls or leaving voice messages to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive information.
  • Baiting: As the name suggests, the attacker baits an individual into performing a desired action in exchange for something.
  • Quid Pro Quo: Also known as a “something for something” attack where hackers offer free assistance or service in exchange for critical information or money.
  • Pretexting: The attacker impersonates a co-worker to build trust with the end user. The scammer claims to be a person of high importance and sends an email, asking the end user to disclose critical business information.
  • Tailgating: The perpetrator secretly follows an authorized person with the purpose of entering a secured area, without the knowledge of that person.

Malware Attacks

Malware attacks are the most common types of cyber attacks in which cybercriminals create malicious software with the intention of causing damage to the victim’s susceptible devices, data or network. Malware attacks are executed on all kinds of devices and operating systems. These kinds of attacks are hard to detect and are often performed without the victim’s knowledge. These attacks are carried out in order to gain unauthorized access to personal information, steal data, credentials, etc.

The different types of malware attacks are:

  • Ransomware: Cybercriminals develop malicious software programs to block access to the victim’s files or data and demand ransom to hand over the compromised files.
  • Drive-By Attack: Also known as a drive-by download attack, this attack makes use of insecure applications, operating systems or web browsers that are not up to date. Scammers embed a malicious script onto the pages of a website that automatically triggers the browser to download malware when the victim visits the infected website.
  • Trojans: These types of computer programs appear to be legitimate and tricks users into downloading harmful applications. These attacks can potentially crash the victim’s device or expose personal data.
  • Adware: Also referred to as advertising software, adware is a type of malware that secretly resides on the target’s system and displays unwanted or irrelevant advertisements. Malicious adware can damage the victim’s device, monitor online activity, infect browsers or install viruses.
  • Spyware: Spyware is malicious software that is used to gather information and monitor activity without the user’s knowledge.

Denial-of-Service (DoS) & Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS)

A DoS attack is performed by overloading the target machine or network with massive traffic, thereby making the service unavailable to the user. A DDoS attack, on the other hand, occurs when several infected network devices from various sources flood the bandwidth of the target system, causing it to destabilize or crash. This type of attack is effective since it is difficult to identify the source of the attack.

The most popular flood attacks include:

  • SYN Flood Attacks: The attacker repeatedly sends SYN requests to overload and saturate the resources of the target server, resulting in slow or no response.
  • Smurf Attacks: This is a form of flood attack in which the hacker tries to overwhelm the victim’s server with Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packets, making the target network inoperable.
  • Ping of Death Attacks: Hackers send malicious pings containing data packets that are more than the maximum limit (65,536 bytes), causing the system to freeze or crash.

Web Application Attacks

A web application attack involves cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities in the application to gain unauthorized access to databases that contain sensitive information, such as personal or financial data.

Here are some of the more popular web application attacks:

  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): It involves an attacker embedding malicious JavaScript to target the website database.
  • SQL Injection (SQLi): Structured Query Language (SQL) injection attacks occur when perpetrators attempt to gain access to the database by uploading untrusted SQL scripts. A successful SQLi attack allows the attacker to view, alter or delete records stored in the SQL database.
  • Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) or XSRF: Attackers trick an authenticated user into performing unsolicited actions on a web page or web application without the user’s consent.
  • Insecure Direct Object Reference (IDOR): IDOR occurs when web or mobile applications give unauthorized users access to data based on user-supplied input. For instance, if a direct reference to a restricted file is visible to users as part of the URL, such as mysite.com/profile/001, hackers can simply change the value of the reference ID (001 in this case) to gain access to other hidden files.

While we have covered some of the most common types of cyber attacks that fall into a general category, there are other forms of cyber attacks that are worthy of your attention, such as Man-in-the-Middle Attack aka Eavesdropping, Password Attack, Birthday Attack, Session Hijacking, Zero-Day Exploit, DNS Tunneling, etc.

Ensuring Your Data’s Safety With SaaS Backup

Cyber attacks are a constant cause for concern, not only for individuals and organizations, but for governments as well. With remote working becoming a regular feature of the new normal, the need for data protection is now greater than ever. You need a reliable, proven backup and restore solution that can improve your business resiliency and keep critical operations up and running in the event of a cyber attack.

Spanning, a Kaseya company, provides powerful SaaS data protection and recovery solutions for Office 365, G Suite and Salesforce. With enterprise-class security and easy-to-use capabilities, your organization can rest easy knowing all your critical data is fully backed up and protected.

Learn More About Spanning Backup


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