6 December 2021 | 6 min read | Deimantas Jonikas
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Cyber Attack: Everything You Need To Know

What is a cyber attack? How does it work? What are the common types of cyber attacks? What can you do to protect yourself against them? Keep reading to learn all about this.

A hacker performing a cyber attack using a laptop.

Given how much sensitive data is stored online and how reliant critical infrastructure is on the security of computer systems, cyber attacks can have significant real-world consequences. 

Whether attackers aim to steal sensitive data, extort money, dismantle systems or cause frustration and annoyance, they’re a serious threat to all internet-connected devices. 

Owing to the severe consequences that cyber attacks targeted against you can bring about, it’s important to understand them. This post introduces you to different types of cyber threats you might face. It also presents steps you can take to prevent cyber attacks.

Before we go any further, let’s define a cyber attack. 

What is a cyber attack? 

Cyber attack is a term that describes a range of different actions. They can all be characterized as cybercriminals assaulting computers, smart devices or computer networks with malicious intent. 

What cyber attacks look like in practice varies a lot. It might just be one criminal using one computer or a group of organized criminals launching an attack with multiple computers. It could even look like state-sponsored attacks that are part of cyber warfare

The purpose of the attack might be to steal data, gain unauthorized access to a system, disable computers, disrupt government agencies or install software to use a victim’s computer as a launch point for future attacks. 

There are also many different types of cyber attacks, which help attackers achieve different goals. We explore these types of cyber attacks below. 

Common cyber attack types

Depending on what computers attackers target, what their aims are and what resources they have at their disposal, they can choose to launch different kinds of cyber attacks. Below, we outline the most common kinds of cyber attacks you may run into. 

Malware

Malware is a powerful tool in cyber attacks in which an attacker inserts malicious code into a target device or system. Depending on the malicious code used, this kind of device can be utilized for anything from data theft and altering web content to launching more serious attacks and destroying entire systems. 

A malware warning on the laptop's screen.
Malware attack warning

Attackers often install malware without detection. Once malware is in, it might operate for days, months and even years. Wthout the target user being aware of it at all.

Some of the most common types of malware breaches include: 

  • Ransomware: During ransomware attacks, malware encrypts computer files to extort money in return for access to decryption codes, passwords and tools
  • Botnet malware: Attackers use multiple compromised devices as part of a botnet to launch more sophisticated cyber attacks
  • Banking trojans: This malicious software enables attackers to steal data related to financial and credit services, as well as login credentials for banking websites
  • Cryptominers: Cybercriminals use miners to mine for cryptocurrencies by hijacking and exhausting computers’ resources
  • Info-stealers: As the name indicates, this malicious software is installed secretly to collect data from a target device

DoS and DDoS attacks

Usually used to sabotage systems and websites, a denial of service attack (DoS) involves flooding a target website with illegitimate service requests coming from the attacker’s infrastructure. Once the system is overloaded, it is unable to fulfill legitimate requests. 

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack has the same aims, but the attacker’s infrastructure comprises multiple attacking machines rather than just one. 

While these attacks don’t give attackers direct access to target devices, they can distract security teams and law enforcement while more sophisticated attacks take place in the background. 

Phishing

Phishing is a technique that helps get around network security by sending targeted communications. In most cases, attackers use emails that appear to be legitimate but, instead, serve cybercriminals’ interests. This type of attack often relies on human error. 

A successful phishing attack could conclude as the cybercriminal gains system access through stolen logins, extracts credit card information using fictitious claims or installs risky software for a successful malware attack. 

An email and a login form on a fishing hook that illustrates phishing attacks.
Phishing attack

A few of the most effective forms of this kind of attack include spear-phishing and whaling. This is when attackers tailor the messages in their communications to specific people or workplaces. 

SQL injection

SQL injection is the type of attack that is more likely to target businesses than regular internet users. 

Also known as SQLI, SQL injection involves a threat actor submitting malicious code to a backend database to gain access to confidential information. This information is crucial for the running of databases and should not be public. 

This kind of attack can leave sensitive company data, intellectual property, user details and even customer data vulnerable on the compromised system. 

DNS tunneling 

The Domain Name System (DNS) provides the essential translation between humans and machines on the internet. It takes DNS requests of domain names from web users. It then converts them into IP addresses that computers use to locate data via the internet. 

DNS tunneling is a sophisticated cyber attack that uses the DNS protocol to replace the correct DNS queries and responses with data from different programs. In short, attackers can disguise outbound traffic, which gives them access and control to remote servers and apps. 

Attackers generally utilize DNS tunneling to exfiltrate data they’ve stolen without running into firewall protection. 

Cyber attack prevention methods

So, how can you, as a regular internet user or system administrator, prevent cyber attacks?

No security program is perfect and no device or system can ever be 100% safe from attacks. However, there are many approaches you can take to increase your virtual security. 

Regular software updates

It might sound too simple of a fix, but one of the best ways to keep yourself protected against cyber attacks is to ensure that your system and devices are always kept up to date. 

While software companies release updates to introduce new features, they often include important security patches for any newly disclosed vulnerability too. If you fail to update your computers or mobile devices, you leave them open to attacks which you can be protected against. 

To sum up, when you’re offered a software update – don’t wait to install it. 

A warning about a required software update with two options: later and update.
Software update notification

Firewall setup

Whether you’re using a personal or work device, it’s a good idea to use a DNS firewall whenever you’re accessing the internet. 

When correctly ​​configured, a firewall can quickly identify intrusions and prevent data exfiltration.

A correctly set and managed firewall can protect against many different kinds of attacks. Including DNS tunneling, DoS and DDoS attacks as well as SQL injections. 

VPN (Virtual Private Network)

You might be familiar with VPNs if you’ve ever wanted to access the Netflix selection from a different country. But did you know they can also play an important role in keeping your data safe online?

A VPN service creates a secure and encrypted connection to the internet by masking your IP address. This encrypts the data coming to and from your device and helps stifle attempts to track your online traffic. 

A VPN is particularly important to use if you’re using an unsecure public Wi-Fi network. That is because a VPN can effectively conceal data from intruders. 

Raised security awareness

You’ve read this article, which is a significant first step at taking security more seriously. However, if you’re working for a company that uses the internet, you must become an advocate for threat intelligence and higher security standards all around. 

You should request training for yourself and colleagues to help identify phishing attempts. You should also make use of VPNs to protect your data and apply stronger passwords to all your accounts. 

Even if you’re working alone, or using the internet for personal use, learning more about your virtual security is crucial. 

Conclusion

You may think that cyber attacks only happen in action movies; however, they’re all too common and have a real-world impact. Even if you’re just an average internet user, you need to be familiar with at least the most common kinds of attacks. 

Whenever you use a device with an internet connection, you are at risk of facing a cyber attack. It might be as simple as someone sending fraudulent communications. Or as sophisticated as your machine being targeted by a compromised system that is part of a large botnet. 

Whether it’s professional hackers out for financial gain or someone looking to sabotage your website, you need to understand the risks. Use the tips introduced in this article, and don’t let attackers interrupt your daily life online.


About the author

Deimantas Jonikas

Chief Information Security Officer

Deimantas is a Chief Information Security Officer at IPXO. He ensures that IPXO’s information security management systems function at full throttle with the latest technological advancements.