Cyberattacks: What They Are and Common Types

Mar 3, 2020 | Privacy & Security

Over the years, the Internet has made enormous leaps in terms of convenience, integration, and community, especially for businesses. Customers trust business websites to be safe, private, and in their control. While a sale may only be a click away, so are people who wish to execute sophisticated cyberattacks (also spelled as two words, but the single word is more common). These attacks are a major concern for businesses and consumers alike. A cyberattack is a malicious attempt to gain unauthorized access or cause damage to a computer, network, server or other associated devices. These attacks are a major concern for businesses and consumers alike.

This may sound similar to hacking, but not all cyberattacks involve a hack; and vice versa. Hacking is a specific practice in which a person gains unauthorized access to a computer, network, or other connected devices using primarily software and code. Cyberattackers, on the other hand, are incredibly adaptable, generally malicious in nature, and have developed many different methods aimed at gaining access to others’ devices. 

Here are a few common types of cyberattacks that all businesses should be aware of and ready for. 

DoS and DDoS Attacks

Denial-of-service and distributed denial-of-service, respectively, are attacks aimed at overwhelming a web server so that it cannot respond to a visitor’s request to access it. When these requests are performed by an automated network of computers all at once — also known as a “botnet” — it is considered a DDoS attack. This can happen naturally as well — for instance, readers may overload a newspaper’s site after a breaking story — but it can also be done maliciously with bots as well to effectively shut down a website. In a business’s case, this could be performed by a hacker with a vendetta, or by a competitor looking to gain more business. 

Malware Attacks

Malicious software, or “malware,” refers to any unwanted software that is installed onto a computer or device without the owner’s consent (or even knowledge). Depending on the type of malware installed, a variety of different effects may manifest. Attackers may install a virus, programs that monitor keystrokes or online activities, or even ransomware that locks users out of their network and demands payment to regain access. For example, in 2016, cybercriminals hacked into multiple police departments throughout the country and installed ransomware, holding files hostage until the department paid to free them. 

MiM Attacks

Man-in-the-middle attacks occur when a malicious agent gets in the middle of communications between two computers or two users. This way, they can either pose as someone who has access to a server or protected device, or pose as another person and obtain login information from the unsuspecting victim. Most users, on either end, don’t realize there is an intruder before it’s too late. That’s why a lot of businesses use encrypted calls, texts, and emails to add an extra layer of protection. 

In 2003, Belkin wireless router users found their websites being intercepted and replaced with Belkin advertisements. Though this was a marketing ploy from the company, many users were frustrated they couldn’t reach their intended destination, and the tactic received criticism.

Password Attacks

A password attack refers to any attempt to obtain, guess, or “crack” someone’s password. Since passwords are so commonly used to protect accounts online, many attackers simply try to gain access to private information. Others introduce various forms of malware, social engineering attacks, or zero-day attacks to the website or server. If customers need to make an account with a business, their personal information could be at risk of a data breach. 

There are many ways to obtain passwords, but the simplest way is via a “brute force attack.” A brute force attack consists of a cybercriminal implementing application programs to test as many password combinations as possible until they succeed. Starting with the most common information available, like birthdays, hackers work their way through a series of information until they find the user’s login credentials.  

Target was the victim of a password breach in 2013, resulting in the cybercriminals gaining access to their customer’s credit card information, affecting 41 million customers. To counter this, many enterprises use multi-factor authentication to protect accounts. A password manager is also useful as a centralized, private source for all passwords.

Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks involve manipulating or tricking people into giving up personal or private information, or performing an action the attacker wants them to. It can come in many forms, such as clicking strange links, downloading malicious attachments, or opening suspicious messages. One type of social engineering attack is called “phishing.” In 2018, many people received an email threatening to send pornographic images to friends and family unless they paid a ransom with Bitcoin. Malicious scammers may also try to appear trustworthy by sending doctored emails in order to obtain clicks on their link. For businesses, this could mean they are sending spoofed emails in the business’s name. 

SQL Injection Attacks

Structured Query Language (SQL) injection attacks occur when a cybercriminal attempts to insert a malicious query, or code, into a server that uses SQL, forcing the server to expose sensitive data. This data can include private customer details, like credit card numbers or passwords. At this point, attackers may even be able to alter or modify the data. Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, uncovered a data breach that included confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites. Many customers depend on a business’s website to keep their personal information private, and will lose trust in a company that fails to do so.

Zero-Day Exploit Attacks

A zero-day attack takes advantage of a software vulnerability after it has been made public, but before a developer can fix or patch it. This could allow the hacker to bring an entire system down, and illustrates just why it’s so important to always install software updates when prompted. In 2016, the NSA was breached with malware that stole sensitive documents and published them. This is highly concerning for businesses that have access to personal information, or if the attackers just want to disable the site. Even if it is only for 24 hours, a business can lose an immense amount of sales to downtime if their website is unreachable.

Cybersecurity is a responsibility shared by everybody. The internet is vast, with many types of cybercriminals waiting to take down business sites. Being prepared for every outcome can make all the difference, and help retain a customer’s trust. 

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