What is a Cyber Attack? Everything You Need to Know

August 18, 2022

You’ve likely heard of cyber attacks before, but you may still be asking yourself what is a cyber attack and am I at risk?

A cyber attack is an electronic attack with the malicious intent of stealing data and/or disabling computer systems. This is done by an individual or a group of cyber criminals using different methods including phishing, ransomware, malware and more. 

As of last year, about 37% of global companies said they were a victim of a ransomware attack. Unfortunately, over half of companies believe their IT departments are inadequately equipped to deal with these advanced cyber attacks. 

Why Cyber Attacks Occur

Cyber attacks are attached to organized crime, warfare and hacktivism. Motives can vary for each case, but the intent is either criminal, political or personal. 

Criminals' motivations are usually tied to money or financial gain. This is done through disrupting business operations, electronic money theft or data ransom. Disgruntled current or former employees could launch a personal cyber attack for a self-justified reason. 

Alternatively, there are political attackers interested to launch an attack for a cause stemming from religious, political or moral motivations. It’s a grey area whether this is ethical or not. The point is, that there are numerous motivations by different types of groups to launch a cyber attack. 

What Data Cyber Attackers Target

Time and time again, cyber attackers are on the hunt for personal information in systems. Below are a few examples of what’s commonly targetted: 

  • Financial data from business
  • List of clients and personal information
  • Customer financial data and information
  • Customer databases, especially personal ID information
  • Login usernames, email addresses and passwords
  • Intellectual Property 
  • IT infrastructure access and IT financial services
  • Other sensitive personal information
  • Government department and government agency data

What Are The Types of Cyber Attacks?

It’s important to understand what a cyber attack is and what a cyber attacker is after. However, there are various types of attacks these individuals or groups can accomplish. Below we’ll elaborate on a few known and lesser-known cyber attacks. 

Ransomware & Malware Attacks

Spyware, worms and ransomware are common examples of malware. The term comes from malicious software, as it breaches a network via an unforeseen system vulnerability. The user usually clicks a harmful link or an email attachment and then accidentally installs the malware. 

Ransomware is a specific form of malware designed to thwart an organization or a user to access important files on their system. Cybercriminals encrypt these files and demand a hefty payment (or ransom) back from the victim. 

Ransomware attacks have been large-scale and visible since 2017. Being successful and publicized gives cybercriminals motivation to earn an average of over $ 1 million from large enough organizations during Ryuk ransomware attacks. 

Data Breaches

Does your organization want to avoid fines, litigation, a poor reputation and even the right the operate entirely? If so, you’ll want to avoid data breaches at all costs. 

Data breaches occur when protected data has been disclosed without authorization. Any type of business could be affected by a data breach such as those in the health industry, government, eCommerce and more. 

Data breaches could occur in several ways including:

  • Data leaks and gaps
  • Unencrypted data while moving
  • Malware or ransomware
  • Phishing
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
  • Password Guessing & Cracking

Phishing & Business Email Compromise (BEC)

A phishing scam is a method in which the attacker sends false communications to a person that seems legitimate. This is done typically through email, but it’s also through SMS messages (Smishing). 

People fall victim to this activity due to the scam’s perceived credibility. According to insights in 2020, nearly 20% of employees click on phishing email links and over two-thirds of them enter their credentials on a phishing website. 

This then leads to a business email compromise - or BEC. This cyber attack causes billions of dollars of damage to businesses annually. The attacker relies on the ability to appear like a credible source via the following methods: 

  • Domain Spoofing: The attacker pretends to be a member from inside the company or a trusted vendor or partner. 
  • Lookalike Domains: These domains usually have letters in the middle which don’t align with a current trusted domain (ie: coffeemachine.com vs cofhiemachine.com).
  • Compromised Accounts: An attacker may have access to a current or former employee’s account. This is even harder to discover since the attack is from a trusted source initially.

Use Available Resources to Prevent Cyber Attacks

Knowing what cyber attacks are and understanding the methods of attack can arm you with information to combat cyber risks. Here are a few basic ways you and your business can prevent cyber attacks. 

  • Use Multifactor Authentication: This makes it exponentially more difficult for hackers to access systems. 
  • Tighten Access Controls: If someone leaves the organization, ensure they no longer have access. This goes for contractors, employees and vendors. 
  • Educate Employees: Include cyber security in employee onboarding with modules, exercises and quizzes. Hold regular training sessions about new and relevant cyber threats. 
  • Backup Your Data: If you are ever a victim of a cyber attack, ensure you have backup data in case it’s ever stolen. This means you’ll never be at a total loss.
  • Use The Latest Computer Software: Using updated software isn’t just for efficiency. Running the most updated software helps make data more secure while system vulnerabilities are systematically patched. 
  • Install Reputable Antivirus Software: It can be an easy oversight but ensure to install the latest antivirus software from a trustworthy brand. 

Talk to a Forensics Team: If you’re concerned you’ve had a recent cyber attack or you think your company may be vulnerable to one, please contact us at DFI Forensics so we can understand and respond to your situation.