Identifying the Immediate Cyber Threats to Online Security

The importance of cybersecurity cannot be understated, especially in current times where cyber threats are ever-present and threatening information security.

The dangers of cyber threats are constantly present in the internet-powered society of today. Furthermore, cyber threats are not stagnant entities; they evolve along with the pace of technological advancements and milestones, ensuring a dreaded presence upon the flourishing cyber networks. Hackers are continually finding newer targets and refining their existing hacking tools to infiltrate organisations and institutions through insidious and debilitating methods.

 

In recent years, Information Technology teams in various collectives have experienced overwhelming cyber threats that are new, including notable high-profile cybersecurity breaches in major industries such as healthcare, retail, and finance. In addition to this, smaller subsidiary organisations have also become victims of attacks used as a gateway to exploit their larger clients.

 

It’s apparent then that qualified cybersecurity experts with the necessary foresight be present in every business to implement and enforce anti-hacking initiatives. It will be imperative that cybersecurity experts have comprehensive expertise to identify the biggest and most immediate cyber threats to online security.

 

 

These cyber threats include:

 

Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a category of malware where personal or professional data on a victim’s computer is unwillingly encrypted and locked, and payment or ‘ransom’ is demanded before the ransomed data is decrypted and access is returned to the user. In almost every ransomware attack, monetary payment is the motive behind it, and the payment form is demanded with methods that ensure the hacker’s anonymity, such as through virtual currency like bitcoin.

 

Ransomware can be propagated through infected software applications, compromised websites, external storage devices that have been infected and most commonly through malicious email attachments. More advanced forms of ransomware attacks have utilised remote desktop protocol and other complex means which do not depend on user interaction for it to be triggered.

 

Preventing Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is typically propagated through predictable avenues such as malvertising, email phishing and exploit kits. However, there are a few things that can be done on the user’s end to protect themselves from being vulnerable targets of ransomware.

 

  • Backup All Data – If a user has been attacked, they can shut down the endpoint, reimage it, and install the most recent backup. This will prevent the ransomware from being spread to other systems.
  • Protect Your Personal Network – Use multi-layered approaches by infusing security from one endpoint to both the email and DNS layering. Additionally, you should also use an intrusion prevention system or a next-generation firewall.
  • Routinely Patch Your Systems – Update your software routinely to patch vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
  • Never Pay The Ransom – It is never certain that access to your data will be returned to you after the ransom has been paid and paying the hackers only incentivises them further.

 

Confidential Data Breaches

Data breaches have been well-documented, and the major ones are always covered in global news broadcasts. The purpose of these breaches is to illegally extract sensitive data from an organisation for corporate, industrial, and economic espionage or sabotage. Data breaches can be done in two ways: physically accessing a computer connected to the network that contains the confidential data, or remotely bypassing network security from a different location.

 

Hackers usually employ systematic approaches when executing a data breach. These steps are:

  • Research – Hackers engage in in-depth research on a company’s security, including its systems, networks, and staff. They look for vulnerable areas or lapses in security that they can exploit and plan their approach
  • Initiating A Network or Social Attack – Hackers initiate either a network or social cyber-attack in stages. A network attack utilises the vulnerabilities in a system, infrastructure, and application to infiltrate the network of a targeted organisation.
  • Exfiltration – After the hacker enters a computer in the organisation’s network, they can then navigate the network to reach the targeted confidential data. Subsequently, the data is extracted, and the data breach is a success.

 

Preventing Data Breaches

Data breaches are a major threat not only to business corporations, but also to governments and consumers. With the widespread use of Internet permeating every level of society, data breaches have become one of the most insidious cybersecurity problems. There are several methods that can be adopted to minimise the threat of data breaches.

  • Utilise Access Controls – commercial data breaches often happen because of the misuse or a lack of access control. Having robust access control can both physically and virtually prevent cybercriminals from infiltrating your systems and stealing confidential or personal information.
  • End-user Security Awareness – nurturing the culture of a company to be more security-minded can eliminate common issues associated with data breaches, as it inculcates a more proactive approach in preventing breaches by being able to spot malicious online behaviours.
  • Intrusion Detection & Prevention – this method should be implemented for every system that can be accessed by the Internet, like e-mail systems, servers for employee data storage, or any mission-critical systems.
  • Vulnerability Assessments – organisations, should perform vulnerability assessments periodically to identify and fix vulnerable access points in every system in their network, both externally and internally.

 

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is a common cyber threat that has different magnitudes of severity depending on what they are used to achieve. Phishing attacks aim to gain private or sensitive data like credit card details, network credentials, confidential information for identity and access management, and more. To achieve this, cyber attackers pose as legitimate institutions or individuals and utilise social engineering and manipulation to influence their targets into performing actions that compromise their online security, such as opening a malicious attachment in an email or a link or unknowingly divulging their confidential information.

 

Phishing attacks can target victims on both the individual and organisational level, as any kind of data can be used for nefarious activities, whether it’s to access an organisation’s network or to commit frauds on various levels. Additionally, certain phishing scams are also used in conjunction with state-supported espionage efforts to spy on opposition political groups.

 

While Phishing methods can include text messages, phone calls, or social media applications, the most common by far is through emails. The tactics that cyber criminals employ in emails include:

  • Link Manipulation: An email may include links that spoof or mimic authentic URLs but with wrong spelling of the site name or usage of a subdomain.
  • Website Forgery: Phishing scams can use website forgery, employing JavaScript commands to modify a fake website into appearing legitimate.
  • Covert Redirection: Cybercriminals can inflict corruption upon legitimate websites using pop-up dialogue boxes that redirects them to a dedicated phishing website.
  • Infected Attachments: Attachments such as executable files, PDF documents, and Microsoft Office files can contain and install malware when opened.

 

Preventing Phishing Attacks

It is imperative that organisations and individuals alike adopt continual education with regards to the prevention of phishing attacks as hackers are consistently refining their hacking methods.

 

Some effective security measures to identify and prevent phishing attacks are:

  • Two-factor Authentication: Two-factor Authentication or 2FA is a method of user ID confirmation utilising two different factors:
    • Something they have,
    • Something they know, or,
    • Something they are
  • Email Filters: Using email filters that have natural language coupled with machine learning to sift through and flag emails that are high-risk. Including the DMARC protocol is also effective against email spoofing.
  • Verify Site Security: Ensure that a site’s URL starts with “https” along with a closed padlock icon in the address bar. In addition, check the website’s security certificate and do not download anything from if the abovementioned details are missing.
  • High-quality Firewalls – These will act as the first line of defence against malicious entities. Ideally, you should have both a desktop firewall and a network firewall to create a dual-layered level of protection and reduce the chances of hackers being able to infiltrate your network.