It’s no secret that today’s interconnected digital world is becoming increasingly dangerous. With the rise of cyber-attacks, data breaches, and online fraud, information security threats are becoming more frequent, sophisticated, and damaging as newer types of attack vectors evolve.
The consequences of a security breach can range from financial loss to reputational damage and even legal liability. It’s thus more important than ever to stay informed about the different types of information security threats out there to protect yourself and your business
We’ll explore the top 10 threats you should be aware of just to help you stay ahead of the game and minimize the risk of becoming a victim should the threats turn real.
Malware is short for “malicious software.” It easily comes to mind for most people when they think of information security threats. Malware is designed to damage or disrupt computer systems, steal data, or gain unauthorized access.
Malware comes in many forms, such as viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, browser hijackers, and adware. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your files and demands payment in exchange for the decryption key.
Malware can enter your system through email attachments, infected websites, or file-sharing networks. It can steal your personal data, destroy your files, or use your computer to attack other systems.
In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attack impacted over 200,000 computers in 150 countries, including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The attackers, who demanded payment in Bitcoin, caused an estimated total cost of around $4 billion.
Anti-malware software can detect and remove malware and ransomware. Keeping your software up to date and avoiding suspicious emails and websites can also help prevent malware attacks.
Some malware is designed to evade detection by anti-malware software. Coupled with the fact that some ransomware attacks can be difficult to recover from, this makes it all the more important to have cloud backups for your data.
#2: Denial of Service Attacks
A Denial of Service (DoS) attack is a type of attack where an attacker floods a website or network with traffic, causing it to become unavailable to legitimate users. Attackers often launch DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks using botnets, which consist of networks of remotely-controlled compromised computers.
Attackers often use DDoS attacks to extort money from website owners or disrupt services. They sometimes also use these attacks as a diversionary tactic to distract security teams while other attacks happen.
An example of a DDoS attack is the 2016 attack on Dyn, a domain name system provider using a malware and botnet system dubbed Mirai. The attack caused widespread disruption to websites and services, including Twitter, Netflix, and Amazon.
Mitigation techniques such as traffic filtering and rate limiting through services like Cloudflare can help prevent or reduce the impact of DoS attacks.
#3: Social Engineering
Social engineering is a type of information security threat that relies on manipulating human behavior rather than exploiting technical vulnerabilities. In other words, instead of relying on software bugs or other technical weaknesses to gain access to sensitive information or systems, social engineers use psychological tricks and deception to convince people to give them what they want.
Social engineering attacks take many different forms, but they all share the common goal of tricking individuals into divulging confidential information or granting access to restricted systems. Social engineering could happen in various ways. One such is pretexting where the attackers create a false pretext to gain access to sensitive information or systems.
It could also involve baiting attacks which involve offering something of value in exchange for sensitive information or access. For example, an attacker might leave a USB drive lying around in a target organization’s premises, labeled with a tempting label such as “Employee Payroll Information.”
When someone picks up the USB drive and plugs it into their computer, it automatically installs malware or otherwise compromises the target system.
It could also happen in the form of phishing. Phishing involves sending fraudulent emails or messages that appear to be from a legitimate source to trick users into providing their personal details, login credentials, or financial information. Hackers also “phish” by setting up fake websites, website redirects, website mirroring, or even fake email addresses.
Social engineering attacks tend to be very effective because they exploit the weakest link in any information security system: the human element.
No matter how strong a company’s firewalls and encryption may be, they are worthless if an employee unwittingly hands over their login credentials. That’s why it’s important to educate employees about the risks and to implement appropriate security measures.
#4: Drive-by Attacks
Drive-by attacks are a type of cyber attack that typically occurs when a user visits a compromised website or clicks on a malicious link. The attack is so named because it happens “in passing,” without the user’s knowledge or active involvement.
Drive-by attacks could happen in various ways, but the most common types involve the exploitation of vulnerabilities in a user’s web browser or plugins, such as outdated versions of Microsoft Office or browser extensions.
Once a user visits a compromised website or clicks on a malicious link, the attacker’s code executes on the user’s computer, often without any visible indication to the user. Drive-by attacks can have serious consequences.
Attackers may use drive-by attacks as a way to gain a foothold on a system or network, which they can then use to carry out further attacks. To protect against drive-by attacks, it’s important to keep web browsers and plugins up to date.
Users should also exercise caution when visiting unfamiliar websites or clicking on links and should be wary of unexpected pop-ups or requests to download software. A reputable antivirus program can also help to detect and prevent drive-by attacks by blocking malicious code before it executes.
#5: Insider Threats
An insider threat is a security risk posed by employees or other insiders who have access to sensitive information. Insider threats can be intentional, such as when an employee steals data for personal gain or to sell it on the black market. They can also be unintentional, such as when an employee accidentally deletes or shares sensitive data.
Insider threats are often difficult to detect as the attackers have legitimate access to the system. Their applications include data theft, financial gain, or sabotage. An example of an insider threat is the Edward Snowden case, where a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor leaked classified information to the media.
You can prevent insider threats by implementing strict access controls and monitoring employee activity. Training employees on security best practices can also reduce the risk of unintentional insider threats.
#6: Man in the Middle Attack
Man in the Middle (MitM) attacks occur when an attacker intercepts communications between two parties. The attacker can then eavesdrop on the conversation, modify the communication, or impersonate one of the parties. Attackers can achieve this by exploiting vulnerabilities in the network or by using social engineering techniques to trick users into connecting to a fake network.
Attackers often use MitM attacks to steal sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial data, as well as to launch further attacks or disrupt services. MitM could take the form of the SSLstrip attack, where an attacker intercepts communications between a user and a website, downgrading the connection to an unencrypted one using HTTP instead of HTTPS.
The Darkhotel hacking group popularly used MitM attacks to steal sensitive information from high-profile targets, including government officials and executives in the hospitality industry.
You could prevent MitM attacks by using encryption and digital signatures, using secure connections, and avoiding public Wi-Fi.
#7: SQL Injection
SQL injection involves inserting malicious code into a website’s database to gain unauthorized access or steal information. Attackers can achieve SQL injection by exploiting vulnerabilities in the website’s code or tricking users into executing malicious SQL code using social engineering techniques.
SQL injection attacks enable attackers to steal sensitive information, modify or delete data, or gain unauthorized access. A popular example of an SQL injection attack is the 2017 Equifax data breach, where attackers exploited an SQL injection vulnerability to gain access to sensitive data like Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
#8: Password Attack
Password attacks involve using brute force methods to guess or crack passwords to gain unauthorized access to systems or steal information. Attackers can achieve this by using automated tools to guess passwords or by using social engineering techniques to trick users into revealing their passwords.
Hackers often use password attacks to gain unauthorized access to systems or steal sensitive information like financial data. They can also use them to launch further attacks or disrupt services.
An example of a password attack is the LinkedIn data breach in 2012, where attackers used stolen passwords to gain access to user accounts. You can prevent password attacks by using strong passwords, implementing multi-factor authentication, and keeping software up-to-date.
Hacktivism is a type of attack where an attacker targets an organization or individual for political or ideological reasons. Hacktivists often use website defacement, data theft, or DoS attacks to promote their cause or raise awareness of an issue.
Hacktivism can result in reputational damage or legal penalties for the targeted organization or individual, besides financial loss. The now-defunct hacker group LulzSec carried out the 2011 attack on Sony as a prime example of hacktivism in response to Sony’s legal action against a hacker who had modified PlayStation consoles.
Anonymous is another well-known hacktivist collective that has been prolific in carrying out cyber attacks on high-profile targets, including governments, corporations, and individuals. The group is infamous for using DDoS attacks, website defacement, and data breaches to advance its political and ideological agenda.
In 2022, Anonymous unleashed a barrage of cyber attacks on Russia in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, defacing government-affiliated websites. Hacktivism can be prevented by implementing security best practices like access control, encryption, and incident response planning.
#10: APT (Advanced Persistent Threat)
Advanced Persistent Threats are a type of information security threat that requires a more sophisticated and targeted approach than traditional attacks. Unlike most cyberattacks, APTs are not opportunistic. Instead, they are carefully planned and executed over a long period of time, with the goal of espionage and sabotage.
One of the defining characteristics of an APT is persistence. Attackers design APTs to evade detection and continue operating undetected for months or even years, exfiltrating data. This requires a high level of skill and resources on the part of the attackers, who are often nation-states, hacktivists, or part of sophisticated criminal organizations.
Another key feature of APTs is their use of multiple attack vectors. Instead of relying on a single attack, APTs use a combination of techniques to achieve their goals. This may include zero-day exploits, malware, and other tactics.
A high-profile example of APT attacks is the highly-sophisticated Stuxnet worm, which was discovered in 2010. It used multiple attack vectors, including zero-day vulnerabilities, to infiltrate and compromise the computer systems controlling Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.
Organizations can protect themselves from APT attacks by implementing a range of security measures, including access control, intrusion detection, network segmentation, and endpoint protection. Regular security audits and penetration testing can also help identify vulnerabilities exploitable through APT attacks.
Types of Information Security Threats: Final Thoughts
As more and more sensitive information is stored online, attackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods and we are more vulnerable to information security threats than ever before.
Information security threats come in many forms, from malware and ransomware to insider threats and hacktivism. That’s why it’s instructive to be aware of and understand them to mitigate against potential attacks that could cause exposure of sensitive information or even financial losses.
It’s also advisable to stay up-to-date on the latest threats and trends in information security as the threat landscape is constantly evolving, and new attack vectors and techniques are emerging all the time.
By implementing security best practices like intrusion detection, access control, encryption, and incident response planning, organizations can reduce their exposure to information security threats and mitigate the impact of any attacks that do occur.