Posted on 

May 30, 2022

A guide to cyber attacks: what types are there and how to prevent them

Rachel Lee
Content writer

Cyber attacks are something even the biggest technophobes know about. However, the specifics of cyber attacks are less well like the different types of cyber attacks that exist. Here, we look at the four different types of cyber attacks and what the most common cyber attacks are. In doing so, and by looking at both the history of cyber attacks and some of the most famous cyber attacks of all time, you can understand more effectively how to prevent cyber attacks in future. 

What are cyber attacks?

Before we give a list of types of cyber attacks and explore cyber attack stats, it is a good idea to outline what exactly cyber attacks are. While cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, or otherwise, are probably something everyone is aware of, you may not know the exact definition of what a cyber attack is. 

Put simply, a cyber attack is when an online criminal manages to penetrate a computer’s network to gain access to that network’s data and information. In doing so, a hacker can use that data for other illegal purposes including identity theft, blackmail or stopping computers working altogether.

What are the most common cyber attacks? 

While the broad idea behind cyber attacks is the same for each online crime created by a hacker, there are different types of cyber attacks of which it is beneficial to be aware. If you are looking to improve your cyber security awareness, knowing the types of cyber attacks that can occur, is a good place to start. 

1. Software attack

While advances in software technology have been swift in the last couple of decades, that does not mean software packages are perfect. One of the main ways that hackers manage to infiltrate systems is through weakness in the commercial software or operating software used by individuals or businesses. 

2. Phishing

Phishing is a means by which hackers infiltrate systems through an authorised person’s log in or user area. A phishing email is one where a hacker manages to fool a person into either opening an email attachment loaded with a virus or by duping them into parting with sensitive data through a fraudulent website. They then use that virus or data to gain wider access to a person or company’s network.

3. Clouds

Hackers are increasingly using their resources to try to access the sensitive data held within cloud storage services. They do so by either targeting a vulnerability in a particular cloud provider’s infrastructure or again through using stolen data from a known user. 

4. Mobile

Smart phones have given hackers another means to gain wider access to sensitive data that can be used for illegal purposes. Given that we are all using our mobile phones with more frequency to shop, bank and conduct other activities that require financial information, they are an obvious target for online criminals. The wealth of information that we store on our phones now is vast and so much of it can be wielded by hackers’ own illegitimate uses. 

How to prevent cyber attacks on critical infrastructure

Given the havoc and disruption that cyber attacks can cause, it is imperative to learn how to prevent cyber attacks on critical infrastructure in our homes and businesses. Even on an individual level, it is key to have an awareness of cyber security and how it can protect you against online attack. Here are a number of ways you can improve your online security:

1. Education

Empowering yourself and your business with the knowledge to help fight cyber attacks and stay safe online is crucial to maintaining a robust online security framework. It helps create a culture of compliance to security protocols put in place to help keep you, your employees and the data you all use safe. Make education part of your company culture to help protect your company from attack. 

2. Security software

Making use of security software is one of the main ways you can build a protective layer onto your business’s network. Not all security software is built the same however, so take the time to investigate which one will work for you and your business best. Your chosen security software needs to be able to run effectively alongside your business, without productivity of either being compromised. 

3. Strong passwords

Employing the use of strong passwords is key to protecting yourself against cyber attacks. It is important to change up your passwords both across all the different accounts you have, but also within them. Try to change them regularly. The use of a password management system can help you stay on top of your passwords so that accessing your different user areas is never a problem. 

4. VPNs

A Virtual Private Network is a good option for those looking to beef up their online security. A Virtual Private Network employs the use of encryption, amongst other security techniques, to keep browsing sessions totally private and very difficult to hack. 

5. Update software

Software updates are important to install when they become available as they are often devised to help strengthen previous vulnerabilities. Without installing them on all your devices, you are more at risk of cyber attack through a known weak point that a hacker can take advantage. 

Cyber attack stats: the number of cyber attacks per year

Cyber attacks are exceedingly common - both successful and unsuccessful. In fact, the stats point to the fact that the number of cyber attacks per year that hackers have attempted is increasing. In the US and Europe, in 2019, 61% of all firms reported an attack. COVID19 scams have only sought to enlarge that number. In the US, for example, the FBI saw a 300% increase in the amount of cyber attacks reported to them. 

Some stats make for compelling reading as to why even individual and small business users should have a robust cyber security process in place. For example, according to Hiscox, there is a successful attack made on small business entities every 19 seconds. Data breaches are costly and can cost on average $3.88 million each time there is a successful attack. 

Famous cyber attacks

Some of the most famous cyber attacks may compel a person into implementing some form of security measures in place. For example, Capitol One, the US banking firm, was hacked in July 2019. Customers had many pieces of their sensitive data exposed such as social security numbers and birthdates. While no one had their bank account details taken, the fact that hundreds of thousands of customers were affected was what set this breach apart from so many others. 

The Equifax data breach has also gone down in cyber attack history. This is partly down to the company’s laissez faire attitude to its cyber security but also due to the hundreds of millions of people that could be identified through the data that was stolen. The hack happened through a weakness in the company’s infrastructure which hackers leveraged as an entrance point to gain access to data. Some claim that the sheer size of the operation points to espionage. 

Finally, the hotel chain Marriott has been a victim of one of the largest cyber attacks in history. In 2018, it announced that hundreds of millions of its customers had had their data stolen by hackers. Some of that data included credit card and passport numbers, rightly worrying its customers that they could be a victim of identity theft. Hackers managed to infiltrate the company’s reservation system which stored customer data.

Learning from the history of cyber attacks: key takeaways

Learning from the history of cyber attacks is one of the key ways you can help prevent them happening in future. It arms you with the knowledge you need to implement a robust security framework into your business’s processes or procedures. Given that so much is at stake when successful cyber attacks do happen, it is imperative to be as prepared for them as possible. 

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