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Cyberattacks: How You Can Protect Your Company

Lines of software code containing cyberattack warnings

Whether it's ransomware, phishing or social engineering, do you think your cyberattack protection measures are sufficient or that your company is unattractive to hackers? The problem with this line of thinking: Every company has data that is relevant to cybercriminals -- whether you are a small or medium-sized business or a publicly traded company.  

IT Governance, a global provider of cyber risk and privacy management solutions, reported that from January 1 to August 1, 2023, there were 694 publicly reported cyberattacks worldwide involving 612,368,642 breached records. If you could add unreported cases the number would be significantly higher. The biggest data breach of 2023 so far was at X (formerly called Twitter) where 220 million records were affected. Healthcare (199), education (119), and the public sector (88) are the areas that are attacked most often.  
 
The consequences of these attacks include operational disruptions with high revenue losses, enormous data recovery costs, and significant reputational damage. In this blog post, we'll give you an overview of the types of cyberattacks, how they happen, and most importantly, how you can protect your company and yourself.   

What is a cyberattack? 

Fishing hook grabbing information from a password entry 

A cyberattack is a targeted attack on IT systems, networks or computers to gain unauthorized access, steal sensitive information, explicitly cause damage or compromise the functionality of the IT infrastructure. Cybercriminals use various techniques and vulnerabilities to circumvent existing security measures.   

What are the consequences of cyberattacks?  

A series of blue locks with one open red lock representing a security leak

Cyberattacks have serious and far-reaching consequences -- for companies and organizations as well as individuals.  
 
The potential damage includes:
  
  • Loss of confidential or sensitive data  
  • Industrial espionage and competitive disadvantage through the theft of trade secrets and intellectual property   
  • Reputational damage and associated loss of customers and business partners  
  • Financial losses in the form of ransom payments in the event of ransomware attacks, production downtime, recovery costs, or lost revenue  
  • Legal consequences with liability claims due to data breaches or violations of industry-specific regulations and compliance standards  
  • Threats to critical infrastructures such as power grids, water supply, or transportation services, and thus also to public safety  
  • High cost of restoring systems and data after a cyberattack    

What are the types of cyberattacks?  

An image of a wooden trojan horse standing on lines of software code

Cyberattacks differ depending on their objectives and modus operandi. For example, attackers may encrypt data and subsequently demand a ransom to release it. Other attacks are aimed at stealing confidential information, industrial espionage or damaging a company's reputation.   
 
Some of the most common types of cyberattacks are:  
 
  • Malware: Malware includes various malicious software types such as viruses, worms, Trojans or spyware. Malware is used to infect systems, steal data, encrypt data or cause as much damage as possible to the affected system.   
  • Ransomware: Also called crypto or encryption Trojans. Hackers encrypt data on the target computer or network or prevent access in order to demand a high ransom for decryption.
  • Phishing: In phishing attacks, cybercriminals try to trick users into revealing personal data, passwords, or financial information through fake emails, websites, or messages. For example, a phishing-Trojan looks like normal business communication. However, an attached file contains malicious code that is activated when the attachment is opened.  
  • Man-in-the-Middle (MitM): Hackers place themselves between communication partners to intercept, monitor or manipulate data traffic without the participants noticing. The goal may be to collect personal data, passwords or banking details, and/or to convince the victim to take an action such as changing login credentials, completing a transaction or initiating a transfer of funds. 
  • Social engineering: Hackers manipulate people specifically in order to obtain confidential information. In this way, they aim to gain the trust of their victims and persuade them to divulge confidential information, credit card data or passwords.   
  • Insider threats: This type of attack originates from internal employees, contractors, or other trusted parties who abuse their access rights to steal data, publish information, and thus damage the company.  
  • Denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS): These attacks aim to cripple a website, server, or network by driving a large amount of traffic, thereby affecting availability to legitimate users. Spoofing: In these cases, a cybercriminal poses as a known or trusted source, and is able to steal information, extort money or install malware. They may use what appears to be a legitimate domain, an email with a forged sender address or other methods of gaining access to confidential data.  
  • Zero-day exploits: These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in software for which no patch (software update to fix the bug) or security update is available at the time of the attack.  
  • Spoofing: In these cases, a cybercriminal poses as a known or trusted source and is able to steal information, extort money or install malware. They may use what appears to be a legitimate domain, an email with a forged sender address ot other methods of gaining access to confidential data.

How do cyberattacks usually progress?

A figure representing a hacker superimposed on a red background and binary software code

Phase 1: Reconnaissance  

Attackers gather information about their potential target, such as employees and leadership, IT infrastructure, and security measures. They do this using publicly available information or social engineering techniques. Once the hackers have explored what defenses are in place, they choose the right tactics for their attack.  

Phase 2: Initial access  

The next step is to identify a vulnerability in the network or system to gain initial access. This is usually done via malware, phishing emails or exploiting software vulnerabilities. This initial access is then extended to long-term remote access for the organization's environment.   

Phase 3: Extend permissions  

Once access to the network is in place, cybercriminals expand their rights and permissions. They seek administrative accounts or other access to gain more control over the network or systems.   

Phase 4: Extending privileges  

Hackers are now trying to identify what level of security clearance they need to achieve in order to accomplish their own goals. They have control over access channels and credentials they gathered in the previous phases. Finally, the attackers gain access to target data. Mail servers, document management systems, and customer data are compromised.  

Phase 5: Execution  

In the final phase, hackers extract valuable data and trade secrets, corrupt critical systems and disrupt operations. Traces are then covered, and all access indications are eliminated.   

Ten tips for protecting your company against cyberattacks  

Cartoon of a cybercriminal with a key to unlocking confidential information

Protecting against cyberattacks requires a comprehensive security strategy. Here are some key actions and steps that businesses, organizations and individuals can take to better protect their IT infrastructure and data:  
 
  1. Create security awareness through regular training as well as raising employee awareness of the threat of cyberattacks and the importance of safe behaviors when using email, links and downloads.  
  2. Use strong, unique passwords for all accounts and update them regularly.  
  3. Ensure operating systems, applications, and security solutions are up to date to address known security vulnerabilities.  
  4. Implement firewalls and reliable antivirus and antimalware solutions to monitor traffic and detect malicious activity.  
  5. Perform regular backups of all critical data and implement a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy to quickly restore everything in the event of an emergency.  
  6. Encrypt confidential data to ensure that unauthorized parties cannot gain access.  
  7. Implement two-factor authentication to increase account protection.  
  8. Implement real-time monitoring and network traffic analysis tools to detect suspicious activity early. 
  9. Conduct regular security audits and penetration tests to identify and address vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure.  
  10. Create a detailed contingency plan that includes clear instructions on what to do in the event of a cyberattack, and make sure all employees are informed.  
Cyberattacks are a serious and an ongoing threat. Companies and organizations in any industry are equally at risk. So, keep yourself regularly and proactively informed about current threats and security measures to protect yourself and your company in the long term. 
 

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