What is a Cyber Attack: Definition
A cyber attack is an offensive action taken by cyber criminals to steal, destroy, or alter sensitive data or information.
NIST defines a cyber attack as “An attack, via cyberspace, targeting an enterprise’s use of cyberspace for the purpose of disrupting, disabling, destroying, or maliciously controlling a computing environment/infrastructure; or destroying the integrity of the data or stealing controlled information.”
Threat actors launch cyber-attacks to primarily compromise credit card details, bank account secrets, national security secrets, login credentials, and personal data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). A successful cyber crime compromise data Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability (CIA), also known as the CIA triad.
The Alarming Rise in Cyber Attacks
In recent years witnessed a massive rise in cyber threats and attacks. According to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigation Report, 82% of data breaches involved a human element, including misuse, errors, and social engineering attacks.
Moreover, researchers witnessed a 13% increase in ransomware attacks than in the last five years combined. Cybersecurity Ventures predicts global ransomware damage costs as $265 billion by 2031.
Cybersecurity threats and attacks have become very sophisticated and fast. As a result, individuals and companies must follow the best practices to ensure cyber resilience and computer security. Here is some help!
1. Evaluate Current Cybersecurity Posture
Knowing what needs to be protected before applying any cybersecurity control is essential.
No sooner do you have information about your digital assets, which need protection, than you will be able to deploy appropriate security to protect them. First, you must know the following question about your asset:
- What is your data?
- Who are potential cybercriminals to compromise such private data?
- What is sensitivity level (e.g., low, medium, high, very high)?
- What are the potential consequences in the event of a data breach?
Once you evaluate the above questions, you can easily estimate the budget spending.
For big companies, security professionals often recommend a Security Operation Center (SOC) that incorporates people, technology, and processes to ensure a robust cybersecurity defense.
The SOC provides multilayer security for your computer systems, mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud infrastructure, and network devices.
2. Implement Physical Security and Environmental Controls
You must ensure the physical security of your sensitive data and information.
Security experts must deploy detection, prevention, and deterrence strategies to stop physical security violations. An unauthorized person must not reach critical servers or information systems. To this end, security practitioners recommend the following physical controls.
Hardware locks ensure you properly lock gates and doors to prevent unknown identities from entering the facility.
Other vital hardware locks include electronic or smart locks, biometric locks, and Electronic Access Control (EAC).
Mantrap is another essential physical security control that consists of an enclosed space between two sets of interlocking doors.
One door allows a trusted entry, while the second enables a man to exit. The Mantrap follows several steps:
- A man gets access to the Mantrap.
- Both doors become locked.
- The person can get out from the Mantrap if he has legal authentication to open the inner door. However, if he cannot do so, Mantrap will ring an alarm, and a suspicious person will be detained in the Mantrap.
Biometrics is an identification system, such as a retina or fingerprint, to gain authorized access to a corporate facility. A biometric is usually used for a staff member.
Guards are the basic requirements of any successful physical security because they deter intrusions and physical attacks.
Barricades and Fencing
Barricades effectively block access for vehicles and foot traffic. They act as the first line of defense in any critical organization, such as the military.
Some famous barricades include bollards, fire shredders, zigzag queues, and large planters.
Likewise, fencing also controls traffic by differentiating between protected and non-protected areas. Examples include laser beams, chain-link fences, barbed wires, and concrete walls.
Video cameras act as the best deterrence mechanism against intruders. Video surveillance can record incidents and create a climate of fear for bad guys.
Signs and Proper Lighting
Signs display safety warnings. Furthermore, lighting helps to discourage trespassers, intruders, and prowlers.
Alarms and Motion Detection
Different types of alarms, such as notification, repellant, and deterrent, are used to be mindful of suspicious activities. Contrarily, motion detectors observe movement in a specific area.
The environment can badly affect your corporate facility.
For example, floods or fire eruptions can destroy your critical systems and data. Therefore, you must deploy Environmental Controls to prevent data loss. Below is the list of some vital Environmental Controls:
- Heat, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
- Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) Shielding
- Fire Suppression
- Temperature and Humidity Controls
- Environmental Monitoring
3. Use Secure Passwords
A password is a basic form of the online authentication system. Unfortunately, it is also the weakest form of security.
To make ease of life, employees often use the same password for multiple accounts because remembering too many passwords is daunting.
According to the LastPass’ Global Password Security Report, an employee reuses a password 13 times on average. Reusing the same password can create a risk to multiple accounts.
Hackers compromise passwords using various techniques, including Brute-Force Attack, Rainbow Table Attack, Password Spraying, Phishing Attack, Credential Stuffing Attack, and Dictionary Attack. To avoid password attacks, users must adhere to the following guidelines:
- Length is the key to password security. Strong passwords consist of at least eight characters. Use upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, numbers, special characters, and combinations.
- Don’t use common passwords such as 12345, 00000, data of birth, first name or last name, country name, or any other phrase that cyber pests can easily guess.
- Never use the same password for multiple accounts. Instead, use different and secure passwords for every account.
- Use a password manager to store various passwords in a secure place. The password manager provides robust encryption, Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), secure notes, password generator, password vault, and dark web monitoring.
- Be wary of the Single Sign-On (SSO). Although SSO solves the problem of having to log in, again and again, every time to access a new service, the dark side cannot be steered clear of. Centralizing things can create a single point of failure. For example, if an employee has one account for all of its services, threat actors can access everything if they successfully compromise this account.
- Never share your password with anyone. Always keep your passwords private and respect the privacy of passwords.
- Don’t allow your web browsers to remember passwords. It can be risky as most browsers are not up to the mark regarding security. However, using a password manager is one of the best practices.
- Comply with your company’s password policy.
- Look at the NIST Password Guidelines 2022.
4. Prevent Social Engineering Attacks
Social engineers exploit human weaknesses and trick them into revealing sensitive data.
The best example is phishing scams, in which scammers deliver a phishing email containing infected email attachments or malicious links.
No sooner a victim opens an attachment or link than a malicious payload is dropped into his machine. After that, the attack can spread to multiple systems.
Social engineers can take control of them by establishing a Botnet, a network of Zombies (infected systems) through the Command and Control (C&C) server.
Other notorious social engineering attacks include Water Hole, Dumpster Driving, Vishing, Whaling, Impersonation, Baiting, Quid Pro Quo, Virus Hoaxes, and Tantalizing Emails.
The following sections list a great way to put an end to the social engineering attacks.
- Beware of malicious attachments, links, or emails.
- Poor grammar and spelling mistakes also indicate a phishing email.
- Stay alert to “too good to be true.” Don’t accept free offers, lotteries, or gifts from unknown persons.
- Use an Email Spam Filter from a renowned cybersecurity company, such as Norton, McAfee, SpamTitan, Mailwasher, ZEROSPM, or Comodo Dome Antispam.
- Avoid using removable media.
- Always pay heed to your corporate email policies.
- Choose and configure your email client.
- If you find anything suspicious, immediately report it to your IT department.
- Close accounts of former employees and address the disgruntled workforce.
5. Always Use Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is multilayered electronic protection that involves additional factors to authenticate a user on a website or other web applications.
According to Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), an official website of the US Government, “Multi-Factor Authentication is a layered approach to securing data and applications where a system requires a user to present a combination of two or more credentials to verify a user’s identity for login.”
The user must provide proof of identity to get access to a network. The examples of additional factors are listed below:
- Something you are: Biometric such as retina or fingerprint scanner.
- Something you have: Such as a Token or a secure USB key
- Something you know: Such as a password or PIN
The MFA works very well because even if hackers successfully know the first factor, they will not be able to meet the second or third factor. Read NIST documents to learn more about the MFA.
6. Make a Smart Habit of Patching and Updating Software
A Patch is a piece of the software update and Operating System (OS) updates that deal with security vulnerabilities or a bug within a software program.
In fact, the Patch is a type of software update. When a new update arrives, the vendor puts it on his official website, where users can download and install it.
The CISA recommends periodic software updates to prevent vulnerabilities and enhance security features.
Below is a list of other CISA recommendations:
- Download system updates from the trusted vendor’s website.
- If you receive updates via email, scan them first using Spam Filter software and follow the guidelines about preventing social engineering attacks given in the previous section.
- Don’t download updates through an untrusted network, such as a coffee shop, hotel, hospital, or airport.
- Prefer using Virtual Private Network (VPN) before downloading updates.
- Better use automatic updates on a regular basis to secure a system on time.
7. Deploy Next Generation Firewall and Security Software
A Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) is a network security system that processes and filters network traffic.
Unlike a traditional, stateful firewall, the NGFW incorporates extra features like integrated intrusion prevention, application awareness and control, and a cloud-delivered threat intelligence system.
According to Gartner, Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) are deep-packet inspection firewalls that move beyond port/protocol inspection and blocking to add application-level inspection, intrusion prevention, and bringing intelligence from outside the firewall.
In addition to deploying NGFW, you must install the best anti-virus software (such as Norton, McAfee, Avast, etc.), Endpoint Protection, Password Manager, Spam Filter, Security Information System, and Event Management (SIEM), etc.
8. Perform Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing
Vulnerability is a potential weakness in your system that can provide a porous hole to threat actors. Vulnerability Assessment is a security practice that looks for a hidden or disclosed vulnerability.
On the other hand, Penetration Testing is a simulated cyber attack on a system, network, or website to evaluate its security. The Penetration Testing ensures that critical infrastructure is safe and secure.
9. Use Proactive Cybersecurity Defense
Today’s cybersecurity threats and attacks are very sophisticated. Therefore, traditional signature-based, reactive security approaches are useless nowadays.
As a last resort, security professionals recommend using proactive cybersecurity defense.
As a matter of fact, a reactive security system (such as signature-based antivirus software) works after the occurrence of the attack.
Contrarily, a proactive cyber strategy executes before the occurrence of the cyber attack.
In fact, a proactive system such as the Threat Hunting technique prevents attacks by proactively monitoring the system and network.
Furthermore, it iteratively and preemptively identifies security breaches and adds processes to discover cyber threats before they occur.
The following steps demonstrate the working of Threat Hunting:
- Collect Data
- Create a Hypotheses
- Exploration and Analysis
- Intrusion Assessment
- Enrichment and Automation
10. Backup and Encryption
Data backup is the best practice of duplicating data from a primary to a secondary location.
Data backup aims to protect it during a disaster or a security incident.
For example, suppose malicious actors compromise your confidential information or encrypt it through a ransomware attack.
In that case, you can still use your backup copy and not worry about the lost private information.
Encryption is a branch of cryptography. In fact, data Encryption is the best security practice that encrypts plaintext into a cipher text, which is an unreadable form for human beings.
Users need decryption keys such as a public or private key to unlock data.
Some examples of encryption schemes encompass DES Encryption, 3DES Encryption, RSA Encryption, AES Encryption, RC4 Encryption, and Twofish encryption. Two primary cryptography schemes include Symmetric and Asymmetric encryption.
What are the 5 types of cyber attacks?
Below is the list of 5 types of cyber attacks:
- Social Engineering Attacks (e.g., Phishing, Spear Phishing, Tailgating, Shoulder Surfing, Vishing, Smishing, Hoaxing, etc.)
- Application Attacks (e.g., Denial of Service attack, DDoS attack, MITM attacks, Buffer overflow, DNS Poisoning, Zero Day Attack, SQL Injection, etc.)
- Wireless Attacks (e.g., Replay, Evil Twin, Bluejacking, Jamming, Rogue AP, NFC, RFID, Bluesnarfing, etc.)
- Cryptographic Attacks (e.g., Birthday, Dictionary, Rainbow Tables, Birthday, Brute Force, Downgrade, Collision, and so forth).
- Malware Attacks (e.g., Logic Bomb, Fileless Malware, Worm, Spyware, Adware, Trojan Horse, Kaiji, Crypto-jacking, Backdoor, Ransomware, RAT, Hybrid Malware, Keylogger, Bots, etc.
It would be best to look at MITRE ATT&CK, an extensive knowledge base and concise framework of more than 200 threat techniques.
What causes a cyber attack?
One of the leading causes of cyber attacks is poor cybersecurity posture. In addition, the human element is the second one that causes social engineering attacks.
What is the biggest cyber attack?
According to BBC, NotPetya –uncontrollable destruction – is considered the costliest cyber-attack in history. The US, UK, and EU authorities blamed hackers backed by the Russian military. The attack inflicted around $10 billion (£7.5 billion) damage.
What do cyber-attacks look like?
A cyber-attack is a digital attack that fraudulently attempts to steal data and private information. Look at the following figure to see a ransomware attack.
How many cyber attacks occur daily?
According to statistics by security magazine.com, 2,244 cyber-attacks occur daily on average. Furthermore, malicious actors launch an attack after every 39 seconds.
The Final Word
Your internet connection invites online crimes, such as identity theft or data loss. Data breaches can create compliance issues, financial loss, and reputational damage. Therefore, protecting critical infrastructure and personal information is inevitable. This guide has explored ten cybersecurity best practices to prevent cyber-attacks.
- CompTIA Security+ Certification Domains
- Cybersecurity for Dummies – Second Edition – by Joseph Steinberg
- Advanced Cybersecurity Technologies by Ralph Moseley – CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group)
- The Cyber Security Self-help Guide by Arun Soni – CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group)
- Cloud Attack Vectors by Morey, Brian, and Christopher Hills – Apress