What are cyber threats?
A cyber threat is basically any type of threat that is computer related in nature. To be clear, a computer could be a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet or even a smartphone. All of these devices have particular types of threats that they can be exposed to that users need to be aware of to ensure that they can protect themselves and their confidential information.
Given the number of different types of devices that can be exposed to cyber threats, there are a number of different types of issues that can present themselves. Each of these threats is unique in its own right and poses a different type of issue for the user, but typically they all have the same end result… the impacted system is somehow compromised and the user, or the user’s information, is placed at risk. While the list below is extensive, it is not all inclusive. There are far too many types of threats out in the wild of the Internet to list in one article. What I do hope to do is to list those that are most prevalent and give the reader a good overview of what the threat is and how it is often used to do damage to both home and corporate networks.
While typically the most feared of all cyber threats, hacking is actually the least common when it comes down to the individual. Hacking tends to be a cyber threat that focuses on organizations and companies, or even nation states. Why? Because rather than gaining access to the confidential information of one computer user, the hacker or hackers have the opportunity to gain access to the confidential information of hundreds or even tens of thousands of users. Now that’s not to say that there can’t be targeted cyber-attacks against an individual, but they are far less common than the attacks that are broader in scope.
Social engineering may not be a term that many people of heard of, but they have often heard of the different types of social engineering attacks such as phishing (attacks over email), vishing (attacks over phone) and smishing (attacks over SMS or text messaging). While many cyber security threats are technical in nature, phishing and the like are confidence games that take advantage of the trust that people have in each other in order to get sensitive information from them. Social engineering attacks can take place at the personal or corporate level depending upon what the attacker is trying to do and how much information they hope to gain.
Physical Security Attacks
While closely related to social engineering attacks, physical security attacks focus on breaching the physical security controls of an organization in an effort to gain access to the physical data housed within an organization. This could be patient files at a hospital or clinic, or it could be sales projections from a clothing chain. Gaining physical access could also be a cyber security attack that allows the attacker to gain access to a network where they can plug their computer in and perhaps capture unencrypted network traffic that they can then use to formulate a cyber security attack against the computer systems of the organization.
Viruses and Malware
Two of the most current cyber threats that people tend to worry about are viruses and other types of malware that may infect their computer, tablet, or even their smartphone. Viruses and malware come in many different variants and have different traits. Suffice to say that first and foremost they want to infect your device. After your device is infected, they may try to install a program that is known as a Trojan Horse that may give the attacker access to your device and allow them to see what is on your screen, steal your files, or even take over your computer entirely. Other types of viruses and malware may try to delete your computer files or otherwise make your computer unusable while still others may use your computer as a jumping point to get to other computers either on your home network or your corporate network at work.
While some may call it just another type of malware, I do want to call out ransomware. This is particularly because it is a fairly new cyber security threat but also because of the damage that it can do to either a home network or a corporate network. For the uninitiated, ransomware is a type of software that encrypts files or entire hard drives with strong encryption and then asks the user or company to pay a "ransom", typically in Bitcoin, in order to obtain the decryption key to unlock the files and/or the drive. While many times if the ransom is paid, the decryption key is provided, there are times when it is not, and unless the user or company has a good backup of all of the file or files, then there is a good chance that they are placed into a position where the file and the data that it housed is either lost entirely or it must be recreated using an old file that must be updated to reflect the correct information.
As this article illustrates, there are a number of cyber security threats that can present themselves to an individual or company at any given moment. But there are things that you can do to protect yourself or that your company can do to protect its users and data. Examples include:
- Ensuring that all computer systems are kept up-to-date with the latest patches to guarantee that they are protected against the latest threats.
- Install and continually update antivirus and antimalware software to protect against Trojan Horse programs, ransomware and other types of malware.
- Take or provide information security training so that the signs of social engineering can be easily spotted, and subsequently thwarted, whether the attack is against an individual or an entire company.
- For businesses, constantly evaluate the physical security of your organization to make sure that exterior doors are properly secured, camera systems are in place and checked on a regular basis, and that alarm systems are validated regularly to ensure that they are sending alarm signals to the monitoring station.
By taking these simple steps, both the home user and the company can protect themselves against many of the most common types of cyber security attacks and keep their personal and/or corporate information safe from theft and misuse.
Tom DeSot is EVP & Chief Information Officer of Digital Defense, Inc. He is charged with developing and maintaining relationships with influential industry and market regulators, identifying key integration and service partnerships and serving as the prime regulatory compliance resource for external and internal contacts. He also serves as the company’s internal auditor on security-related matters. Prior to joining Digital Defense, DeSot served as vice president of information systems for a mid-tier financial institution in San Antonio, TX.