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By Shane Pollard | Articles |  Blog |  News |  

There are so many risks on the Internet today. As soon as you go online, there is always a possibility that you will encounter one.

In that range of risks, there are various types of computer threats that one should be aware of. One threat may corrupt or damage your operating system while another can steal your sensitive information. Still, there are also those that simply keep track of your actions online and report this to their unseen master which they will use for a number of reasons.

There are new types of threats emerging each year that can harm your company. To keep you abreast, we’ve provided a quick guide on some of the trends in IT security along with a few tips on how you can keep yourself safe against them.

What are Active and Passive Attacks?

One of the first distinctions to learn is that there are active and passive attacks being made today. Both of them differ in the way they are carried out and what their effects are once the perpetrator is successful.

 

Passive Attacks

These attacks occur when a malicious application – which operates to search for network security gaps – has found one and gains entry. These openings can come in the form of active versions of old plugins, vulnerable plugins or open ports.

The ports on a server are mainly how each service or application running on one can send and receive requests from clients. They are all numbered and assigned to a specific service such as that from FTP or email. If a port isn’t secured by a firewall, it leaves it open for external attacks.

Threats known as attacks of chance can also be classified as passive attacks. These normally happen when a program scans the web passively for any open ports and obtain access from there.

A passive attack often involves listening and collecting details in the network. It doesn’t change anything while it is there. It can, however, serve as a staging point for an active attack moving forward.

 

Active Attacks

This type of attack comes with more effort while also being the more dangerous. When an active attack is successful, the goal of the hacker is to change data within a network or system or send data out from the network. One of the ways this can be achieved is through stolen login credentials or through a more complex means such as in a denial of service attack. A DoS attack obtains access to a network and then locks users out of it, leading to all sorts of disruptions until access is returned.

There is also a brute force attack which is a type of active attack that leans towards cryptography. In this approach, a hacker utilises software which attempts to guess the password of a system. The higher the number of characters in the password, the more potential combinations that are generated. This means that it will take longer to crack.

So how can one prevent brute force attacks? The answer is simple, create solid passwords. Aside from that, you can encrypt the data that hackers can get their hands on to provide an extra layer of protection.

Injection attacks are a different type of active attack. They can be much more difficult to keep away from due to their variety which can include XML, command and SQL injections. These attacks focus on the data of web applications and since most of them require data to operate, many of them become targets.

In essence, SQL injection attacks gain control of a database by way of injecting code into the application. This code provides database instructions directly from the attacker. In effect, the database will start performing actions that you didn’t authorise such as by removing data, leaking details or manipulating sensitive information.

There is good news however as these types of attacks can be warded off with simple steps like validation and strong coding of SQL queries. This is something an experienced SQL programmer can help you with. You can also enforce a Least Privilege Principle in case a hacker does break in – allowing you to keep user rights to the bare minimum.

Injection attacks are known to go well with other popular types of attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) or code injection. These two are quite similar, but code injections work by injecting source codes into apps while XSS inputs JavaScript codes in browsers. They both insert instructions into apps to run functions you didn’t authorise. To ward off these attacks, input validation would be the way here.

Social Engineering Attacks

In the digital security world, we human beings are the weakest link. There are at least a couple of ways attackers continue to enter networks: by targeting individuals who use them and through a popular social engineering attack known as phishing. It might seem highly unlikely that someone will give you their password because you asked them, but a lot of hackers actually find this approach faster and easier compared to breaking into the networks manually. And these social engineering attacks rely on manipulation and trust.

It feeds off of the flaws we have as human beings through a variety of impersonation techniques. These attacks can happen over the phone, on social networks or even in person. Once a thief gets an individual to trust them – whether it is through impersonating an authority or someone else they trust – they can usually acquire the details they need to steal their identity.

On the other hand, phishing attacks occur via email. This type of approach has thieves sending out emails that look like they come from a legitimate source with the main goal of getting users to give up their sensitive data. These emails can appear very real as perpetrators can use logos, return addresses, HTML and designs that seem like they are sent by a trusted organization. People who aren’t familiar with spotting phishing campaigns can be very easy to trick.

Millions of phishing emails are sent out on a daily basis and it requires only a minor portion of people that respond to them for the scam to become successful. One of the best ways to safeguard against these attacks is by educating employees by making them aware of these shady emails.

Malware: The Weapon of Choice for Cybercriminals

Malicious software is also another key threat that companies need to protect themselves from. Once downloaded by a computer, malware can do a lot of things such as monitoring activities, accessing crucial data and even creating entryways for hackers to get into the network. These “backdoors” can be especially lethal as they often lead to large-scale attacks later on.

Some of the potential methods to stop malware would be to keep the operating systems updated while having firewalls installed. You can also get help from cybersecurity experts who can set up preventative plans or hire a developer whose speciality is in the removal of malware.

There are different variants of malware today with each one having different functions:

Ransomware – this is the type of malware that locks users out of their computers or important data files until they have paid a ransom to regain access.

Spyware – this malware monitors one’s activity on a computer and then sends this data back to its master.

Worm – these are malware codes the replicate and spread from one computer to the next. Worms can have different effects once inside such as allowing unauthorised network access or using up a server’s memory to take down your website.

Virus – this is a malicious code which attaches to a program and activates whenever a user runs that said program.

Trojan – this type of malware will appear legitimate or useful but is actually causing harm behind your back.

 

There have even been cases where malware was used in ATMs to acquire user details. The most complex malware can run on a system and avoid detection, which is the case for a recently discovered malware which appeared to be state-sponsored and has been hiding in sight for five years.

On the other hand, ransomware basically holds your machine, data or system hostage until you pay up. Most payments are usually made in Bitcoin to avoid detection. There are also popular ransomware encryption programs like CTB-Locker and CryptoWall. Although hackers will constantly update their apps to outsmart antivirus programs, the antivirus software is still your best choice in counteracting this threat.

 

Here are some more ways you can keep safe from ransomware:

  1. Consistently backup files in a secure and external environment where you can access them even if you’re locked out. This is one of the most crucial advice for companies who wish to recover their data from a ransomware breach. It can also be the difference between getting your operations back running or being delayed for hours or even days.
  2. Eliminate malware from the start by having a strong endpoint security system in place. You should educate your users regarding suspicious links, phishing scams and shady attachments while also updating browsers and ad blocks to stop such attacks.
  3. Update your software as obsolete versions can give hackers a gap where they can enter and stage their attacks. Java and Flash plugins are a priority here.

 

There are also malvertising attacks wherein a hacker tries to have malware installed on computers by way of online advertising. This is another approach that hackers do to take advantage of the security chain’s weakest links: human users.

There are websites and advertising domains today that seemingly operate legally but are actually practising malvertising. A good way of preventing this kind of malware from getting through is by using ad blockers and to constantly update browsers.

 The Importance of Encryption

Experts have always seen encryption as that tried and tested method to maintain data safety – whether such data is kept in a repository or is being sent between networks. Once you’re hacked this data is going to be quite difficult for a hacker to crack unless they have the encryption key. Additionally, these encryption keys need to be stored someplace safe and separate from where the encrypted data is located.

For organisations that plan to keep highly crucial data in the long term, encryption should be a priority to keep it protected.

 

Final Thoughts

If there is one truth about cyber-attacks today, it’s that hackers are quite persistent. Even as we continue to upgrade our security systems, these malicious individuals will persevere to find a vulnerability no matter how strong the defences are.

The important thing to stay ahead of these perpetrators is by staying informed. Although this article is just an introduction to the kinds of attacks that can happen, your number one priority should be to stay educated.

If you’re interested in future-proofing your organisation against these cyber threats, contact us to learn how!

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