Cyberattacks have taken the lead as the most prominent threat to business continuity and stability — and this trend is likely to continue. Learn about today’s common and most dangerous cyberattacks (and what you can do to protect your business from them).
Cyberattacks have emerged as the foremost threat to modern businesses in 2023. To offer a sense of perspective, this means that digital threats have surpassed even the challenges posed by investment uncertainty, legislation changes, workforce shortages, and natural catastrophes. And while there are many different factors that contribute, this escalating cyber risk can be tied directly back to our increasing connectivity and growing dependence on digital technologies. As a result, cyber threats have not only become more sophisticated but are also much more widely accessible to threat actors than they’ve ever been before.
In the midst of this digital upheaval, organizations in every industry are scrambling to address critical cybersecurity issues. In its most recent annual Cost of Data Breach Report, IBM shares that the price of damages associated with a single successful cyberattack averages out to $4.35 million, and the average cost of a critical infrastructure breach is a whopping $4.82 million. As such, a robust cybersecurity strategy is no longer simply a competitive differentiator — it’s become an imperative for the very survival of the business.
Still, before any kind of cybersecurity strategy may be implemented, organizations must first lay a foundation of knowledge, particularly regarding the individual threats that are poised to infiltrate and disrupt essential digital networks. In this guide, we take a closer look at today’s most insidious cyberattack techniques, reveal which industries and sectors are being most heavily targeted, highlight the potential damages resulting from successful data breaches, and discuss essential cybersecurity measures that organizations should consider adopting to navigate the ever-expanding cyberthreat landscape.
Common Cyberattack Techniques
What is it that makes cyberattacks such a pervasive threat? Part of the issue is that there are so many different techniques criminals can use to gain unauthorized access to restricted networks and sensitive data — and new approaches are constantly evolving. Among the most common (yet effective) cyberattack variations are:
Social engineering attacks exploit human psychology to manipulate individuals into revealing confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. Attackers employ techniques such as pretexting, baiting, or phishing to exploit trust and exploit vulnerabilities.
A form of social engineering, phishing attacks (and the more-targeted variation, spear phishing) involve deceptive tactics aimed at tricking individuals into divulging sensitive information such as login credentials, credit card details, or personal data. Typically, attackers pose as trustworthy entities through emails, messages, or websites, luring victims into unwittingly sharing their confidential information.
Malware (short for malicious software), encompasses a broad range of malicious programs designed to gain unauthorized access, cause damage, or steal/alter data from within compromised systems. Malware infections can occur through many separate vectors, including email attachments, infected downloads, or compromised websites. Common types of malware include viruses, worms, Trojans, and ransomware.
Ransomware is a form of malware designed to infiltrate systems and encrypt data before notifying the target that the systems or data will remain inaccessible until a ransom is paid to the attackers. These attacks hold digital resources hostage and can have severe consequences — disrupting business operations, causing financial losses, and compromising sensitive information.
Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks
Denial-of-service attacks aim to disrupt the availability of a service, rendering it inaccessible to legitimate users. Attackers overwhelm a target’s resources (such as servers or networks), resulting in increased network latency or unresponsiveness.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
Digital communication depends on the capability to send and receive digital information directly and securely. Man-in-the-middle attacks insert an additional layer into this process, effectively positioning a malicious actor between two parties for the purpose of eavesdropping on or altering communications. By intercepting the data transfer between legitimate users and systems, attackers compromise sensitive information, including login credentials, financial details, or confidential business communications.
Code injections occur when attackers introduce malicious code into a vulnerable application. Common types of code injections include SQL injections and cross-site scripting (XSS). Because all programs are built on code on a fundamental level, a successful code injection can provide attackers with unrestricted access to the compromised system.
DNS tunneling is a technique used by attackers to bypass network security measures by encapsulating malicious data within DNS queries and responses. By exploiting the DNS protocol, attackers can establish covert communication channels and exfiltrate data from compromised systems.
With the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, cybercriminals have found new avenues to exploit vulnerabilities and launch attacks. Inadequate security measures in IoT devices, such as cameras, smart home systems, or industrial control systems, can provide entry points for attackers to gain unauthorized access, compromise privacy, or conduct large-scale distributed denial-of-service attacks.
While most cyber security measures focus on keeping threat actors out of the system, insider threats are too often overlooked. These attackers originate from within an organization, either unintentionally or maliciously, and may involve employees, contractors, or individuals with privileged access who abuse their authority or otherwise compromise security controls.
Targeted Industries and Sectors
Long gone are the days when an organization could ‘fly under the radar’ to avoid being targeted by cyber attackers. Thanks to automated hacking tools, modern threat actors can catch a much wider net, indiscriminately preying on companies of all shapes and sizes. Additionally, it’s worth recognizing that threat actors are opportunistic and will exploit vulnerabilities wherever they find them.
That said, certain industries have become prime targets due to the potential value of the assets they possess, the critical services they provide, or the vulnerabilities inherent in their operations. Understanding why these industries are preferred targets can help organizations within these sectors better prioritize their cybersecurity efforts. The following are some of the industries and sectors that have experienced increased victimization:
Financial institutions, including banks, credit card companies, and investment firms, have always been prime targets for cybersecurity attacks. It’s not difficult to see why. These organizations handle vast amounts of valuable data, such as financial transactions, personally identifiable information (PII), and intellectual property. Additionally, the financial sector’s interconnectedness and reliance on digital systems make it an attractive target for threat actors seeking financial gain through data breaches, account compromises, or fraudulent transactions.
Hospitals, clinics, medical research institutions, and other healthcare organizations hold sensitive patient information and valuable medical research data. These organizations have increasingly digitized their operations, making them susceptible to cyberattacks, where threat actors target healthcare systems to gain access to patient records and steal personally identifiable information. More alarmingly, some attackers may specifically target critical healthcare services — not for financial gain, but to cause disruption and create chaos.
At both local and national levels, government agencies possess vast amounts of sensitive data — ranging from classified information to citizen records. These agencies play a critical role in national security, public administration, and infrastructure management. Cyberattacks targeting government agencies can have far-reaching consequences, including compromised national security, data leaks, or disruptions to essential public services.
Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
While larger organizations often make headlines when it comes to cyberattacks, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly being targeted. This may be because SMEs often lack the resources and expertise to establish comprehensive cybersecurity defenses, making them more vulnerable to cybercriminals. Moreover, SMEs are often part of complex supply chains, providing possible entry points for attackers seeking to compromise larger organizations.
Data Breaches and Privacy Concerns
As mentioned previously, the cost of a single breach can easily number in the millions of dollars, potentially ruining the targeted organization. But companies aren’t the only victims; In this interconnected digital world, most transactions and interactions involve the exchange of data, and much of that data is tied to the identity of the customer. When a breach causes this data to fall into the wrong hands, it can lead to severe privacy concerns and potentially harm the people who do business with the company.
Personal Identifiable Information (PII) describes any data that can be used to identify an individual — names, addresses, social security numbers, email addresses, phone numbers, financial information, and even biometric data (such as from some IoT devices). In the wrong hands, this information can be exploited for identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities. PII doesn’t even need to be a complete dataset for it to be dangerous; incomplete PII information can be used in conjunction with information from other sources to create a more complete picture of the customer’s identity.
Customers whose PII has been compromised face significant risks, such as unauthorized access to their accounts, fraudulent transactions, or targeted phishing attempts.
To address these privacy concerns and protect individuals’ data, governments around the world are enacting data protection regulations. Designed to promote accountability among companies that collect and store user data, these laws carry with them steep penalties, and new legislation is constantly being introduced.
Notable examples of data-security legislation include the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States. These regulations impose specific requirements on businesses, including data breach notification obligations, the implementation of appropriate security measures, and regulations about obtaining explicit consent from customers for data collection and processing.
Cyberattacks are evolving, becoming more sophisticated every day. Thankfully, the methodologies, tools, and processes that are available to organizations to mitigate cybersecurity threats are evolving as well. Applied correctly, these advances in information technology and data protection can help ensure security and continuity in an ever-shifting landscape.
The following are key cybersecurity measures that every organization should consider:
MXDR (Managed Extended Detection and Response) combines advanced threat detection and response capabilities with proactive threat hunting. MXDR solutions leverage AI-driven analytics and machine learning to identify and respond to threats across expansive, diverse digital environments, including on-premises networks, cloud infrastructure, and endpoint devices. By monitoring and analyzing network traffic, log data, and endpoint activities, MXDR helps organizations detect and respond to cyber threats swiftly, minimizing potential damage and reducing response times.
One of the key advantages of MXDR is its ability to harness the power of human support alongside automated threat detection and response capabilities. With MXDR, organizations benefit from a team of dedicated experts who continuously monitor and analyze their systems, proactively hunt for threats, and provide real-time security intelligence. This human element enhances the effectiveness of the MXDR solution, allowing for an extremely nuanced approach to threat analysis and response that automated tools alone may struggle to provide.
Click here to learn more about MXDR.
Vulnerability mitigation is a set of tools and processes for identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems, applications, and network infrastructure. This includes conducting regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify weaknesses and prioritize remediation efforts. Implementing patches and updates promptly, using secure coding practices, and employing secure configurations for systems and applications are all essential for reducing the attack surface and minimizing the potential impact of cyber threats.
The most effective vulnerability mitigation solutions prioritize threats based on the risk they pose to the company, allowing security teams to address the vulnerabilities with the highest damage potential first, for an efficient and deliberate mitigation strategy.
Click here for a more in-depth look at vulnerability mitigation.
SOC as a Service
SOC (Security Operations Center) as a Service refers to outsourcing security monitoring and incident response functions to a third-party provider. SOC as a Service providers offer continuous monitoring, log analysis, threat intelligence, and incident response support, helping organizations detect and respond to cyber threats effectively.
Fielding an in-house security response team demands a massive investment in terms of time, training, and costs. By instead leveraging the expertise of specialized security professionals and advanced security technologies, organizations can enhance their threat detection capabilities and incident response readiness without having to significantly expand their staffing requirements.
Click here to see how modern cyber defense centers can incorporate SOC as a service into their cybersecurity strategy.
The internet is no longer confined to desktop computers, laptops, or even mobile smart devices. The internet of things now encompasses a range of everyday objects, enhanced through online connectivity. Unfortunately, with the proliferation of IoT devices, organizations must prioritize IoT security.
IoT devices often have limited security controls, making them potential entry points for cyberattacks. Implementing strong authentication mechanisms, encrypting IoT communications, regularly updating firmware, and segmenting IoT networks from critical infrastructure are essential measures to protect against IoT-based threats.
Click here to see what IoT security looks like in action.
Incident response is a structured approach to managing and responding to cybersecurity incidents. This involves preparing an incident response plan to establish a set of approved processes to follow in the event of a data breach. Additionally, forming a dedicated incident response team and conducting regular incident response exercises help ensure that, when emergencies occur, everyone knows their responsibilities and what next steps to take.
Effective incident response includes plans and processes for the timely detection and containment of incidents, investigation and analysis of the attack, eradication of threats, and recovery and restoration of systems. A well-defined incident response process minimizes the impact of a cyberattack and helps organizations return to normal operations quickly.
Safeguarding the Digital Frontier
Today, cybersecurity attacks represent a greater threat to business than any other. But while the threat of cyberattacks is very real, organizations should take comfort in the fact that there are steps they can take to reduce their risk. By adopting cybersecurity measures such as MXDR, vulnerability mitigation, SOC as a Service, IoT security, and incident response, companies in every sector can bolster their defenses and provide increased protection for their networks, their assets, and the customers who do business with them.
Ready to get started? Ontinue, the recipient of the prestigious 2023 Microsoft Security Services Innovator award in the Microsoft Security Excellence Awards, offers the essential resources and comprehensive support businesses can depend on to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of cyberattacks. Click here to download the Ontinue “5 Signs MDR is Right for Your Organization” ebook, and see what reduced cybersecurity risk can mean for your organization.