Top 10 Common Types of Cybersecurity Attacks
Modified on: Fri, 28 Jan, 2022 at 5:26 PM
Top 10 Common Types of Cybersecurity Attacks
The term “malware” encompasses various types of attacks including spyware, viruses, and worms. Malware uses a vulnerability to breach a network when a user clicks a “planted” dangerous link or email attachment, which is used to install malicious software inside the system.
Malware and malicious files inside a computer system can:
Deny access to the critical components of the network
Obtain information by retrieving data from the hard drive
Disrupt the system or even render it inoperable
Malware is so common that there is a large variety of modus operandi. The most common types are:
Viruses—these infect applications attaching themselves to the initialization sequence. The virus replicates itself, infecting other code in the computer system. Viruses can also attach themselves to executable code or associate themselves with a file by creating a virus file with the same name but with a .exe extension, thus creating a decoy that carries the virus.
Trojans—a program hiding inside a useful program with malicious purposes. Unlike viruses, a trojan doesn’t replicate itself and it is commonly used to establish a backdoor to be exploited by attackers.
Worms—unlike viruses, they don’t attack the host, being self-contained programs that propagate across networks and computers. Worms are often installed through email attachments, sending a copy of themselves to every contact in the infected computer email list. They have commonly been used to overload an email server and achieve a denial-of-service attack.
Ransomware—a type of malware that denies access to the victim's data, threatening to publish or delete it unless a ransom is paid. Advanced ransomware uses cryptoviral extortion, encrypting the victim’s data so that it is impossible to decrypt without the decryption key.
Spyware—a type of program installed to collect information about users, their systems or browsing habits, sending the data to a remote user. The attacker can then use the information for blackmailing purposes or download and install other malicious programs from the web.
Phishing attacks are extremely common and involve sending mass amounts of fraudulent emails to unsuspecting users, disguised as coming from a reliable source. The fraudulent emails often have the appearance of being legitimate, but link the recipient to a malicious file or script designed to grant attackers access to your device to control it or gather recon, install malicious scripts/files, or to extract data such as user information, financial info, and more.
Phishing attacks can also take place via social networks and other online communities, via direct messages from other users with hidden intent. Phishers often leverage social engineering and other public information sources to collect info about your work, interests, and activities—giving attackers an edge in convincing you they’re not who they say.
There are several different types of phishing attacks, including:
Spear Phishing—targeted attacks directed at specific companies and/or individuals.
Whaling—attacks targeting senior executives and stakeholders within an organization.
Pharming—leverages DNS cache poisoning to capture user credentials through a fake login landing page.
Phishing attacks can also take place via phone calls (voice phishing) and via text messages (SMS phishing). This post highlights additional details about phishing attacks—how to spot them and how to prevent them.
3. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks
Occurs when an attacker intercepts a two-party transaction, inserting themselves in the middle. From there, cyber attackers can steal and manipulate data by interrupting traffic.
This type of attack usually exploits security vulnerabilities in a network, such as an unsecured public WiFi, to insert themselves between a visitor’s device and the network. The problem with this kind of attack is that it is very difficult to detect, as the victim thinks the information is going to a legitimate destination. Phishing or malware attacks are often leveraged to carry out a MitM attack.
4. Denial-of-Service (DOS) Attack
DOS attacks work by flooding systems, servers, and/or networks with traffic to overload resources and bandwidth. This result is rendering the system unable to process and fulfill legitimate requests. In addition to denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, there are also distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
DoS attacks saturate a system’s resources with the goal of impeding response to service requests. On the other hand, a DDoS attack is launched from several infected host machines with the goal of achieving service denial and taking a system offline, thus paving the way for another attack to enter the network/environment.
The most common types of DoS and DDoS attacks are the TCP SYN flood attack, teardrop attack, smurf attack, ping-of-death attack, and botnets.
5. SQL Injections
This occurs when an attacker inserts malicious code into a server using server query language (SQL) forcing the server to deliver protected information. This type of attack usually involves submitting malicious code into an unprotected website comment or search box. Secure coding practices such as using prepared statements with parameterized queries are an effective way to prevent SQL injections.
When a SQL Command uses a parameter instead of inserting the values directly, it can allow the backend to run malicious queries. Moreover, the SQL interpreter uses the parameter only as data, without executing it as a code. Learn more about how secure coding practices can prevent SQL injection here.
6. Zero-day Exploit
A Zero-day Exploit refers to exploiting a network vulnerability when it is new and recently announced — before a patch is released and/or implemented. Zero-day attackers jump at the disclosed vulnerability in the small window of time where no solution/preventative measures exist. Thus, preventing zero-day attacks requires constant monitoring, proactive detection, and agile threat management practices.
7. Password Attack
Passwords are the most widespread method of authenticating access to a secure information system, making them an attractive target for cyber attackers. By accessing a person’s password, an attacker can gain entry to confidential or critical data and systems, including the ability to manipulate and control said data/systems.
Password attackers use a myriad of methods to identify an individual password, including using social engineering, gaining access to a password database, testing the network connection to obtain unencrypted passwords, or simply guessing.
The last method mentioned is executed in a systematic manner known as a “brute-force attack.” A brute-force attack employs a program to try all the possible variants and combinations of information to guess the password.
Another common method is the dictionary attack when the attacker uses a list of common passwords to attempt to gain access to a user’s computer and network. Account lockout best practices and two-factor authentication are very useful at preventing a password attack. Account lockout features can freeze the account out after a number of invalid password attempts and two-factor authentication add an additional layer of security, requiring the user logging in to enter a secondary code only available on their 2FA device(s).
8. Cross-site Scripting
Additional information about cross-site scripting attacks can be found here.
Rootkits are installed inside legitimate software, where they can gain remote control and administration-level access over a system. The attacker then uses the rootkit to steal passwords, keys, credentials, and retrieve critical data.
Since rootkits hide in legitimate software, once you allow the program to make changes in your OS, the rootkit installs itself in the system (host, computer, server, etc.) and remains dormant until the attacker activates it or it’s triggered through a persistence mechanism. Rootkits are commonly spread through email attachments and downloads from insecure websites.
10. Internet of Things (IoT) Attacks
While internet connectivity across almost every imaginable device creates convenience and ease for individuals, it also presents a growing—almost unlimited—number of access points for attackers to exploit and wreak havoc. The interconnectedness of things makes it possible for attackers to breach an entry point and use it as a gate to exploit other devices in the network.
IoT attacks are becoming more popular due to the rapid growth of IoT devices and (in general) low priority given to embedded security in these devices and their operating systems. In one IoT attack case, a Vegas casino was attacked and the hacker gained entry via an internet-connected thermometer inside one of the casino’s fishtanks.
Best practices to help prevent an IoT attack include updating the OS keeping a strong password for every IoT device on your network, and changing passwords often.