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7 Most Common Types of Cyber Attacks: How to Spot and Prevent Them

An image of a hacker producing common cyber attacks

There are many ways a malicious actor could get into your systems, and the list of threat vectors is increasing every day. Understanding the types of cyber threats you’re most likely to encounter puts you in a good position to build up your security practices against them. 

This article reviews the 7 most common cyber attacks and best practices you can implement today to strengthen your defenses.

An overview of cyber threat prevention

Eighty-three percent of small and medium-sized businesses are not prepared to recover from the financial damages of a cyber attack. You may know that you need to put better security tools in place, but cyber threat prevention is not just about installing antivirus software; it’s a multi-layered approach that involves technical measures, smart practices and constant vigilance to protect your organization’s sensitive data. 

To be effective, you need to stay informed about the latest threats and the ways bad actors can infiltrate your systems. You must invest in the right tools and put several tactics in place — firewalls, encryption, and intrusion detection systems, to name a few. Fostering a culture of security among all employees and users is key — even the most robust technology can be undermined by human error.

Cybersecurity is a continuous process. As threats evolve, so must your defenses. Regular audits, updates, and user education are all part of a dynamic cyber threat prevention strategy.

7 most common cyber attacks

To effectively prevent and mitigate the most common cyber attacks, you must first know what you’re up against. Let’s look at 7 types of cyber threats and how you can recognize and prepare for them.

1. Malware

Malware, or malicious software, is an umbrella term for various harmful programs designed to infiltrate and damage your organization’s devices. Small businesses are estimated to receive 94% of their malware by email. Viruses attach themselves to clean files, worms burrow through network vulnerabilities, trojans disguise themselves as legitimate software, and spyware hides in the background to monitor your activities. 

You can recognize malware by watching out for symptoms like slower computer performance, unsolicited pop-up windows and unexpected crashes. The best way to prevent it is to keep your security software updated and show employees how to verify links and downloads from unknown sources before clicking on them. Regular scans of your system can help detect threats early on.

2. Phishing

Phishing is one of the most frequent — and effective — types of cyber threats. It is a deceptive practice where attackers pretend to be someone your employee might recognize, like a company executive, and trick them into taking an action through seemingly legitimate emails. These emails lure employees to click on a link or attachment, which then steals their personal information. In 2023, around 31,000 phishing attacks were distributed every day.

To avoid falling victim to one of these attacks, hold regular employee trainings on how to spot a phishing attempt — misspellings in email addresses, generic greetings, and urgent language that pressures them to act quickly. They should always verify the source of an email before clicking on any links or providing any information.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your files so they are inaccessible until a ransom is paid. It can enter your system through malicious downloads or phishing emails.

An unmistakable sign of ransomware is a notification demanding payment to retrieve your data. Prevention is crucial here; once your files are encrypted, your options are limited.

Good cyber threat prevention techniques for this kind of attack include regularly backing up your data to an external drive or cloud service and keeping your company software updated. This way, if you’re hit by ransomware, you can restore your data without giving in to the attacker’s demands.

4. Denial of Service (DoS) attacks

This type of cyber attack aims to disrupt the normal functioning of a targeted server, service, or network by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic. This is done to render the website or service inaccessible to its intended users. Attackers achieve this by exploiting vulnerabilities in the target’s infrastructure or by simply saturating the target with excessive requests, causing it to slow down or crash completely. Estimates of the downtime cost of a DoS attack run in the thousands of dollars per minute.

A significant slowdown in network performance or unavailability of a particular website might indicate a DoS attack. Monitoring traffic can help you spot unusual spikes that are characteristic of these attacks.

Mitigation includes having a good incident response plan, using anti-DoS services and configuring your network hardware to handle unexpected traffic loads.

5. Password attacks

Password attacks occur when cybercriminals attempt to gain unauthorized access to your systems by exploiting weak, default or stolen passwords. A brute force attack is a type of password attack where the attacker attempts every possible password combination until the correct one is found.

You can detect this activity by monitoring failed login attempts or notifications of password changes. To prevent these attacks, enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication, use single sign-on (SSO) and train your employees to use complex, unique passwords for different accounts.

6. Social engineering

In a social engineering attack, a bad actor manipulates individuals into divulging confidential information in person, over the phone or online. Scammers might pose as tech support, a company employee or some other trustworthy source to extract sensitive data from a member of your team.

Educate yourself and your teams about these tactics to develop a healthy skepticism toward suspicious requests. Implement strict protocols around information sharing and ensure your employees verify the identity of anyone who sends an unsolicited request.

7. Insider attacks

An insider cyber attack occurs when someone within your organization — such as an employee, contractor or business partner — misuses their authorized access to harm your information systems or data. These attacks can be intentional or unintentional and may involve theft of proprietary information, sabotage of systems, unauthorized access to sensitive information or data breaches.

To prevent insider threats, restrict access to sensitive data through identity and access management policies, conduct thorough background checks on employees and monitor user activities. Regular security audits and user activity reviews can help identify potential internal threats before they cause harm.

Best practices for preventing different types of cyber threats

Creating a robust defense against the 7 types of cyber threats involves a combination of technology, vigilance, and zero trust security best practices. You must adapt organizational behaviors along with new tools, tactics, and protocols.

Here are some important best practices to put in place to strengthen your security posture.

  • Ensure that your software, including operating systems and applications, is always up to date. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software to gain unauthorized access.
  • Invest in quality antivirus and anti-malware solutions. 
  • Implement strong access controls and use encryption to protect sensitive data both in transit and at rest.
  • Encourage a culture of security in your workplace. Conduct regular training sessions and simulations to keep everyone alert and prepared.
  • Implement a robust firewall to prevent unauthorized access to your network. A virtual private network (VPN) can secure your internet connection, especially when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Regularly back up your data. Choose a backup solution that is reliable and test your backups regularly to ensure they work when you need them most.

How to protect against the most common cyber attacks

The types of cyber threats your organization might encounter are diverse and constantly evolving, but with the right approach, you can significantly reduce your risk. To get a head start on cyber threat prevention, consider using NinjaOne’s built-in tools for endpoint security

Ninja gives you complete control over end-user devices, enabling you to manage applications, remotely edit registries, deploy scripts and mass configure devices. Ensure your technicians have exactly the access they need, and you will have the ability to manage that access at scale. Start your free trial here.

Next Steps

The fundamentals of device security are critical to your overall security posture. NinjaOne makes it easy to patch, harden, secure, and backup all their devices centrally, remotely, and at scale.

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