What is a Cybersecurity Attack?
A cybersecurity attack is an effort by a malicious threat actor to gain unauthorized access to a computer information system, network, database, or a personal computing device.
Cybersecurity attacks may be perpetrated by individual attackers, organized groups of cybercriminals, or by state-sponsored threat actors. They may be executed for financial gain, or in the context of a cyberwarfare or cyberterrorism campaign against an adversary. Cybersecurity attacks may be used to target government agencies, non-profit NGOs, private and publicly-traded companies, and private citizens.
The goals of a cybersecurity attack typically include one or more of the following:
- Stealing or destroying sensitive data or information,
- Stealing financial resources,
- Exposing confidential information,
- Altering information in secure databases,
- Disrupting the integrity or authenticity of data,
- Disabling IT infrastructure, and
- Damaging the target’s reputation.
How Do Cybersecurity Attacks Work?
Cybersecurity attacks are as versatile as the applications, networks, and endpoints that organizations depend on every day to do business. However, we do observe a general pattern for how cybersecurity attacks are executed by digital threat actors:
- Recon – The attacker conducts research to identify a target along with the optimal modality, technique, and vector for the attack.
- Attack Development – The attacker develops a payload for the attack.
- Delivery – The payload is delivered to the target.
- Exploitation – The payload is triggered to exploit vulnerabilities in the target applications or systems.
- Securing Access – The attacker gains access to the target system and may use techniques like backdooring to ensure persistent access over time.
- Command and Control – The attacker gains command of the target network or system and may control it to achieve their goals.
- Malicious Objectives – The attacker abuses their access to achieve the ultimate goals of the cybersecurity attack: stealing or destroying information, and fraudulently appropriating financial resources,
Common Cybersecurity Attack Methods
To effectively defend against cybersecurity attacks, digital citizens must be aware of the various modalities and techniques used by threat actors to gain unauthorized access to target systems.
Cybersecurity Attack Modalities
Modalities are ways of doing things.
Most threat actors utilize either social engineering or bug exploits (or both) as they attempt to gain unauthorized access to computer systems using cybersecurity attacks. Supply chain attacks represent an alternative method of target selection used by threat actors when attempting to attack large, complex, or well-protected organizations.
- Bug Exploits are pieces of software or malicious code that exploit known bugs or vulnerabilities in target applications, networks, and systems.
- Social Engineering Attacks are cyberattacks that exploit human nature by tricking or manipulating the target into sharing sensitive information, sending fraudulent payments, or compromising access credentials for a secure system.
- A Supply Chain Attack takes place when threat actors attempt to harm an organization by targeting other companies in their supply chain with cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity Attack Techniques
Threat actors have developed many different cybersecurity attack techniques in their attempts to bypass threat detection systems and steal data from their targets. The most commonly deployed techniques include:
- Malware Attacks – Malware attacks attempt to infect the target network or device with a malicious software program. Malware attacks may steal data, damage systems, or grant the threat actor direct access to the network.
- Ransomware – Ransomware attacks use a malicious software program to gain control of a device, network, or database. Next, the attackers demand a ransom from the target in exchange for restoring the network.
- Phishing – Phishing attacks are social engineering attacks that contact a target by email, telephone, or using a fake social media profile and attempt to manipulate them into sharing sensitive data.
- Spear Phishing – Spear Phishing attacks are highly targeted phishing attacks aimed at a specific, well-researched victim.
- Malicious Apps – Threat actors code malicious apps that capture sensitive data from users and distribute them through third-party app stores. Malicious apps may be designed to impersonate trusted brands and steal personal information or financial data from their customers.
- Domain Spoofing – Domain spoofing is a cybersecurity attack technique that involves building a fake website and impersonating a trusted brand to steal data from its customers.
- Email Spoofing – Email spoofing is a cybersecurity attack technique that involves manipulating an email to appear as if it came from a trusted source. Phishing emails often deploy email spoofing techniques to fool victims and gain their trust.
How Do Companies Protect Against Cybersecurity Attacks?
Cybersecurity Awareness Training
Organizations can protect against cybersecurity attacks by initiating a cybersecurity awareness training program for their digital workforce. The training may be delivered by an enterprise SecOps team, or by external vendors or consultants. The goal of awareness training is to educate the workforce about common cybersecurity attack techniques, the related risks, and how to avoid becoming a victim.
Cybersecurity Software Solutions
Enterprise SecOps teams can deploy a variety of software solutions to help protect against cybersecurity attacks. These include solutions for threat monitoring, security intelligence, brand protection, and security event management.
How Does ZeroFOX Defend Against Cybersecurity Attacks?
ZeroFOX provides enterprises with protection, intelligence, and disruption to dismantle external threats to brands, people, assets, and data across the public attack surface. The ZeroFOX platform identifies and remediates targeted phishing and spear phishing attacks, credential compromise, brand hijacking, domain and email spoofing attacks, and more.
Download our white paper on A Taxonomy of Digital Threats for a deeper analysis of the digital threat landscape and how ZeroFOX can help secure your brand assets and data against cybersecurity attacks.