The threats countered by cyber-security are three-fold:
1. Cybercrime includes single actors or groups targeting systems for financial gain or to cause disruption.
2. Cyber-attack often involves politically motivated information gathering.
3. Cyberterrorism is intended to undermine electronic systems to cause panic or fear.
So, how do malicious actors gain control of computer systems? Here are some common methods used to threaten cyber-security:
Malware means malicious software. One of the most common cyber threats, malware is software that a cybercriminal or hacker has created to disrupt or damage a legitimate user’s computer. Often spread via an unsolicited email attachment or legitimate-looking download, malware may be used by cybercriminals to make money or in politically motivated cyber-attacks.
There are a number of different types of malware, including:
Virus: A self-replicating program that attaches itself to clean file and spreads throughout a computer system, infecting files with malicious code.
Trojans: A type of malware that is disguised as legitimate software. Cybercriminals trick users into uploading Trojans onto their computer where they cause damage or collect data.
Spyware: A program that secretly records what a user does, so that cybercriminals can make use of this information. For example, spyware could capture credit card details.
Ransomware: Malware which locks down a user’s files and data, with the threat of erasing it unless a ransom is paid.
Adware: Advertising software which can be used to spread malware.
Botnets: Networks of malware infected computers which cybercriminals use to perform tasks online without the user’s permission.
An SQL (structured language query) injection is a type of cyber-attack used to take control of and steal data from a database. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in data-driven applications to insert malicious code into a databased via a malicious SQL statement. This gives them access to the sensitive information contained in the database.
Phishing is when cybercriminals target victims with emails that appear to be from a legitimate company asking for sensitive information. Phishing attacks are often used to dupe people into handing over credit card data and other personal information.
A man-in-the-middle attack is a type of cyber threat where a cybercriminal intercepts communication between two individuals in order to steal data. For example, on an unsecure WiFi network, an attacker could intercept data being passed from the victim’s device and the network.
A denial-of-service attack is where cybercriminals prevent a computer system from fulfilling legitimate requests by overwhelming the networks and servers with traffic. This renders the system unusable, preventing an organization from carrying out vital functions.
Latest cyber threats
What are the latest cyber threats that individuals and organizations need to guard against? Here are some of the most recent cyber threats that the U.K., U.S., and Australian governments have reported on.
In December 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) charged the leader of an organized cyber-criminal group for their part in a global Dridex malware attack. This malicious campaign affected the public, government, infrastructure and business worldwide.
Dridex is a financial trojan with a range of capabilities. Affecting victims since 2014, it infects computers though phishing emails or existing malware. Capable of stealing passwords, banking details and personal data which can be used in fraudulent transactions, it has caused massive financial losses amounting to hundreds of millions.
In response to the Dridex attacks, the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre advises the public to “ensure devices are patched, anti-virus is turned on and up to date and files are backed up”.
In February 2020, the FBI warned U.S. citizens to be aware of confidence fraud that cybercriminals commit using dating sites, chat rooms and apps. Perpetrators take advantage of people seeking new partners, duping victims into giving away personal data.
The FBI reports that romance cyber threats affected 114 victims in New Mexico in 2019, with financial losses amounting to $1.6 million.
In late 2019, The Australian Cyber Security Centre warned national organizations about a widespread global cyber threat from Emotet malware.
Emotet is a sophisticated trojan that can steal data and also load other malware. Emotet thrives on unsophisticated password: a reminder of the importance of creating a secure password to guard against cyber threats.