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The 10 biggest cybersecurity threats today

NetworkTigers list of the ten biggest cybersecurity threats today.

The volatile digital landscape requires system administrators and small business owners to be continually on their toes with regard to the latest cybersecurity threats.

As technology and user habits evolve, so too do the strategies and techniques used by criminals to access networks and steal critical information.

Here are the 10 biggest cybersecurity threats today, as well as some tips on how to best defend against them.

1. Phishing

Phishing is the act of sending fraudulent emails or messages impersonating a trusted individual or organization in order to persuade someone to hand over valuable data. 

Scammers may send out hundreds of emails to random accounts hoping to fool a handful of users, or they may engineer targeted attacks designed to trick a particularly valuable target.

According to a report from security firm Tessian, phishing attacks lead to 90% of the breaches that businesses experience. The data gained from a successful phishing campaign is either sold or used to initiate malware or ransomware attacks.

The best defenses against phishing are email security gateways and training that will help individuals on the front lines determine whether or not an incoming message is legitimate.

2. Malware

Malware is a general term used to encompass cybersecurity threats such as trojans and viruses.

This malicious code can enter a system via an email attachment, USB drive, fraudulent websites or an already infected phone or tablet. 

Any network access point carries cybersecurity threats and concerns.

Anti-malware software, safe web browsing habits and endpoint security protocols should all be employed as defenses against malware.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware attacks have made major headlines in recent years, as major companies have had to navigate the fallout and repercussions from them. 

Ransomware encrypts a system’s data and holds it hostage until the victim pays to regain access.

Often the tip of the iceberg, ransomware gangs will often sell or leak stolen data even if paid. Double extortion scams are becoming commonplace as hackers look for ways to pressure victims into paying up.

Ransomware attacks can be prevented using the same techniques that defend against phishing and malware schemes. Maintaining thorough and secure back-up data is essential to recovering from an attack. 

4. Third-party exposure

An organization’s data security is only as reliable as the third parties who are entrusted with it.

Many breaches occur due to third-party companies or contractors implementing poor cybersecurity. Once they get hacked, their clients’ data may also become accessible.

This cybersecurity threat is likely to increase as organizations become more comfortable with remote employees and decentralized workforces. 

Businesses should thoroughly vet any third-party partners and be very selective about what they have access to.

Implementing a zero-trust security model is recommended.

5. Endpoint security and the Internet of Things (IoT)

A network that encompasses a wide range of unprotected devices carries a large number of cybersecurity threats.

From personal phones and tablets to printers and even coffee makers, hackers have discovered many devious ways to access systems via unexpected means.

According to Kasperksy, breaches of IoT devices reached a staggering 1.51 billion in the first half of 2021.

Some organizations create networks that are designed for use with connected appliances. 

These networks do not connect to the company’s main system and therefore do not provide a path to critical data.

Endpoint security can also be enhanced by requiring workers to only use supplied devices that maintain company wide cybersecurity protocols, only allow for restricted access and can be updated remotely by IT administrators.

6. Misconfigurations

Human error is a leading contributor to data exposure.

A folder that was not configured properly, for example, allows anyone to view its contents without a password.

Sometimes these security lapses go unnoticed for long periods of time, meaning that potentially anyone over a number of weeks to months may have accessed, copied or stolen data that should have been protected.

Diligence and attention to detail is required to prevent careless configuration errors. 

7. Bad cyber and password hygiene

Easy to guess passwords, poorly protected devices, using unsecured wifi and not implementing multi-factor identification are all leading cybersecurity threats.

Good security hygiene requires the awareness that any vulnerability could be exploited by criminals.

Passwords should be randomized, impersonal and impossible to guess.

A VPN should be used whenever possible and no critical work should be done using public wifi.

8. Internal cybersecurity threats

In some cases, disgruntled employees with access to important information may turn the tables against their employer. 

Recently, an Amazon employee was found to have used software that she created herself to scan Amazon Web Services for misconfigured accounts. This led to her hacking Capital One, exposing the data of more than 100 million people.

Motivations range from revenge to greed. Because of the human element to doing business, organizations need to be on the ball with regard to who has access to what.

Zero-trust security can help keep workers from accessing data that they don’t require to do their job.

Employees and contractors who no longer work for your business should have their credentials immediately revoked to prevent them from inflicting harm.

9. Cloud vulnerabilities

As organizations take advantage of the conveniences of cloud storage and data management, cloud service providers are finding themselves in the crosshairs of hackers eager to take a peek behind the curtain.

Cloud security is a growing concern, with IBM reporting that cloud breaches have increased by 150% over the last five years. 

Because migrating to the cloud puts a huge amount of data into the hands of a third party, organizations working in the cloud should carefully vet their service providers and maintain regularly updated backups to be used in the event of a breach or service outage.

10. Post-attack weaknesses

When an organization succumbs to a cyberattack, their recovery is often hampered by additional hacks carried out by other opportunists made aware of their weakness.

68% of companies suffer a second attack within a year of being breached. Criminals hope that the victimized organization may be left reeling from their previous blow, or perhaps still not adequately protected. 

A single cyberattack can result in major disruption to a company’s ability to do business and maintain trust. A second one can bring an organization to an end.

To prevent successful subsequent attacks, companies need to work quickly to mitigate the damage from the hack, close the vulnerability that allowed it to happen and also carefully assess whether or not additional weaknesses were created as a result.

Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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