The Ultimate Guide To Cyberattacks

Learn more about how to identify and prevent some of the most common types of cyber crimes.

Articles published June 28, 2017 by Ben Killion

typing on a computer guide to cyber attacks

Your organization could be moments away from a data breach. Without the proper IT security in place, you are vulnerable to cybercriminals trying to enter your network and gain access to your sensitive business data. You’ve likely seen or heard about the havoc cyberattacks can wreak, so how is your business proactively preparing for such threats?

Today, there are many different kinds of cyberattacks used by hackers to target susceptible organizations. As cyber crimes evolve it can be difficult to keep track of them all and understand the intricacies of how they work.

To help you immediately identify specific cyberattacks and keep your organization protected, we’ve provided the ultimate guide to cyberattacks, including tips and solutions your organization can implement to be secure and safe from harm.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing scams are appropriately named. Simply put, they are scams that try to lure people into clicking on links that have viruses, much like someone trying to lure fish with bait. A phishy email or text message will offer something lucrative and tempting. It will likely disguise a link to a site you’re seemingly familiar with in order to get you to click or download malicious software.

There’s no question that everyone is at risk these days. Phishing scams are gaining in popularity. In 2018, phishing attacks were the most common type of cyber attack, according to research from BakerHostetler. Cyber attacks target businesses both big and small. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important to know how to identify a fake email without falling prey to its bait.

Most of the time, phishing emails are quite sophisticated and look very authentic and legitimate. Here are eight examples of things to look for:

  1. A sense of urgency: “Hurry,” “ASAP,” “need this done by…”
  2. A threat: “We will suspend your account.”
  3. Directions to do something: “Validate,” “‘verify,” “confirm,” “update.”
  4. Requests for personal information: SSN, address, account information.
  5. Unknown web addresses: These may be doctored to look legitimate.
  6. Fake/poor quality images.
  7. Poor spelling/grammar.
  8. Improbable scenarios.

Phishing emails usually have something spelled wrong or seem “phishy,” and usually target large volumes of people. You may have also heard of a newer, more precise, method of targeting, called spear phishing. Like phishing emails, spear phishing attacks pretend to be a trusted source. While phishing emails target many people, spear phishing attacks usually target only a few specific people that have been researched beforehand. Spear phishing attacks are much more successful because the perpetrators have done the research and customized the email, so they can be harder to identify as fake.

The next time you get a suspicious-looking email, follow these best practices:

  • Ask yourself: Was the email expected? Do I know the sender? Is the request in the email normal?
  • Hover your cursor over the link…Is it legitimate? Look at it closely!
  • If the email is from someone claiming to be a person you know, call that person to verify if they sent the email.

Ransomware Attacks

You’ve probably heard of the term ransomware. In the cyberworld, ransomware is a constantly evolving and growing threat. 

Ransomware is a form of malware software that “kidnaps” access to your network, applications, or data until a certain amount of money is paid by the victim. It does this by encrypting certain data, so you can’t get to the information, or blocks access to systems and applications. Ransomware usually infects your computer or device with a Trojan virus from phishing emails or malicious programs on a website. Once it is installed, a ransom message usually pops up when the user restarts their device. 

And ransomware attacks are increasingly popular among hackers, as they have primarily shifted away from servers and on to endpoints. In general, endpoint users are typically less technical and have different levels of trust.

If your organization has been affected by ransomware, consider these five steps recommended by Fortinet:

  1. Isolate infected devices immediately by removing them from the network as soon as possible to prevent ransomware from spreading to the network or shared drives.
  2. If your network has been infected, immediately disconnect all connected devices.
  3. Power-off affected devices that have not been completely corrupted. This may provide time to clean and recover data, contain damage, and prevent conditions from worsening.
  4. Backed up data should be stored offline. When an infection is detected, take backup systems offline as well and scan backups to ensure they are free of malware.
  5. Contact law enforcement immediately to report any ransomware events and request assistance.

8 Steps to Protect Your Organization from Ransomware

The 2019 Cyber Claims Study by Net Diligence reveals that the average cost of a cyber insurance claim following a ransomware attack is $15,000 — and that’s just for organizations that have cyber or privacy liability coverage in place. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Your organization needs to take a proactive approach to protection against ransomware. Here are eight steps to ensure your organization is prepared for an attack:

  1. Employee awareness: Educate your employees on how to identify phishing emails, malware, and ransomware. The number one element to ransomware’s success is the human element. Continuous education and testing of employees’ understanding through internal phishing campaigns are crucial pieces to the ransomware solution.
  2. Back up regularly: Make sure you’re backing up data on a regular basis, to ensure that the backups are operating as planned and can be efficiently restored.
  3. Have a plan: Having a plan in place is essential for preparedness. This plan should thoroughly lay out response and solution details, should your organization fall victim to an attack.
  4. Update and patch regularly: Make patches and updates on your system, software, and firmware a frequent occurrence. One way to stay on top of updates is to work with a managed IT service provider who offers regular monitoring and maintenance of your organization’s IT infrastructure. 
  5. Limit administrative access: Don’t allow employees to have administrative account access. This will restrict what a ransomware attack could potentially infect.
  6. Have software restrictions: Prevent ransomware attacks from infiltrating and running common programs with a software restriction policy, or put access controls in place.
  7. Eliminate macros: Macros automatically perform frequent tasks, but they can be disabled. Disabling macros will ensure malicious content doesn’t automatically load.
  8. Block internet ads: Many third-party ads have some type of malware. It’s best to avoid the risk by disabling all internet ads on devices.

Whether it’s your organization that gets infected or a home computer, the impact of ransomware can be devastating. You can permanently lose important and private information, you can expose critical flaws in your organization, impact your reputation, and potentially lose a lot of money. However, even if you pay the ransom, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the data back. The FBI recommends that you don’t pay the ransom, because it will only encourage cyber criminals and keep ransomware attacks thriving.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks use already infected systems or a group of authorized users to target one system by flooding it with traffic, and rendering it inaccessible. These attacks come from many different sources, which makes it extremely difficult to stop, since it’s attacking from many different addresses.

Popular websites, such as Netflix, the New York Times, and Reddit have all been susceptible to DDoS attacks in the past. To combat your organization from being a DDoS attack target, here is some advice to follow.

3 tips for mitigating DDoS attacks

  1. Spread out your servers. Having your servers in different data centers that are on different networks ensure that your data and servers are dispersed throughout several locations. That way, you aren’t a major target to DDoS attacks, since they usually attack organizations that have a single source.
  2. Have the right hardware. In order to prevent DDoS attacks, you also need the appropriate hardware to mitigate these kinds of cyberattacks. Managed firewall solutions can defend your organization against many different kinds of DDoS attacks, allowing you to have peace of mind that your network and servers are safe.
  3. Ensure your organization is not the source of DDoS attacks. It’s also beneficial to take preventive steps, such as installing and maintaining anti-virus software, performing timely system updates, and ensuring firewalls and network devices are properly configured.

Regardless of your method to prevent DDoS attacks, the best time to implement a solution is before an attack happens, not during or after. Being prepared is essential to mitigating DDoS attacks.


Spam emails are emails that are anonymous, sent to large groups of people, and unsolicited. Most email inboxes have a spam filter, so you usually won’t see spam emails unless you go into your spam folder. However, there are many spam emails that get past the spam filter and appear in your inbox, unscathed.

Chances are that you can easily spot the majority of spam emails and delete them without opening. However, cybercriminals continue to find new and innovative ways to trick users and make their messages appear real or legitimate. It only takes one email and one click to fall prey to a malicious attack.

Like phishing emails, spam usually asks the recipient to provide sensitive and confidential information, in order to use it for malicious intents.

Recent data from Google broke down the various types of spam attacks by industry, showing that businesses are more likely to get hit with spam than others:

  • Businesses (1.0 times as likely)
  • Nonprofits (0.4 times as likely)
  • Education (0.4 times as likely)
  • Government (0.4 times as likely)

The same tips and advice for identifying and dealing with phishing emails can also be applied to spam emails. Whenever you get spam, delete it and report the ones you suspect to be malicious.

Malware Attacks

Malware is a general term for a program or file that is malicious and harmful to a computer and its user, including viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware. Malware is known for infecting computers and corrupting data files, as well as taking over the computer system.

Let’s break down the types of malware attacks one by one.

  • Viruses. This is the most common malware, and is a program that infects programs and files.
  • Worms. These can spread through a system or server without any interaction, making them very dangerous.
  • Trojan horses. These appear as authentic programs, but when they’re installed they become malicious.
  • Spyware. This malware collects user information and data and monitors their activity without the user knowing.

To help prevent your organization’s computers from malware, take these proactive steps:

  • Update your software regularly. Don’t wait to install available updates to your software, browsers, and plugins. Updating regularly when updates become available increases your safety, because many times these help patch any security vulnerabilities.
  • Implement a firewall and anti-virus. A state-of-the-art, effective firewall and anti-virus program can block malware from reaching you.
  • Use strong passwords. To prevent malware from infecting your computers, create a strong password that can’t easily be cracked, and make sure you always log out of websites. Read more about password best practices

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks are an ever-present danger for organizations, because they target the one thing that is the hardest to control: employees.

Social engineering attacks manipulate the targeted employee into taking some form of action, which often includes providing confidential information. Social engineering attacks can come in the form of emails that look normal but actually contain hidden links with viruses (phishing emails), pretexting phone calls where the cybercriminal acts like a trusted source and then engages the employee to divulge sensitive information, or even physically searching unlocked trash and recycling bins to discover valuable information that could be used in a future attack.

3 Ways to Counteract Social Engineering

Avoid falling prey to social engineering attacks by following these three steps:

  1. Have a data security policy (and communicate it)A data security policy should be used to define approved methods to securely transfer or share data and define restricted methods to help stop the use of unsupported or unsafe services and applications. Data security policies should also include details about acceptable use of email, web browsers, mobile devices, and social networking sites. Data security policies are most effective when they are well documented, communicated, enforced, regularly reviewed, and updated as needed. 
  2. Understand user agreements. All data hosting services have user agreements that outline their terms and conditions. While these may be arduous to read, it’s important to understand the fine print about what data is being collected or shared.
  3. Conduct security awareness trainings. Create a culture of data security. Keep breaches at baby regularly hosting mandatory security awareness training. Use these trainings to highlight different kinds of cyber and social engineering attacks as well as providing tools to stop them. 

Stay Safe with Cybersecurity Solutions

We’ve talked about a lot of different cyberattacks, what they are, and tips to prevent them from successfully attacking your organization, but another aspect to staying secure is to implement long-term cybersecurity solutions. These effective solutions keep your organization protected, and also can assist you if you ever are attacked.

  1. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to securely connect through an encrypted connection to business servers and software from any location
  2. Implement essential technology services such as anti-virus, firewall protection, network monitoring, and wireless security are layers of defense to give you state-of-the-art protection. Consider using a managed IT service provider to oversee the routine maintenance and monitoring of your technology. 
  3. For maximum protection, encrypt your data while in transit and at rest. 

Don’t let the threat of a cyberattack keep you up at night. To avoid a catastrophe, you need to have cybersecurity solutions in place and thorough knowledge about the different kinds of cyberattacks out there. A secure organization is a prepared organization.

Is your organization protected against cyber attacks?

About The Author

Ben Killion

Ben is a Client Advisor at Aureon, where he is a relationship builder, strategic customer advocate and results-oriented professional. He has been in the technology industry for nine years, focusing on leveraging technology to help clients meet their business goals.

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