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Cybersecurity Technology

The 5 Most Common Types of Cyberattacks: Essential Knowledge to Safeguard Your Digital Assets

According to a study by Accenture, 43% of cyberattacks target small and medium-sized businesses, yet only 14% are prepared to defend themselves. Only 14%! Protecting your company's data in the digital age is more critical than ever. By raising awareness throughout the organization, we can all play a part in securing our digital assets, making a significant difference in our collective security.



Numerous types of cyberattacks exist today. Some are still in the planning stages, making it difficult to predict their exact nature. Even a simple click or download can pose a risk to our security.

Being aware of existing threats enables us to identify suspicious activities and take preemptive action. Bearing this in mind, let’s delve into the most common types of cyberattacks.

#1 Malware

Malware, short for malicious software, is designed to harm, exploit, or otherwise compromise the data and systems it infects. It is mainly used to attack services, apps, network elements, or devices.

Types of Malware: Virus, worm, trojan horse, adware, spyware, keylogger, ransomeware.

How does it work?

Malware often spreads through phishing emails, malicious websites, infected software downloads, and network vulnerabilities. Once a system is compromised, the malware can carry out its intended malicious activities, leading to data breaches, financial loss, and operational disruptions.

Here’s a closer look at how different types of malware operate:

  • Virus – the oldest type of malicious software. It can delete or corrupt any type of data. A virus needs a carrier or medium to spread, often an infected file or script.
  • Worm – a common type of harmful software. It can spread by itself without needing another file as a carrier.
  • Trojan Horse – looks trustworthy, but contains hidden code that allows a hacker to take control of a computer and access secure networks.
  • Adware – displays unwanted ads. It’s usually less harmful than other threats and can slow down a computer. It can also trick users into downloading and installing other infected software.
  • Spyware – secretly collects information about a user’s activities. It records login credentials, passwords, and online activity. It can use devices such as cameras or microphones and is used for identity theft and financial fraud.
  • Keylogger – captures any information typed on a keyboard, such as passwords or logins.
  • Ransomware – blocks access to a computer or renders data unreadable. A cybercriminal may demand a ransom to restore the computer to its original state. Attacks like the one used by Russia caused $10 billion in damage by encrypting computers.

Malware in numbers

👉 Verizon, in a Data Breach Investigations report, revealed that email is the main tool used for malware attacks. More than 90% of attacks were carried out via email.

#2 Man‑in‑the‑middle (MITM)

Man-in-the-middle is basically spying, but online. People use it to steal or corrupt data, obtain personal information, or disrupt communications.

MITM attacks are some of the oldest cyberattacks, dating back to the early 1980s. Even then, computer experts were looking for ways to protect us from these attacks.

How does it work?

A graphic showing how the MITM attack works

A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack works by intercepting and altering the communication between two parties who believe they are communicating directly, often by redirecting traffic to fake websites that look real (like a fake bank website) or using compromised network protocols. This makes such attacks very difficult to detect.

These attacks can occur both in close proximity and remotely. For proximity-based attacks, hackers might use fake cell towers or Wi-Fi networks to intercept communications. However, remote attacks are also possible. Cybercriminals can easily find our IP address when we visit a website they have created or click on an ad they designed. Knowing the address, hackers can then infiltrate our network through an open or poorly secured router by scanning devices for weaknesses and possible entry points.

Once inside, they can capture data, gather information, and manipulate our online experiences. This can be fully automated – the victim doesn’t have to be specifically chosen – just visiting the wrong place on the Internet is enough. Attackers can also change DNS settings for a domain, leading us to connect to the wrong IP address when we enter a web address in our browser.

MITM attacks have already been reported in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. And not only on the part of criminals, since in most cases it was the services of these countries have used fake masts to eavesdrop on their citizens. Devices of this type can be easily found and purchased on the dark net.

The fact that researchers from the Technical University of Berlin, ETH of Zurich and SINTEF Digital in Norway have discovered flaws in the protocols of 3G and 4G networks that enable listening, also does not fills with optimism. The same protocols are expected to be used in deployments of the 5G wireless technologies.

MITM in numbers

👉 It is hard to find solid data on how many MITM attacks happen. A report released four years ago, the “IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index,” mentioned that 35% of exploit activity (programs designed to use existing software flaws) focused on conducting MITM attacks.

#3 DoS and DDoS

DoS (Denial of Service) and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are used to cut off the application, device or network from users. The main difference between them is that they are carried out by one or more devices at the same time.

How does it work?

Graphic showing how two types of cyberattacks: DoS and DDoS

An attacker sends numerous requests or queries to overload the target, causing it to slow down or crash, thus denying access to legitimate users. In a DoS attack, a single computer sends a flood of requests. In a DDoS attack, the attacker uses multiple compromised computers, often part of a botnet, to send massive traffic to the target, making it more difficult to mitigate and causing more significant disruptions.

When the hacker group Anonymous declared a cyber war on Russia, they mainly used DoS and DDoS attacks. Data shows these came from about 100 million devices. Anonymous shut down official government sites or stop banking services.

DoS and DDoS in numbers

👉 70% of organizations surveyed by Corero reported experiencing 20 to 50 DDoS attacks per month, but most of these fail. Still, thanks to powerful machines, hacked and previously taken over computers of regular people, and specialized tools, cybercriminals can now carry out DDoS attacks much faster and at lower costs.

👉 The “Threat Intelligence Report” by Netscout shows that the frequency of DDoS attacks across the internet increased by 11% in 2021 compared to 2020.

👉 The number of attacks in the USA rose by 7% and in Latin America by 479%.

👉 There is also a growing trend of using DDoS attacks to force a ransom to stop further attacks. In the fourth quarter of 2021, Cloudflare recorded a 175% increase in the volume of such attacks, compared to the third quarter. There are no complete data yet showing how the world has changed in 2022.

#4 Phishing

Phishing is a way to get private information like usernames, passwords, credit card details, or Social Security numbers (SSN) by pretending to be someone else.

How does it work?

Graphic showing how phishing cyberattack works

Phishing most commonly, it involves email messages. The senders pretend to be companies like social networks, banks, power suppliers, or delivery services. They email people that something is wrong, and to fix it, they usually ask to click a button (like “Verify your account”) or fill out a form.

Every day, three billion four hundred million phishing emails are sent on the Internet. Google and the Threat Analysis Group block about 100 million of these messages each day. Most of the rest reach the recipients.

Verizon’s statistics say that 93% of successful cyber attacks start with spear phishing.

This kind of cyberattack targets a specific person and needs careful planning, knowing the victim, and using that knowledge against them.

The process isn’t easy to automate unless using data from Internet of behavior.

Phishing is also one of the most common attacks on micro, small, and medium businesses. Cybercriminals use fake emails to attack organization employees to get login details. That is how they can access more information about a company.

Phishing in numbers

👉 According to Cisco’s “Cybersecurity Threat Trends” report, about 90% of data breaches happen because of phishing. This type of attack made up 80% of all cyber security incidents in 2021.

👉 Study by Tessian showed that employees worldwide received 14 malicious emails per year on average in 2021.

👉 Research by ESET in 2021 found that from May to August, the frequency of attacks using email rose by 7.3%.

👉 The IBM “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022” found that breaches caused by phishing cost organizations an average of 4.65 million dollars.

👉 According to the FBI, there is a 400% increase in such attacks year after year.

👉 Also, as Infosec reports, about 97% of people worldwide can’t recognize a fake phishing message, and one in twenty-five people clicks on such messages, becoming victims of a cyber attack.

#5 Ransomeware

It’s software that locks access to a computer and files so a hacker can demand a ransom to restore the machine to its original state.

How does it work?

Graphic showing how ransomeware works

When we turn on the computer hacked with ransomware, all we can see is a screen telling us it is locked and how to pay the ransom. The attack uses encryption techniques – if we become its victim, our files get encrypted, and accessing them without the correct key is impossible.

Since 2000, cyber attacks using this method have focused on personal computers. Quickly, cybercriminals also hacked businesses, organizations, and government institutions that can pay much more to unlock critical systems than private individuals.

The year 2021 was a turning point for ransomware software. With companies shifting to remote work and the fast-paced digitalization and digital transformation that started in 2020 due to the pandemic, it turned out that organizations were not well protected against threats from cybercriminals.

Globally, ransomware attacks have left people and organizations impacted.

They have affected:

  • people’s ability to use healthcare,
  • fill up their cars,
  • or even shop.

The trend of using this type of malicious software will grow in the coming years. Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) is now a daily reality.

It is no longer the case when attackers had to write their own code. Now, the ransomware software can be easily bought on the market and implemented with simple instructions.

Ransomware in numbers

👉 According to the “2021 Ransomware Study: Where You Are Matters!” by IDC, about 37% of organizations worldwide were victims of a ransomware attack in 2021.

👉 Last year, the FBI recorded a 62% increase in complaints about this type of attack. In February 2022, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reported that it knew of ransomware incidents in 14 of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors in the United States. The average downtime a company experiences after an attack using blocking software is 22 days.

👉 As ransomware attacks also increasingly affect public sectors, Gartner predicts that countries will regulate ransom payments if systems are hacked. Gartner estimated that currently only 1% of governments worldwide have regulations concerning ransomware. It is expected that this percentage will rise to about 30% by 2025.

👉 Business Insider reports that the record payment made by an insurance company for a ransom attack amounts to 40 million dollars.

👉 As the National Security Institute reports, the average ransom demanded rose from 500 dollars in 2018 to about 200,000 dollars.

👉 As Cybereason reports, 80% of victims who paid criminals were soon attacked again, and although 46% of them gained access to their data, most was damaged.

Understand the Types of Cyberattacks to Strengthen Your Defenses

Cyber attacks are a huge problem. They cause big losses for both individuals and big companies, disrupt services, and compromise personal data. It may take one click to expose all your sensitive data.

Everyone must understand the dangers and stay alert. When knowing about threats like malware, phishing, and ransomware, you can take better precautions. Awareness is key.

Read the second part of our cybersecurity series, where we explore 18 notable cyberattack examples and their implications.

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