Cyber threats: things you need to know

Cyber threats: things you need to know
Our ever-increasing dependence on the internet and digital devices has simplified many aspects of our lives. But it also brings with it high levels of security risks. Cyber attacks are increasingly common in today’s connected society and continue to become more sophisticated. With recent high-profile incidents such as the global WannaCry ransomware attack which affected much of the NHS, it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ – and no one is immune to attacks. The key differentiator now is how businesses respond and recover.

What are some of the common threats?

With most information now being stored digitally, cyber criminals are using a number of different ways to access personal and business information. Here are some of the most common cyber threats explained:

  1. Ransomware: Cyber criminals use ransomware to infiltrate networks and take control of computer system, blocking access to files until a ransom is paid. This sort of software often accesses systems via an email attachment. The recent WannaCry and WannaCrypt are two very high profile examples of this sort of attack.
  2. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS): This method floods a web server or network with traffic until the system cannot cope and is no longer able to provide access to legitimate users. This approach was used in the Mirai attack against Dyn.
  3. Malware: Short for ‘malicious software’, malware aims to damage or gain unauthorised access to a computer system. Some common types of malware include spyware, worms, and viruses (see individual definitions below).
  4. Spyware: Software that enables users to obtain information about another computer’s activities, enabling them to spy on individuals.
  5. Worm: A form of malware that replicates itself and continuously spreads to other computer networks.
  6. Spam: Email messages that can contain harmful links that could install malicious software onto your computer when clicked on.
  7. Phishing: An attack that aims to obtain personal information from individuals by pretending to be a legitimate service provider, such as a user’s bank. The Pawn Storm attack against the Macron campaign is a recent example of this.
  8. Virus: A computer virus that can steal, erase or corrupt data on a computer hard drive. Once infected it can spread from one computer to another, usually via email.

What can organisations do to prevent an attack?

There are several steps organisations can take to protect themselves against potential attacks, including:

  1. Secure your systems – use different passwords for each system and device and ensure that they are changed regularly, as well as using various methods of authentication, such as fingerprint detection.
  2. Update your systems – ensure your systems are kept up-to-date with the latest supported operating systems.
  3. Test your systems – get your IT teams to test and attempt to break into your systems regularly to assess how robust your security systems are and whether there are any potential risks which need closer inspection.
  4. Educate existing staff – the workforce is one of the most common reasons that a cyber attack is successful, often due to a lack of awareness and basic human error. Protect your organisation against this by regularly educating your staff to increase their awareness of cyber security risks and how they can help prevent them. To avoid complacency, use different methods including training and fake spam emails.
  5. Maximise contractors – If you’re hiring a contractor for a Cyber Security project, why not also use them to upskill your permanent workforce. This will help ensure your IT staff are equipped with the right tools and latest skills to support changing business requirements.
  6. Have a clear action plan – the response to a hack is almost as important as the attack itself. Implementing something like a decision making tree will enable everyone involved to know exactly how they need to respond, and whose decision and responsibility each action is.

What frameworks are available?

To further reduce the risk of cyber threats, there are a number of frameworks which organisations can refer to for support. Two of the key frameworks in the UK include:

  1. ISO 27001
    ISO 27001 is a specification for information security management systems (ISMS), enabling organisations to demonstrate that they are following information security processes, best practices and compliance.
  2. Cyber Essentials
    The Cyber Essentials certification scheme is a deliverable of the UK government’s National Cyber Security strategy, helping organisations to achieve a basic level of cyber security for relatively low cost.

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