7 Types of Cyber Threats & How to Prevent Them [2022 Guide]

What Are Cyber Threats?

A cybersecurity threat is malicious activity aimed at stealing data or funds, sabotaging data or computer systems, or disrupting business operations and digital life in general. Cyber threats include malware, ransomware, phishing, denial of service (DoS) attacks, and many other attack vectors.

Cyber threats can turn into successful cyber attacks, which can have devastating consequences for organizations and individuals. These can include unauthorized access, downtime or destruction of computer systems, theft or exposure of sensitive data, direct financial losses, disruption of economic activity, and even physical harm.

Cyber threats can come from trusted users within an organization or from external threat actors, who may be individual cybercriminals, organized cybercrime groups, or part of state-sponsored cyberwarfare campaigns.

7 Types of Cyber Threats

1. Malware

Malicious software (malware) is a program designed to perform malicious actions. There are many types of malware, each designed to achieve specific objectives. For example, malware can collect and steal trade secrets, display malicious ads, or damage infected machines.

Here are common malware types:

  • Cryptominers—this malware uses the victim’s machine to mine cryptocurrency.
  • Mobile malware—this program targets mobile devices through various means such as malicious applications, exploiting SMS, or using social media networks.
  • Botnet malware—this type of malware infects a system to add it into a network of bots (botnet). A botnet controller can then utilize the system as part of the botnet to perform various criminal activities and cyber attacks.
  • Infostealers—this malware gathers sensitive data from an infected machine, sending it to the malware operator.
  • Banking Trojans—this malware targets financial information, such as online bank credentials.

2. Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that uses encryption to hold data hostage and force the victim to pay in exchange for a decryption key. Once the victim installs the ransomware, it starts encrypting files and then displays a ransom demand note. Victims are left with two options—pay the ransom to get the decryption or restore the data from a backup. However, most ransomware also encrypts or deletes backup copies accessible via the network.

3. Fileless Attacks

Antivirus solutions can detect malware by inspecting files on the device for known signs of malicious content. Fileless malware bypasses this mechanism by using commands to functions built into the computer. As a result, this malware can achieve its objective while staying undetected by traditional solutions that rely on file inspection.

4. DoS and DDoS Attacks

A denial of service (DoS) attack uses one computer to overwhelm the target’s resources with traffic until the system cannot attend to legitimate service requests. A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack uses several malware-infected host machines to achieve the same goal—exhaust the system’s resources until it cannot provide service to real users.

A DoS attack floods the target site with illegitimate requests. The site attempts to respond to each request, draining its resources until it cannot serve users. As a result, the site slows down and might eventually completely shut down.

DoS and DDoS attacks do not provide authorized access, as many attacks do. The objective is to interrupt the effectiveness of the target’s service. The threat actor may be hired by a business competitor or any other party that stands to benefit financially from taking down the target’s site.

Alternatively, threat actors might use DoS or DDoS as the first phase in a bigger attack. A successful DoS or DDoS attack takes the system offline, making it vulnerable to additional attacks.

Organizations can use a firewall to prevent DoS attacks. The firewall can attempt to distinguish between legitimate and suspicious requests and control traffic flow. Ideally, the firewall allows only legitimate traffic to flow into the network without interruptions and blocks imposter requests.

5. Phishing

Phishing attacks target end-users, trying to trick them into divulging information or downloading malware. A phishing attack sends emails or text messages masquerading as a legitimate brand like an eCommerce site or an authoritative institution like a bank. The message is crafted to pressure the end-user to perform a malicious action unknowingly.

A phishing email or message can include attachments and/or links that download malware on the user’s machine or send them to a malicious site. The malicious site may also impersonate a legitimate brand, asking the victim to enter sensitive and/or financial information into the form.

The email itself can contain stressful calls to action, asking the victim to urgently replace their password or confirm their credit card number.

6. Account Takeover

Account takeover (ATO) occurs when a threat actor uses stolen credentials to hijack an online account. It may lead to identity theft, fraud, or data breaches. Threat actors can obtain credentials by purchasing them on the dark web or launching various attacks, such as social engineering, phishing schemes, and data breaches.

Additionally, threat actors can deploy bots that automatically attempt to access the sites, trying different combinations of passwords and usernames to log in until they arrive at a list of verified credentials. The threat actor can sell these credentials to other actors or abuse the account.

7. MitM Attacks

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks enable threat actors to eavesdrop on data flowing between two parties like end-users, computers, or networks. The threat actor is positioned between—in the middle—the parties attempting to communicate.

Essentially, MitM attacks enable the threat actor to spy on the interaction while the two parties do not realize another party is listening or even modifying the communication before it reaches its destination.

Recent High Profile Cyber Attacks

Ukraine Cyber Attacks

In 2022, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were several major cyberattacks on Ukraine and several attacks on Russia. The first major cyberattack targeted over 70 Ukrainian government websites, and took down over a dozen of them. Most sites recovered within hours. Another cyberattack a month later disrupted the online government services and banking sites.

CNA Financial Ransomware

In 2021, CNA Financial, one of the largest cyber insurance companies in the United States, was attacked by ransomware on March 21, 2021. The cyberattack disrupted the organization's customer and employee services for three days. The CNA had to be closed to prevent further breaches. The cyberattack utilized a new version of the Phoenix CryptoLocker malware, a type of ransomware.

Florida Water System

In 2021, Cybercriminals attempted to take control over Florida's water supply, poisoning the water by raising sodium hydroxide levels to potentially dangerous levels. The attackers compromised a computer system in Oldsmar, a Florida water treatment plant, and temporarily increased sodium hydroxide levels from 100 ppm to 11,100 ppm. Fortunately, operators immediately saw the increase and reduced Sodium to its normal levels.

Acer Ransomware

In 2021, computer manufacturer Acer was attacked by ransomware and asked to pay a ransom of $50 million. At the time, this was the largest ransom request ever. A cybercriminal group called REvil was likely responsible for the attack. The attackers disclosed vulnerabilities on the site and leaked images of the stolen data. Acer offered to pay the attackers $10 million, but the offer was rejected.

Kaseya Ransomware

In 2021, Kaseya was the subject of one of the largest supply chain attacks in history. Kaseya is a US software company that manages networks, systems and information technology infrastructure. Attackers compromised Kaseya’s development systems and injected ransomware into a software update. This update was pushed to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) that used Kaseya’s systems, and their customers were infected by the REvil Group’s ransomware strain, Sodinokibi. This resulted in downtime and damage for more than 1,000 companies.

Capital One Breach

In 2019, private data belonging to over 100 million Americans and 6 million Canadians was compromised due to unauthorized access by former Amazon Web Services (AWS) employees. The leaked information included the name, address, date of birth, credit score, payment history, contact information and other data belonging to Capital One credit card applicants dating back to 2005. The attackers also stole account data for 80,000 current credit card customers.

Sources of Cyber Threats

When identifying cyber threats, it is important to understand who the threat actors are and their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). Common causes of cyber threats include:

  • State sponsored threat—cyberattacks backed by hostile nation states can disrupt communications, military organizations, or other services that are critical to civilian life. In some cases, these attackers perform cyber espionage, attempting to steal sensitive data from an organization or nation state and hand it to a foreign government.
  • Terrorists—terrorist groups can attack government and military targets, but might also attack web properties belonging to organizations or individuals, causing chaos and permanent damage.
  • Hacktivists—hackers who break into or disrupt systems for political or ideological reasons. Many belong to organized hacktivist groups.
  • Organized cybercrime groups—criminal gangs, many of them with a high level of sophistication and advanced technological tools, break into systems for financial gain. Organized criminal groups use phishing, spam and malware to steal data and conduct fraud online.
  • Industrial espionage—some cybercriminals engage in organized international corporate espionage. They perform industrial espionage and steal from large organizations, with their main goal being financial gain.
  • Individual hackers—there are millions of malicious threat actors operating individually. These range from "script kiddies" who use off-the-shelf threat toolkits to sophisticated hackers who can execute advanced attacks and develop new exploits and tools.
  • Malicious insiders—insider threats are a growing concern for organizations of all sizes.They are a severe threat because they have existing access to company systems and knowledge of target systems and sensitive data. Insider threats are destructive and difficult to detect.

4 Cyber Threat Prevention Strategies

Unified Security Architecture

Many companies build their security infrastructure using siloed security products, each of which targets one part of the IT environment (for example, network security or cloud security). This approach is often less effective because different technologies do not integrate well and there may be gaps in security coverage between tools. Also, working with multiple systems and vendors incurs overhead. Each security system requires skills and expertise, and security teams do not have the time to become an expert in all of systems.

To achieve comprehensive security, an organization should build a holistic security architecture that addresses network security, endpoint security, cloud security, email security, and all other relevant aspects of its environment. The entire environment should be covered by a unified prevention architecture and shared threat intelligence.

Reduce Your Attack Surface

The attack surface is defined as the total number entry points that allow unauthorized access to a system. This includes system vulnerabilities and any endpoints that can be exploited by threat actors. Another way to define the attack surface is that it is the area of a system or the combined systems of an organization that is vulnerable to attack.

For most modern enterprises, the attack surface is complex and large. There are numerous devices, web applications and network nodes, and infrastructure is often deployed across on-premise data centers and one or more clouds, creating many potential cybersecurity threats.

Here are a few ways organizations can reduce the attack surface:

  • Access control—restricting access to sensitive data and resources, both internally and externally. This involves implementing strong, multi-factor authentication, and adopting a zero trust approach that verifies all connections, even if they come from trusted entities within the corporate network.
  • Reduce complexity—unwanted or unused software often contain vulnerabilities and can be exploited by attackers. Critical systems and endpoints should be hardened, ensuring that they contain only the software, functionality, and network access they need to perform their role.
  • Scan regularly—digital assets and data centers need to be regularly scanned for vulnerabilities, and the organization must invest resources in remediating high priority vulnerabilities.
  • Network segmentation—modern firewalls and tools like zero trust network access (ZTNA) can perform micro-segmentation of networks, dividing it into smaller units and creating a micro-perimeter around protected assets. This prevents attackers from moving laterally and causing more damage, even if an attack succeeds.

Leverage Threat Intelligence

Threat intelligence is a critical capability in the battle against malware and cyber attackers. It can help organizations monitor your network, proactively detect and block threats, and rapidly respond to attacks.

Threat intelligence provides insights into the specific risks the organization is exposed to, including external threats like advanced persistent threats (APTs). It offers context and in-depth information about each threat, specifying the actors, their motivation, capabilities, and related Indicators of Compromise (IoCs). This information enables organizations to make informed defense and response decisions.

Here are key features of threat intelligence platforms:

  • Multi-source data correlation - each source is like a specific point of view that produces different data and insights compared to other sources. A threat intelligence platform should provide comprehensive visibility into various threats by aggregating internal and external data sources.