The top 5 network security threats - and how to successfully fend them off!
by Svenja Koch
There are a variety of cyber threats to corporate information security. Some of them are characterized by their particularly high threat potential or an insidious infection path. Other threats are difficult to detect and that is why they are so dangerous. This article looks at the five most dangerous cyber threats to network security today - and which defense techniques are effective.
Rank 5: Phishing
Phishing is one of the oldest techniques used by cybercriminals. At the same time, this method is still very successful. This is mainly due to two factors: First, attackers are very creative in their approach to phishing. This often makes it difficult to immediately recognize phishing attacks as such. Second, phishing targets one of the greatest weaknesses in information security: the human factor.
The classic phishing procedure is still via e-mail. A trustworthy source is simulated as the sender. As a rule, the messages contain content that indicates a disruption in a payment or in an account. A quick response is demanded in order to rectify the situation. Of course, the phishing email has an alleged solution ready. Usually, a link is attached that leads to a fake website. These imitated websites are sometimes very professional and imitate banks or online stores, for example. The mail asks the recipient of the mail to log in to his account. If the recipient does not realize that it is a fake website and enters his password, the attackers have achieved their goal. They now have the real login information for the original website. On websites that imitate online banking, the criminals also try to grab PINs and TANs.
Rank 4: Social Engineering
In recent years, social engineering has increasingly threatened data security in companies. The aim of social engineering is to obtain specific information. To do this, criminals use a variety of methods. On the one hand, social engineering takes place via social media. The attackers use a plan to search for people who work at the target company. Using fake profiles, the attackers gain the trust of the target person. Then, they casually ask for details from the company. Attackers also use e-mails or telephone calls to obtain information. Here, too, false identities are used to build up a basis of trust.
The dangerous thing about social engineering is the cybercriminals' strategic and perfidious approach. The attackers like to use information they have already extracted to obtain further data. For example, when calling, the attackers pretend that they have arranged something with a colleague, but that he is now on vacation - where this information may have been extracted via Facebook. Then another employee may give out further information that is confidential. Information security is then no longer guaranteed. With an abundance of individual pieces of information, the attackers collect enough data for further attacks.
Rank 3: DDoS attacks
Distributed Denial of Service attacks are a particular threat to network security. This is an attack method in which the target network is overloaded by an extremely high number of requests. This causes the systems to collapse or the applications to no longer be accessible or usable. DDoS attacks are based on the fact that systems such as a web server only support a certain number of HTML requests. If this capacity is exceeded, the server is overloaded. This causes both the network and the server itself to stop responding due to the overload. Applications or web servers then also frequently crash.
With a DDoS attack, hackers like to camouflage targeted attacks that put data security at risk. Then, the DDoS attack is just a tool to make the network security shake. At the same time, the attack on the real target begins. The IT security of the affected organization is distracted by the DDoS attack. It is also possible to deliver fake DNS responses while the target system is disrupted. This then affects third party users who want to access the service of the attacked website. These requests are then redirected and lead to a fake website of the cybercriminals. This opens up the possibilities for phishing attacks. Thus, even the data security of uninvolved third parties is at risk without them committing a mistake themselves or being the direct target of the cyberattack.
Rank 2: Ransomware and malware
Malware is one of the biggest threats to network security. Malware is malicious software that has very different purposes. Malware disrupts the operation of the systems it infects. This manifests itself in very different ways. The class of malware includes, for example, keyloggers that intercept entered data, or viruses that are more or less dangerous. Malware is often part of a larger cyberattack, when the malware is used to collect login information.
In terms of information security, ransomware plays a key role. It also belongs to the class of malware, more precisely Trojans. Ransomware has two tasks. First, this malware encrypts data on hard drives and servers. If the backup is also affected, data security is no longer guaranteed. In addition, Ransomware also sends an extortion demand to the user of the compromised system. In this context, ransomware is sometimes able to block the operating system and thus prevent the computer from being used.
Rank 1: Advanced Persistent Threats
An advanced persistent threat (APT) describes a complex and targeted attack on an IT infrastructure. In this respect, an APT differs from many other cyberattacks. These do not take place in a targeted manner, but the victim is attacked by a virus or falls for a phishing attempt purely by chance. Accordingly, an APT attack consists of several phases. The cycle always begins with the selection of a target. Then the attackers gather information about the victim. This includes an analysis of network structures. The hackers then decide on one or more attack vectors. After that, the phase of deploying the attack tools begins. If the infiltration is successful, the attackers begin to search the network for interesting data. Likewise, the hackers establish and expand their access to the network.
Advanced Persistent Threats are thus costly and long-term projects. The hackers invest a lot of time and resources in infiltrating the target network. For this reason, attackers proceed with extra caution. Unlike many other cyberattacks, the hackers remain completely undetected in an APT. Most other cyberattacks culminate in an action that directly affects the user. In a ransomware attack, this is especially obvious because if the attackers are successful, the data is encrypted and the system is no longer operational. This is one of the points why APT attacks are so dangerous.
Another point why APTs pose a threat to data security is their unpredictability. Unlike many other cyberattacks, attackers proceed cautiously and place a high value on remaining undetected. In addition, an APT is characterized by a high level of manual effort. Even ransomware is now highly automated, whereas in an APT, the hackers usually control the tools themselves. The third reason why APTs pose a threat to information security and are difficult to detect is the dynamic attack pattern. There is no particular way hackers infect networks in an APT attack. Rather, they decide individually which tool is best for the target. Thus, attackers spy on gaps in network security and target them.
An APT attack is also a persistent threat to data security. This is because the hackers have an interest in remaining undetected. Thus, the hackers retain access to the network and use it to extract more data at a later time. The chance of an APT going undetected at this stage is high. If the existing network security has weaknesses and anomaly detection is not in place, there are no defenses left to reliably detect the attackers.
APT attacks have different targets: The technique has its origins in industrial espionage. The aim here is to specifically extract economic secrets from a company via the network. In the meantime, other cyberattacks on network security with similar attack patterns are also referred to as APTs. What matters is the attackers' modus operandi. APTs are characterized by manual and dynamic attack patterns.
What defense techniques are effective against these threats and truly enhance your information security?
The five main threats to network and data security require specific cyber defense measures. What these threats have in common is that traditional defenses offer no protection in most cases. These include antivirus software or firewalls. Especially against APTs, a different approach is required - here we speak of a proactive and preventive defense technique. An essential component of this technique is anomaly detection as part of network monitoring. Anomaly detection involves permanent monitoring of all activity on the network. This includes connections, traffic and actions of users. Software is used to collect this data. In real time, IT security staff monitor messages from this platform and analyze whether illegal activities are behind them. Real-time control is a key component in ensuring a high level of information security. Otherwise, hackers have time to carry out their planned actions.
In practice, there are two primary options for implementing early anomaly detection: Organizations have the option of establishing a Security Operations Center (SOC). Here, a team of IT specialists works exclusively on anomaly early detection and network security around the clock, 365 days a year. Such a SOC thus requires enormous resources, which is not feasible for small and medium-sized enterprises.
The second option is an external service provider such as secion Active Cyber Defense (ACD) service. This takes over the proactive 24/7 monitoring of the network and the analysis of all activities. In the event of suspicious incidents that threaten information security, the customer's IT security receives an immediate message. This makes it possible to react immediately to unauthorized access by attackers, for example as part of an APT attack.
Data security in companies has never been as threatened as it is today. Cyberattacks are now part of everyday life and the frequency continues to increase. Those who cut corners in the area of network and data security are putting their organization at risk of an APT attack or a serious cyber attack with ransomware. To ensure information security, a comprehensive IT security strategy is necessary. In addition to classic defensive measures such as firewalls and antivirus software, this also necessarily includes active methods such as early anomaly detection. With effective network monitoring services such as secion ACD service, organizations save themselves the expensive expense of setting up and maintaining their own SOC. In this way, network and information security can be established at a high level with few resources.