6 Types of Cyberattacks That Threaten Small Businesses

Hacking icons surrounding a computer.

The global cost of cyber crime will reach $2 trillion by 2019, according to IBM. For small business owners, successfully preventing a cyberattack can mean the difference between staying financially afloat and permanently losing their spot in the marketplace. It is therefore crucial for entrepreneurs to understand the types of cyber threats that might harm their digital spaces.

Cyberattack Basics

A cyberattack is considered any breach of a computer system by an outside party. Cyberattacks can target individuals, organizations, companies or governments. A common goal of hackers is to steal and take advantage of sensitive data such as credit cards, Social Security numbers or other personal identity details. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks because they fall into what Business News Daily calls a hacking “sweet spot:” large enough to provide valuable information, but lacking the security of larger organizations.

When approaching cybersecurity, it helps to assume that every business is a potential victim. In doing so, companies can begin to think about their points of digital weakness and respond accordingly. IT professionals are usually helpful for identifying vulnerabilities such as unintended flaws in computer systems, pointing out exploitable features and explaining possible user errors.

With the knowledge of how attacks are possible, small business owners can effectively protect themselves.

Different Types of Cyber Threats

Below are six common types of cyber threats. However, it is important to remember the list is not exhaustive. A key element of basic cybersecurity is remembering that networks and the threats they face are subject to constant evolution and change.

Malware and Ransomware 

One of the most common types of cyberattacks, malware and ransomware infect computers in order to steal confidential information. Malware comes in many different forms, such as viruses, Trojan horses, worms and spyware, all of which are designed to exploit specific computer functions. Malware can do any number of harmful things, including:

  • Delete files
  • Collect personal information and share it with third parties
  • Record keystrokes and watch users through webcam technology
  • Use a single computer to hack other computers
  • Disable security settings
  • Send spam
  • Hijack web browsers

Ransomware is a version of malware that inhibits users’ ability to access their computer and demands payment to restore functioning.

The easiest way to protect against malware and ransomware is to ensure that all firewall security is enabled and updated consistently. Users must also take responsibility for their actions online. Refraining from clicking suspicious links, for example, is an easy way to avoid malware contamination.

Phishing Scams and Spear-Phishing

Phishing and spear-phishing are other notably common forms of cyberattacks. In phishing events, hackers send authentic-looking emails and text messages to their targets in order to steal personal and financial information. The messages often ask victims to update, validate or confirm an account. During phishing attacks, the audience is broad and indiscriminate. In spear-phishing, hackers target certain individuals.

Small business owners can protect their companies against phishing by educating their employees in how to recognize the signs and avoid risky behavior online. This might include refraining from filling out forms embedded within emails or providing sensitive information digitally as well as ignoring generic-looking requests for personal data.

Password Attacks/Brute Force Logins

In these sorts of attacks, hackers attempt to figure out passwords to gain access to databases, accounts and other sensitive digital spaces. They may obtain a list of employee names, for example, or use particular software programs, then conduct trial-and-error experiments until successful.

Warding against password attacks is straightforward. Companies can encourage their employees to use passwords that are not made up of easy keyboard progressions (such as “qwerty”) and can require passwords to be changed frequently. They can also add a level of security by causing accounts to automatically lock after a certain number of failed login attempts.

Denial of Service (DoS)/Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks are most often used against large companies and organizations. Their point is to shut down the system or website in question. In a DoS attack, hackers exploit one system vulnerability and use it to send massive quantities of data to the rest of the network until the system can no longer function. In DoS attacks, hackers attack through a single computer. In Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, they use several.

Protecting against DoS and DDoS attacks requires organizations to update software regularly. It is also helpful to monitor data flow to see if there are any unexplained spikes in traffic. Companies may additionally buy extra bandwidth to handle traffic spiking or specific tools designed to detect DDoS attacks.

Man-in-the-Middle (MITM)

In Man-in-the-Middle attacks, hackers impersonate end users to obtain sensitive information. For example, a hacker may send an email to customers pretending to be a representative from their bank or contact the bank pretending to be a customer. Because the easiest way to gain access to both parties is through a non-encrypted wireless access point, small businesses should be sure to use WAPs, WPAs or WPA2s for their wireless systems. Businesses may also benefit from installing an intrusion detection system (IDS).

Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)

Advanced persistent threats (APTs) are stealthy infiltrations that seek to obtain information from a network over a long period of time. APTs occur in five distinct phases, according to Symantec:

  1. Reconnaissance: Hackers assess their target network to understand its nature and find weaknesses.
  2. Incursion: Attackers break into the network and insert targeted malware to susceptible individuals and systems.
  3. Discovery: The organization’s security systems are analyzed so that hackers can create a plan for information capture.
  4. Capture: Hackers access systems and capture information over a lengthy period of time. Malware may also be installed to disrupt the system.
  5. Exfiltration: Sensitive information is sent back to the attack team’s system for analysis and use.

No matter how small, any cyberattack can mean real trouble for small business owners. The more our society comes to rely on technology, the more important it is to ward against digital assaults. IT professionals are key players of defense, helping small business owners retain safe and reliable networks.

Additional sources: Intuit Quickbooks, Government of Canada, Small Business Trends, Common Cyber Attacks: Reducing the Impact

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