Protecting Your Business: Recognizing Different Varieties of Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks come in many forms, and each type poses a different risk to your business. Learn how to recognize the various variations of cyberattacks and protect your business from data breaches that can cause costly damage.

Train employees to be suspicious of attachments and links in emails; set rules about physically disposing of company laptops and cellphones; and implement policies on encrypting personal information on devices.


Malware, short for malicious software, is the general term used to describe hostile programs or code that enters your computers, servers, or other devices without your consent. It can steal data, disrupt device operations or systems, or harm your business. It can also spy on your activity and share that information with threat actors or the general public.

The motives behind malware attacks vary. They can be about making money (e.g., stealing credit card details or confidential login credentials), sabotage (e.g., deleting files or wiping records), international espionage, cyber warfare, or even bragging rights.

Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and adware are all types of malware. A virus can infect and replicate to infect additional devices, while a worm can propagate by modifying other programs. Staying informed about the varieties of cyberattacks is essential for individuals and businesses to adopt proactive measures to safeguard their digital assets and privacy.

Trojan horses allow attackers to remotely access a system and steal or spoof usernames and passwords. Adware can display intrusive or unauthorized pop-up ads on your computer or mobile device.

Your business can reduce the risk of malware by using antivirus software on desktops and mobile devices, implementing multifactor authentication for all users, and installing patches as soon as they’re available. It’s also important to back up all critical data regularly and develop a cadence for testing your backups. Also, be wary of shortened URLs in emails and suspicious-looking websites or links.


Ransomware encrypts a victim’s data or important files and then demands payment to restore access. It takes advantage of human, system, network, and software vulnerabilities and can infect any device, such as a computer, printer, smartphone, wearable, or point-of-sale (POS) terminal. There are thousands of ransomware strains, and adversaries invest significant time and money to develop new ones yearly.

When an enterprise becomes infected with ransomware, the immediate priority is to isolate the affected device and prevent the threat from spreading. The best way to do this is to immediately disconnect the device from the network, Internet, and other devices. In addition, a quick scan of the compromised device should reveal file renaming and extension changes that help identify infected devices.

After the device is isolated, it is essential to work as quickly as possible to determine the extent of the breach. Adversaries focus on identifying and exfiltrating (stealing) valuable data during this phase, typically targeting login credentials, customers’ personal information, or intellectual property. They may also extort additional funds to publish the stolen data on data leak sites or threaten to attack the victim’s customers or business partners.

Ultimately, paying the ransom is not recommended, as it encourages cybercriminals to continue their attacks and can provide information about the victim’s financial situation to other criminals. Instead, organizations should report the attack to law enforcement immediately. In the US, this means writing the breach to the appropriate state or federal agency by data legislation.


Phishing attacks are often accompanied by malware attachments that silently download onto victims’ devices and can steal sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, bank account details, etc. They can lead to identity theft, ransomware attacks, data breaches, and other costly cybercrimes that expose individuals and organizations to significant financial loss.

Cybercriminals use phishing emails to pose as a legitimate entities like a bank, school, or company with which they do business to trick recipients into sharing private information. They use authentic-looking logos and branding to make these emails appear legitimate, which gives them a higher chance of success. A common tactic is to include an urgent message to convince recipients that their accounts will be deactivated or that they need immediate action.

The most sophisticated type of phishing attack is spear phishing, designed to target specific individuals within an organization. Attackers will use personalized information about the victim, such as their name, title, and work phone number, to create a more persuasive email.

Another type of phishing attack is called vishing, which involves attackers using voice-changing software to call a victim and pretend to be their trusted contact. Finally, whaling is a phishing attack that targets executives and other high-profile users inside a business. The email comes from the CEO or other high-level leader and requests that they transfer a large sum of money to the attacker.

Social Engineering

People tend to trust, respect, or fear authority figures (in varying degrees). Attackers leverage this trait by impersonating government agencies and other authorities in social engineering attacks. This can include sending an email that appears to be from a coworker requesting information, threatening phone calls, and even physical attacks like tailgating, where attackers follow authorized employees into restricted areas of the business.

Many people feel obligated to follow through on requests they’ve agreed to. Attackers can take advantage of this by making their requests appear urgent or offering rewards that are difficult to refuse. For example, they may say the offer will expire if the victim doesn’t act immediately.

Social engineering is a highly effective way for attackers to breach security and gather sensitive information about their targets. It can lead to full organization compromise, meaning all company data, including emails, credentials, source code, and client data, could be stolen by an attacker.

Investing in employee training that emphasizes secure thinking and action is essential to combat these types of threats. This training can help employees spot phishing attempts and other common cyberattacks before becoming victims. It can also teach them to be vigilant and question suspicious activities, such as following an unknown person into restricted office areas or clicking on a malicious link in a phishing email.

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