Cybersecurity attack: Your questions about what it is, its various types & how to be safe answered
By Pranav Hegde
India has the second-largest internet user base, which is expanding day-by-day, it is thus essential to ensure high-level security and fill in any loopholes present in the network to avoid any kind of data breach.The internet has become the new basic essential service, especially during the coronavirus pandemic where people try and stay connected with their loved ones virtually.
But, the rise in internet usage demand has also opened the doors for hackers and virtual attackers to conduct cybersecurity attacks on unsuspecting users. India has the second-largest internet user base, which is expanding day-by-day both in terms of data and number of users. Therefore, it is essential for enterprises and government agencies to ensure high-level of security and fill in any loopholes present in the network to avoid any kind of data breach. But what if you or your organisation becomes victim to a cybersecurity attack? How can you prevent cybersecurity attacks and protect yourself virtually?
Following are some basics you should know to ensure your safety online.
What is a cybersecurity attack?
Just like how battles are fought to capture territory, in a digital world, cyber-attacks are performed to gain access to a network. Hackers use unethical means to gain access to a system and gain control over the data. These attackers use a combination of malicious code to attack a vulnerable system and gain control over it. There are various types of cybersecurity attacks like malware, phishing attacks, Denial-of-Service (DoS), Man-in-the-Middle (MITM), etc., that are used to hack a system and then either demand money in the form of cryptocurrency or sell data on the dark web.
What are the common types of cybersecurity attacks?
Phishing: This is one of the most common types of online attack used by hackers. In phishing, the attacker poses as a trusted source and sends a malicious email that looks legitimate at first sight. The motive behind sending the masquerading email is to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, credit card and other banking details, etc. An example of a common phishing attack could be an email about your social media account’s password expiry. The email is likely to contain a link that looks legitimate at first, but if noticed carefully, you may see some manipulation in its spelling. Let’s just say the hacker pretends to be from Instagram and sends a password expiry mail. The URL, in this case, could have Instagram’s name written as Instagarm/Instagrom/Instagam, etc. There is also a possibility that the email id reads itself as ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, which is not the official Instagram contact.
Smishing is a form of phishing attack but is typically done via an SMS. The message typically claims that the user has won a lottery and to claim it, the user needs to enter the details. If you click on such links, the website (which may also look legitimate) could trap and capture your credentials without your consent. It is important that you read such emails carefully and avoid clicking on seemingly suspicious URLs.
Malware: Malware is short for ‘malicious software’, which as the name suggests is a software that features the payload for accessing the victim’s data. This software installs a program which includes various types of malware like ransomware, spyware, trojans, worms, etc., which are designed to either damage a system or a network or delete/alter/ hijack data on that system. Ransomware is one of the most commonly used malware used to steal data. Once the malware is installed in a system, it hunts for sensitive information and encrypts it. The system then pops up a message asking for a ransom. Hackers often threaten to delete the data or sell it online if the victim refuses to pay the ransom. The victim is likely to regain access to their data only if they the asked amount. However, there is no guarantee of the hacker giving the data back or delete it from their system.
Use of a reliable antivirus application is the best way to scan the system and remove any installed malware. Users should avoid downloading and installing any software application or file from third-party websites or any from suspicious emails. Denial of Service (DoS): A DoS attack is a brute force attack aimed at bringing down a system or a website’s traffic and making it go offline. Attackers can flood a system or website with excessive traffic or send altered information that triggers a crash, making it inaccessible for other users.
In computer networks, attackers can use a form of DoS attack called Distributed DoS (DDoS). Like DoS, DDoS saturates up the bandwidth with excessive traffic from various systems connected to the main server, thus clogging up the network and eventually bringing it down. The goal of such kind of attacks is to make sure that the victim network or website loses out on traffic or use it as a distraction to target other networks. Man-in-the-Middle (MITM): Here, the attacker eavesdrops a communication between two parties. These parties could be between two users or a user and an application or a system. The attacker impersonates themselves as one of the two entities, making it appear as if both the legitimate parties are communicating with each other.
Behind the scenes, the attacker intercepts the communication between the two (as if they are sitting in the middle), thus having access to all the information shared between the two parties. The goal of such attacks is to get personal and sensitive information from the victim, which typically includes banking and finance-related information. To avoid such attacks, ensure you are connected to a secure internet connection. Visit websites with HTTPS protocol that use various encryption levels to avoid any kind of spoofing attacks. SQL Injection and Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): In an SQL Injection attack, the hacker attacks a vulnerable website’s database to retrieve sensitive information. The attacker uses malicious code to target any of the database’s SQL vulnerabilities, thus gaining access to all the data stored in the database upon successful implementation.
In the case of an XSS attack, the attacker targets web apps that deliver the malicious code to a web browser. The web browser acts as a bridge for execution and the code is only injected when the user visits the attacked website. During such attacks, sensitive information that the user enters on the website can be hijacked without any website or the user’s knowledge.
How to keep yourself safe from cyberattacks
Do not share any sensitive information like your email ID, password, credit cards details, etc., on forums or websites. Make sure your password is complex and not something that is easy to guess. For example, avoid using your name, birth date, or common numeric passwords like 12345 for important accounts. Use a combination of different characters and numbers instead. Before clicking a link, make sure the website is legitimate. Check for any spelling mistakes in the message received or in the URL itself. Update your system with the latest software update. These updates are aimed at fixing existing bugs and also improve the security of the system.
Scan your system very often using trustworthy anti-virus software.
Do not open or reply to spam messages and emails.
Avoid using open Wi-Fi. These networks are not secure and hackers can easily inject a malicious code to gain access to your data. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that creates a secure tunnel between you and the website.