Understanding Cybersecurity Attack Vectors and Protecting Your Data

cybersecurity attack vector
Hackers understand every angle of cybersecurity attack vectors, so it's important that you do as well. Once you know how hackers can take advantage, you are better prepared to protect your organization. Read More

Hackers understand every angle of cybersecurity attack vectors, so it’s important that you do as well. Once you know how hackers can take advantage, you are better prepared to protect your organization.

cybersecurity attack vector

 

What are Cybersecurity Attack Vectors?

They’re called attack vectors – the methods by which cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to systems and networks in order to launch their attacks. They can be technical in nature, like taking advantage of a known application vulnerability, or they may involve the utilization of social engineering tactics wherein deception is used to extract information to facilitate access. They can also involve insiders, where the attacker has direct physical access to the systems targeted or is a former contractor or vendor whose access was never removed.

To minimize the likelihood that these attacks will be successful, you need to know how they work and what actions to take to better protect your resources. Following is an overview of some of the most common attack vectors along with recommendations to help you improve your organization’s cybersecurity.  For many small to mid-sized companies, particularly those experiencing rapid growth, outsourcing of information security, or perhaps all of their IT management operations, has been the best solution for a number of reasons.

Credential-based attacks

You’ve undoubtedly heard about these before. Without strong, complex user account passwords that must be changed periodically and cannot be frequently reused, your organization is vulnerable to credential-based attacks. Your systems should be configured to only allow employees to create and use passwords that meet minimum security standards for complexity and should require employees to change them every 90 days or less. They should not permit the reuse of any of the previous ten or more passwords.

If login credentials are exposed in a data breach and if the passwords compromised have not been changed frequently or have been reused often, the likelihood that the attacker can access systems with the breached credentials increases dramatically. Passwords that are not sufficiently complex may also allow brute-force attackers to successfully gain access simply by hammering systems with thousands of randomly auto-generated credentials.

Using a password manager will help your employees to create complex passwords for multiple accounts without having to remember them all or write them down (not recommended). Using multifactor authentication wherever possible also significantly reduces the chances that credential-based attacks will succeed.

Social engineering attacks

Phishing and spear-phishing are the primary variants of social engineering attacks used to compromise business systems. Phishing attacks may involve the sending of a large number of emails to randomly targeted employees hoping for a response or that a malicious attachment will be opened, while spear phishing specifically targets individuals identified by attackers as being in a position to provide the information they seek.

Impersonation is a tactic frequently used. The cybercriminal may pose as a coworker, contractor, or customer when interacting with a targeted employee. An example would be contacting the help desk posing as an employee in need of a password reset. In addition to email, social engineering attackers may also use text messaging or phone calls to make contact with their targets.

No technical controls can stop 100% of these attacks because they directly target the human in the loop. Email filters cannot block all malicious messages because, once an attacker’s domain (i.e., @ImAHacker.com) has been tagged for filtering, they can simply get a new one.

An educated workforce is the best defense against social engineering. Regular training of employees to recognize possible attacks is a must, as is having a process in place to report suspicious activity. Involving employees in simulations and training sessions that require their participation yields the best results. Simply providing written training material assuming employees will read, understand, and retain it is relatively ineffective. Active participation in training events improves retention. Simulations, when done properly, add stress because employees don’t know whether the attack is real. This also makes the lessons learned more memorable.

Insider attacks

With access to critical systems, disgruntled employees can do a great deal of damage in a short amount of time. Vendors whose access is not removed after their work is complete also pose a risk. “Tailgaters” who follow employees into secure areas posing as coworkers or contractors can also wreak havoc on your infrastructure.

Employees should be trained to recognize warning signs exhibited by disgruntled coworkers, including frequent complaints about their work and/or supervisors, keeping strange hours, accessing areas they have no need to access, etc. Human resources departments should have a process place for employees to report such suspicious activity. HR is the department that maintains the personnel records, making it the logical choice to process and act upon this type of information.

Physical access controls and role-based access policies should also be implemented where needed. An example would be to secure doors with locks that allow access based on job requirements. A cashier probably shouldn’t need to access the data center in order to perform his or her job duties, thus the cashier’s proximity badge should not unlock the data center door. Employees should also be encouraged to challenge those they don’t recognize before allowing them into a secure area and to direct them to a public reception area, instead.

Technical attack vectors

The most common of these attack vectors would include, but not be limited to, taking advantage of insufficient network perimeter security, a lack of data encryption, failure to install system updates and security patches, failure to properly secure SQL implementations, improper configuration of services, and missing or outdated malware protection.

Perimeter security is your network’s first line of defense, separating your internal resources from the Internet. The lack, or improper configuration, of secure access points, can allow an attacker to explore your entire infrastructure where he or she can search for other exploitable vulnerabilities. Additionally, unless your systems are protected by anti-malware applications that are kept up to date and that perform regular scans, the potential for damage that could be done by the attacker once access is obtained increases exponentially.

Ideally, both your at-rest and in-transit data should be encrypted to ensure that, if a hacker is able to intercept any communications in progress or compromise a system and gain access to stored data, that data would be unusable without the encryption key. Consider the possible ramifications of a cybercriminal obtaining information like administrative account credentials with elevated access privileges, customer credit card numbers, and internal network maps identifying all critical resources. Using strong encryption to encode this type of sensitive data, wherever it resides and whenever it is transmitted, ensures that it will be useless to an attacker even if it is compromised.

It is imperative that system updates and security patches are installed as soon as possible when they become available. In some cases, applications are running on operating systems that are no longer supported, thus they cannot be patched and are extremely vulnerable to attack. Accomplished hackers are very aware of the vulnerabilities associated with systems and applications. If you maintain your own infrastructure, your IT support team should be staffed with enough well-trained employees to ensure system and environmental security.

If your environment includes SQL database installations, they should be configured with parameterized queries to safeguard against SQL injection attacks. In such an attack, the actor creates a SQL query that can be used to perform malicious actions including data extraction or deletion. In fact, entire databases can be erased using SQL injection. Parameterized queries limit the commands that can be included in SQL statements to prevent them from being used maliciously. This is critically important considering that databases often house the most sensitive types of data, including medical information, credit card numbers, account credentials, etc.

These are some of the common attack vectors skilled hackers can leverage to do serious damage to your environment. Ransomware attacks, for example, can cost companies millions of dollars, destroy their reputations when sensitive data is compromised, and cause damages so extensive that the organizations may be unable to recover.

Recommendations

If your organization is facing challenges associated with maintaining IT infrastructure and security along with finding qualified personnel to staff your IT department, you are not alone. For a number of reasons, more organizations are choosing to partner with third-party providers of Security as a Service (SECaaS) and IT as a Service (ITaaS).

As you might guess, SECaaS providers focus on security while ITaaS companies provide a wider array of services including security to meet all of their client’s IT needs. Custom-tailored hybrid agreements with those who wish to maintain on-site infrastructure and staff are also an option. There is an ongoing shortage of qualified IT professionals that is expected to worsen over the next few years, so sharing a team of professionals with other companies has its advantages. Additionally, these service providers charge a predictable monthly fee that may be adjusted as your needs change. This eliminates high lump-sum annual license and maintenance renewal fees and system replacement costs by dividing them among other clients and spreading the costs over time. These providers may also offer 24/7 security and environment monitoring services that most of their clients could not otherwise afford.

For these reasons, Cybriant created CybriantXDR. This comprehensive threat detection and remediation service provides all the services and tools that most businesses will need to meet their compliance and cybersecurity needs. Learn more about CybriantXDR here.

 

Conclusion

Those whose organizations have been in business and maintaining their own internal IT infrastructure for some time now are probably well aware of the challenges they face. New threat vectors are being rapidly developed and the level and complexity of the threats constantly increase. Damages resulting from successful attacks, particularly those involving ransomware, can put companies out of business.

If yours is a growing, small to mid-sized business, it is important that you are aware of the threat environment, what actions you need to take to harden your IT infrastructure, and partner with an organization like Cybriant that can offer the best and most cost-effective solutions going forward.

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