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Breaking Down Modern Cybercrime

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

In this reading, you’ll analyze some real-life examples to better understand the most prevalent types of modern cyber attacks and how they are propagated, as well as tips for safeguarding against them.



Graph showing types of attacks
Graph showing types of attacks

You'll notice that a prominent attack type highlighted in this chart is adware, which is a type of software that frequently shows ads to a user and is typically installed through deceit or without consent. The other category consists of various, less common attacks, such as a browser hijacker. This is software that alters a user's web browser without permission, usually to direct the user toward a particular website. However, this reading will focus on the three most common types of attacks that are capable of doing extensive harm to a user's computer or a system; these are Trojan, ransomware, and botnet attacks.


Trojan Attacks

The most frequent attack indicated in the chart is a Trojan attack. The name is a historical reference to the battle of Troy, when the Greeks were said to sidestep the defenses of the Trojans by tricking them into wheeling a wooden horse full of enemy soldiers into their own city. This is an umbrella term that covers several attack types, including the following:

  • Exploit Trojans

  • Downloader Trojans

  • Ransom Trojans

  • Backdoor Trojans

While Trojans will behave differently depending on the type, the common trait of this approach is that a user inadvertently introduces malicious code into the organization and triggers it behind the defensive walls. The best defense against trojan attacks is to practice vigilant internet usage. Some guidelines are to never click on an unsolicited email with unexpected attachments, and always examine domain names and links before clicking on them. Be particularly vigilant with misspellings, such as zeroes that have been replaced with O’s, a trick used to lure an unwary user into bringing the horse behind the gate. Below you’ll find an example of a potentially malicious email, along with a list of general warning signs to be aware of.


Potentially Malicious Email Example

Ransomware Attacks

The second most common type of attack from the previous data is ransomware. Recall that ransomware is an approach to cybercrime that is designed to cause disruption to services. This approach is featured frequently in the news due to the scope of impact. It is not uncommon for these attacks to occur on a national scale, with infrastructure and vital services being the target. Recent examples include:

  • Ireland’s Health Service’s Executive (HSE) in 2021.

  • Critical Ukraine infrastructure in 2022.

  • Costa Rica, which declared a state of emergency when 30 institutions of government were held to ransom.

The methodology behind these types of attacks is to gain access to a system and lock out the legitimate owner until a demand has been met. One approach to best mitigate against this type of attack is to ensure that no external actors gain access to your system. Best practices for achieving this include the following:

  • Use strong passwords. A strong password is one that is difficult to guess and typically would include a mix of characters, numbers, and symbols.

  • Keep your system up-to-date with the latest security patches.

  • Ensure that only people with authorization for a system can use its system.

Botnet Attacks

Next is Botnet attacks, which represent 13% of the documented attacks in the chart above. A bot can be defined as an online software program that performs automated and repetitive tasks. They are a means of creating a Denial of Service to an organization. If a Trojan attack is a subtle attempt to circumnavigate an application’s defenses, a bot attack could be described as a full scaling of the walls, as depicted below.


Bot Net attack example

These attacks are orchestrated so that a system is plagued with innumerable requests for information and services. These requests can come from any capable devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) that have an IP address. The IoT relates to devices online and will be covered in more detail later.

This type of attack can be coupled with the trojan attack, when some of the code maliciously embedded in a system is used to make the request of another system. In this way, an attacker makes use of someone else's digital resources to negate the resources of a targeted victim. One defensive approach to mitigate against these types of attacks is to monitor network traffic for suspicious activity. If a particular source is identified as making repeated calls that impact the operations of a system, then this address can be blocked. However, more sophisticated approaches must be employed when a variety of compromised systems are used.


Conclusion

As you may have concluded, cybercrime is a broad field that encompasses a variety of means of extorting money from an organization. This ranges from stalling business activities to removing items of value, such as user information.


In this reading, you became familiar with the most common cyberattack approaches that affect real organizations and how they can be implemented. You were also made aware of some actions that can be taken to mitigate the risk of such attacks occurring.

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