What is an Attack Vector?
In cyber security, an attack vector is a method or pathway used by a hacker to access or penetrate the target system. Hackers steal information, data and money from people and organizations by investigating known attack vectors and attempting to exploit vulnerabilities to gain access to the desired system. Once a hacker gains access to an organization's IT infrastructure, they can install a malicious code that allows them to remotely control IT infrastructure, spy on the organization or steal data or other resources.
Attack vectors may be exploited by a variety of groups, from a disgruntled former employee of your organization that wants to disrupt your business to the intelligence service of a foreign government that wants to steal your technology. There are also many different known attack vectors that these groups can effectively exploit to gain unauthorized access to your IT infrastructure. IT organizations can mitigate against cyber attacks through a number of different methods, including real-time event detection and response capabilities that neutralize cyber attacks before they can lead to data loss.
Why are Attack Vectors Exploited by Hackers?
Hackers make money by performing malicious attacks on software systems, but they aren't always looking to steal credit card data or banking information. Some hackers have developed more sophisticated ways of monetizing their actions that are less obvious than a compromised credit card number. Some examples include:
- Infecting your systems with bots that the hacker can remotely access from an off-site command and control server. Some hackers infect hundreds or thousands of computers with bots to establish a network known as a botnet. Botnets can be used to send spam, perform cyber attacks, steal data or mine cryptocurrency.
- Customer data theft is a common motivation for hackers who target organizations that collect and store large amounts of personal data from their customers. Hackers love to steal personalized healthcare information as it can be used to commit insurance or credit card fraud or to illegally obtain prescription drugs.
- A denial of service (DoS) attack can overload your systems and lead to unplanned service outages. Businesses may initiate DoS attacks against their competitors to damage their IT infrastructure and harm their sales.
There are hackers with motivations other than money, such as those that want to leak secret information to the public, embarrass someone they disagree with, or make a political statement. For most IT organizations, however, the majority of cyber attacks will come from hackers that are trying to steal personal and financial data.
How do Hackers Exploit Attack Vectors?
There are many different types of actors who commit cyber attacks. A disgruntled former employee may be aware of vulnerable attack vectors due to their role in the company. An individual hacker may be trying to steal personalized information. A hacktivist might initiate a cyber attack against your organization to make a political statement. Business competitors may try to attack your IT infrastructure to gain a competitive edge. Cyber-criminal groups combine their expertise and resources to penetrate complex security systems and steal large volumes of data from big companies.
In all of these cases, the general methodology of exploiting attack vectors is the same:
- Hackers identify a target system that they wish to penetrate or exploit
- Hackers use data collection and observation tools such as sniffing, emails, malware or social engineering to obtain more information about the target
- Hackers use this information to identify the best attack vector, then create tools to exploit it
- Hackers break the security system using the tools they created, then install malicious software applications
- Hackers begin to monitor the network, stealing your personal and financial data or infecting your computers and other endpoint devices with malware bots
Securing potential attack vectors against exploitation by hackers requires IT organizations to implement policies and procedures that prevent hackers from obtaining useful information about IT security vulnerabilities.
Attack Vectors in the IT Infrastructure
IT organizations need to be aware of the most common attack vectors for malicious cyber attacks to effectively safeguard their networks against unauthorized access. These are most common attack vectors used by hackers and how to mitigate against them.
Phishing Emails - Phishing emails are one of the most common types of cyber attacks. They can be especially hard to mitigate because while IT personnel may be savvy about verifying the contents of an email, members of the business may not be. Phishing emails try to trick the recipient into giving up restricted information, often by presenting them with a link to a malicious website.
Mitigation strategy: The IT organization should encourage reporting of phishing emails and block known senders of malicious mail through a centralized email filter to prevent users from being bombarded with phishing emails. Simple heuristics like "Always make sure you are at the company login page before you enter your credentials" can help less sophisticated users avoid being tricked by phishing emails.
Malware - Malware is a catch-all term that describes any program that introduces malicious code into your IT infrastructure. Viruses, worms and trojans are all examples of Malware. Malware infections can spread throughout the IT infrastructure, creating a lot of overtime for IT SecOps teams and potentially compromising valuable data while impacting service availability.
Mitigation strategy: Zero-day attacks are difficult to avoid, but maintaining an up-to-date antivirus and firewall can significantly reduce the probability of a successful virus attack against your organization.
Unpatched Vulnerabilities - When a software developer identifies a major security vulnerability in its application, it writes a patch for it and releases the patch so users can install it. If your IT organization neglects to install patches on a regular basis, hackers can use the known vulnerability as an attack vector to defeat your security.
Mitigation Strategy: Regularly monitor all of your applications and servers for available patches and perform updates as soon as possible to reduce your vulnerability.
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