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What is a Cyber Attack?

A hacker using a computer virus for cyber attack

The words cyber attack can cause a racing heart and sweaty palms for anyone who uses the internet. Warnings of these attacks seem to greet us at every turn, and safety precautions when we’re online have become increasingly vital to our security. Cyber criminals look for increasingly sophisticated ways to infiltrate our personal files and insidious ways to use the information they mine. 

The truth is, we should remain vigilant about those lurking in the shadows of questionable websites and email inboxes. 1 in 5 internet users are impacted by cyber criminals — and may not even know it. In 2022 alone, 53.35 million US internet users were impacted by cybercrime. That’s why cybersecurity is imperative for online protection.

Let’s take a look at:

  • The definition of cyber attack
  • The motivations of cybercriminals 
  • Types and examples of cyber attacks
  • How you can protect yourself from falling victim to bad online actors

The definition of cyber attack 

Cyber attacks can come in many forms, with varying targets, and on many different scales. Targeted attacks typically impact corporations or vital organizations such as banks, government agencies, hospitals, and public utilities providers. 

Broader attacks can infiltrate personal email accounts, typically start with phishing emails, and target anyone who takes the bait.

As defined by NIST Computer Security Resource Center, a cyber attack is “any kind of malicious activity that attempts to collect, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy information system resources or the information itself.”

Concept of phishing credit card scam cyber attack

What motivates cyber criminals?

For those who choose to perpetrate cyber attacks, the motivations vary. Many are sophisticated criminals whose crimes are committed offline, too. However, there are a few major reasons for cyber criminals that tend to cover every type of online scam.

Some of the largest motivations for cybercrime include:

Corporate Espionage

Bad actors exist on both an individual level and on a corporate level. Particularly shady businesses may hack into a corporate database for blackmail purposes, to steal company secrets and then sell to the highest bidder, or to infiltrate customer databases.

Financial Gain

It’s all about the money. Even motivations that aren’t solely based on financial gain (like corporate espionage) often see money as an added bonus result of nefarious activities. 

The most widespread cyber attacks are phishing schemes — which may include stealing sensitive banking information or even someone’s identity. Typically, a phishing scheme is created to financially benefit either an individual cyber criminal or an organization of criminal hackers.

Insider Sabotage

A disgruntled employee or contractor may be motivated to sabotage the infrastructure of a corporation. They might use their knowledge of a company’s inner workings and secrets to negatively impact the business. 

These bad actors may also exploit vulnerabilities in the computer network of a business to send operations into upheaval. 

Personal vendettas or obsessions

Some cyber criminals are motivated to begin their lives of online crime by personal situations. The cyber attacks they launch may have the sole purpose of sabotaging the reputation or life of another person. 

For example, someone who is obsessed with a former romantic partner may begin stalking them online and hacking into their personal accounts. This is typically done to instill fear: the bad actor with a personal motivation may not gain any benefit other than destruction of another person.

Political chaos

From election interference to launching a ransomware attack against a government agency, cyber attacks with political motivations can even be launched by bad state actors. 

Typically, these cyber attacks aim to cause chaos in state or national leadership, and could even target organizations vital to societal infrastructure (such as banks, hospitals, and utilities).

For example, the Geneva-based CyberPeace Institute has tracked at least 35 infrastructure cyber attacks that Russia has launched against Ukraine since the onset of the war.

The cost of cyber attacks

Cyber attacks damage the financial well-being of society in significant ways. The cost of each attack can have a huge impact on the monetary well-being of their targets. According to a 2020 article in CyberCrime Magazine, cyber attacks cost the global economy $6 trillion in 2021.

Cybercrime represents a greater yearly cost than that of large-scale natural disasters and collectively, cyber attacks bring in more profit than illegal drug trafficking. In other words, these rampant attacks have a ripple financial effect on the global market.

Ransomware cyber attack displaying on a computer

Warning signs of a cyber attack

So how can you spot the warning signs of a potential or ongoing cyber attack? Cybercrime can impact anyone, from any walk of life. However, there are tip offs to help you avoid the worst devastation of future attacks.

Some of the warning signs of a cyber attack include:

Random Downloads

If your device begins to download files from unrecognizable sources or without your permission, this is an alarm bell signaling a potential attack. Make sure you’ve set up your security software to automatically scan downloads, and switch all permissions in your personal settings to private.

Deleted or Corrupted Files

If you find fully functional computer files are suddenly corrupted or can’t be opened, this may be a red flag of a cyber attack. Ensure that you run your antivirus software to delete any questionable downloads or unknown users with access to your system.

Copious Pop-Ups

Most computer security software prevents, or at least drastically reduces, pop-ups as you surf the web. If you find you’re suddenly drowning in pop-ups, a bad actor may be attempting to breach your security.

A Sentient Mouse

Rest assured, your computer mouse is not sentient. However, if your computer mouse suddenly begins acting of its own accord, this could signify someone remotely accessing your system.

Financial Issues

If you find your bank account shows questionable activity, your credit score suddenly plummets, or you’re receiving inexplicable charges on your credit cards, you may have fallen victim to a cyber attack. 

Make sure your bank and charge accounts have fraud protection and fraud alert to help you stop these criminals before they change your life in irrevocable ways.

How What is My IP Address can help protect you 

 If you’ve been targeted in a cyber attack, there are ways to reduce the damage and protect yourself against further attacks. At What is My IP Address, we have tools that can help you protect yourself online. 

You don’t have to be a technology professional or a computer whiz to educate yourself on cyber attacks and how to avoid them. Check out our blog for the latest in tips and trends in cybersecurity.  

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