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Types of Cyber Attacks and How to Prepare for Them

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The term cyber attack may cause your palms to sweat and your body to shake in fear. Cyber attacks sound as malevolent as terrorist attacks, and in some ways they can prove just as harmful. 

Many of us assume we’ll never have to deal with this threat — we have Internet security and firewall protection on our personal computers, and our work computers are protected by an entire department of professionals. We equate cyber attacks with fictional plot points from Jack Ryan or The Bourne Identity. However, they’re very much a real threat for anyone with access to the Internet.

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The Dangers Posed By Cyber Terrorists

These attacks don’t come with a threat of physical violence or death, but they can ruin lives and societal structures all the same. The FBI’s Annual Internet Crime Report estimates that cyber attacks cost the U.S. $6.9 billion in 2021 — a statistic that rose almost 500% from 2017, when the cost of cyber terrorism was $1.4 billion.

As technology evolves, so does the intricacy of threats from malevolent cyber terrorists. These adversarial bad actors want your personal data, classified government files, and other information assumed to be secure and confidential. From identity theft to shutting down hospitals and utilities grids, cyber attacks are very real, and at some point, many of us will find ourselves contending with their aftermath.

In this article, we’ll break down the following for you:

  • The definition of cyber attacks
  • Different types of cyber attacks
  • How to prepare for a cyber attack
  • How cyber experts can help

What’s a cyber attack?

A cyber attack is a malicious, focused action perpetrated by groups or individuals to breach an online information system and the data contained therein of either an organization or an individual. Cyber attacks focused against businesses can interrupt daily operations.

Although individuals are typically targeted by a lone hacker or loosely organized group of hackers, large scale targeted attacks are often carried out by extremely organized groups against every professional sector. 

Some of the professional spaces hit hardest by hackers over the past decade include:

  • Educational Institutions: According to Info Security Magazine, in 2022 there was a 44% increase in cyber attacks against the education sector. A significant ransomware attack was launched against Richmond Community Schools in Michigan in 2020 — the attack infected all of the schools’ online systems (including the HVAC heating) and forced the schools to extend their winter break.
  • Financial sector: Over the years, financial institutions have been hit hard by cyber attacks. For example, in 2022, financial platform Beanstalk Farms lost $180 million in cryptocurrency due to a cyber thief. 
  • Government: In 2021, the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department was hit by ransomware that leaked the personal data of 22 police officers and 250 gigabytes of confidential police files.     
  • Healthcare: In 2015, a phishing and malware scheme hit health insurance giant Anthem. The records of 78.8 million patients were stolen, and the attack cost the company $115 million to rectify. 

Most cyber attacks are fueled by financial motives. However, all cyber attacks aim to cause disruption and chaos.    

Common types of cyber attacks  

Cyber attacks have existed since the dawn of the Internet. In 1988, the first recorded attack, known as the Morris Worm, was launched from MIT and infected 6,000 computers. In the decades since that insidious worm, cyber attacks have become increasingly sophisticated. New forms of cyber crime crop up every year, and there are many formulaic attacks frequently used by cyber criminals.

Some different types of popular cyber attacks include:

Backdoor Trojan: 

This cyber attack looks for a weak link in the background of a computer’s system and then remotely takes over the system. Backdoor Trojans can steal your data, infect the systems of visitors to your website, change your website, and hijack any servers linked to your computer system.

Denial of Service: 

Denial of service (or DOS) attacks can flood servers with bogus traffic and prevent computers and networks from accessing their systems. DOS attacks are often used against large, high-profile organizations. 

For example, in 2022, hackers used a DOS against Google, recording 46 million requests per second. Google’s security team stepped in and stopped the attack after about 30 minutes, preventing dire consequences.

Evil Twin: 

Evil Twin cyber attacks are as dastardly as they sound. These attacks typically target individual computer users rather than corporations. Evil twins mirror public Wi-Fi hotspots to trick people and steal their data. If you’ve ever tried to connect to a coffee shop hotspot and are confused by two identical networks, chances are an evil twin is in your midst.

Malware

The evils of malware are widely known and it’s one of the most common forms of cyber attacks. Malware is software designed to crash your computer system. If you click on a questionable link on a website or in an email, you could unwittingly download malware. Malware can be a targeted attack, but often lacks a focused target.

Man-in-the-middle: 

A man-in-the-middle attack allows a hacker to insert themselves in your online activity. For example, if you receive a suspicious email from “Amazon” that asks you to enter your credentials, you could be on a fake website. The cyber criminal on the other end can then use your credentials to log into your actual Amazon account.

Phishing:

Attackers can use fraudulent emails, called phishing, to steal your personal information. Phishing cyber attacks use similar methods to man-in-the-middle — the latter is a finessed version of phishing.

Typically, a phishing attack will send an email that masks itself as coming from a credible organization or individual. These emails will “fish” for personal data and steal your passwords, banking information, etc.

Ransomware:

Although ransomware attacks play out like film plots, they’re very real and very scary. Ransomware typically targets large, financially solvent companies and uses software to lock operating systems. The cybercriminals then demand a financial ransom to allow you to access the system again. 

An infamous example of a ransomware attack occurred in 2021 at JBS, a U.S. meat supplier. The attack temporarily halted JBS operations in the U.S., the UK, and Australia and cost the company $11 million.

A woman with a laptop displaying a symbol of cybersecurity

How can you prepare for a cyber attack?

Now that we’ve terrified you, we have good news! There are ways you can prepare yourself for a cyber attack, and preventative measures to take to mitigate any damage. You should assume that attackers will target you at some point. Thus, it becomes easier to prepare and to be wary of bad actors on the Internet.

Some of the ways to prepare for a cyber attack include: 

  • Ensure your security and firewall protection are up to date.
  • If you’re building a security system for corporate servers, predict the attacks that could occur and provide measures in your security’s architecture to prevent total chaos and damage.
  • Audit your system’s security often. If there are gaps in security, update with patches.
  • Stay informed about current and large cyber attacks. Understand the ways in which an attack can unfold. Educate yourself and your workforce on the security measures you’ve taken.
  • When in doubt, don’t click out: If you’re unsure about a link on a website or an email, don’t click on it.
  • Only peruse secured websites. If you right-click on the three dots of a Google result, Google will display the site’s security and the amount of time it has been indexed in results.
  • Use a VPN or mobile hotspot when in public, rather than a public WiFi network.

How often do cyber attacks occur?

Large and small scale cyber attacks occur every day. According to Zippia, a cyber attack strikes every 39 seconds, globally leading to 30,000 hacked websites per day. Only 43% of these attacks target businesses — most cyber criminals are lone wolves who prowl for unsuspecting Internet users and hope to sell their information to purveyors on the dark web.  

What motivates cyber criminals?

The main motivation behind cyber attacks is financial gain. Most cyber criminals will use your data for extortion, identity theft, fraud, or to sell your personal information. When left unchecked, these criminals can hack into your private accounts and drain your bank accounts.

At times, cyber crimes can be politically or socially motivated. Groups like Anonymous use hacktivism to call alleged wrongdoers to task. Social hackers may have a personal vendetta against their targets.  

Internal and external cyber attacks

Internal cyber attacks are attacks from within an organization. Disgruntled or unwitting current or former employees or whistleblowers who have access to a company’s confidential data are typically the ones to perpetrate these attacks.

External threats can come from organized crime groups, individual criminals, or state-sponsored actors. These threats can look for immediate financial reward, or they may be in place to spread misinformation. For example, verified foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election happened via the Internet and can be considered a cyber attack.

Cyber security help from the experts

At What Is My IP Address, we understand how vital Internet security is to you. Our blog is full of well-researched, informative articles to help you understand different measures you can take to protect yourself. We also offer a wide array of tools to help you navigate your way through the digital age.

Check out our vast selection of security tools including:

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