What Are the Main Vectors of Attack in Cybersecurity and How Do They Work?
And how to protect your business from different attack vectors
Today’s dangerous cyber landscape demands all businesses to position themselves ahead of cybercriminals in order to maintain their safety. This always starts with identifying your weaknesses, understanding how your company may become compromised, and implementing the most appropriate prevention and detection methods that will help you achieve cyber resilience. But first, you have to understand what vectors of attack you can encounter that may disrupt your business.
What are vectors of attack?
Vectors of attack (or threat vectors) refer to the pathway that cyber attackers take to infiltrate your organization. In essence, an attack vector is a process or route a malicious hacker uses to reach a target, or in other words, the measures the attacker takes to conduct an attack.
Typically, attack vectors are intentional threats (rather than unintentional), as they do require some planning and analysis.
Various entities may exploit these vectors of attack, ranging from upset former employees to malicious hackers, cyber espionage groups, competitors, and more. Regardless of the person or group involved, they may either want to disrupt your business or steal your technology, confidential information, or extort money from your employees. In any event, they will do their utmost to successfully utilize attack vectors and gain access to your systems.
Attack vectors vs. Attack surface
Attack vectors are the methods cybercriminals use to gain unauthorized access to a system, while an attack surface refers to the total number of attack vectors used by an intruder to control or steal data from your network or endpoints.
Attack vector examples in cybersecurity
Below I will briefly discuss the most common examples of vectors of attack that can threaten your organization.
#1. Insider Threats
Insider threat is one of the most common attack vectors. Still, not all types of insider threats are malicious, as naïve employees can sometimes inadvertently expose internal data. However, ill-intentioned individuals working for a company may intentionally disclose confidential information or plant malware, being fueled by various motives and for their own personal gain.
The most recent insider threat statistics reveal alarming issues that need to be considered and addressed by all organizations. For example, insider threats have increased by 47% in the past two years and 70% of organizations are witnessing more frequent insider attacks.
Phishing is merely one of many hats that social engineering wears. It involves manipulation tactics adopted by a malicious individual whose ultimate purpose is to trick employees into clicking on suspicious links, opening malware-infected email attachments, or giving away their login credentials.
The most insidious subtype of phishing is spear phishing, where very specific employees are observed in great detail only to be targeted later on by cybercriminals. This phenomenon is also part of the rising threat of Business Email Compromise (BEC), a highly sophisticated practice that can devastate companies of all sizes.
#3. Business partners
Third-party organizations can also become major vectors of attack in cybersecurity.
Some of the biggest security incidents and data breaches have been caused by vendors. Supply chain attacks are a common way for attackers to target a vendor’s customers. This is the reason why organizations large and small together with their business partners must foster a culture where cybersecurity best practices are shared and mutual transparency is demonstrated.
#4. Weak or compromised login credentials
Should your employees’ authentication credentials be too weak or become comprised, they may turn out to be an attacker’s surefire way to gain unauthorized access to your IT systems.
Usernames and passwords are the most popular form of authentication that can easily be abused through phishing, data leaks, and credential-stealing malware, giving intruders free access to your workers’ accounts.
Brute-force attacks (the practice through which attackers submit multiple passwords with the purpose of eventually guessing them) are also a serious vector of attack. In the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Heimdal™ Security’s data has revealed that the number of brute-force attacks has increased exponentially. We have noticed a 5% increase in brute-force attacks after the majority of employees have started working from home.
#5. Ransomware / Malware
Ransomware continues to be a highly lucrative business for cybercriminals. Given its huge profits, it’s no surprise that ransomware has even developed into a “business” model – Ransomware as a Service. This allows it to become easily accessible even to people with rather poor technical skills but determined to profit from vulnerable users.
Unpatched vulnerabilities in your systems can allow ransomware to pass through. The most notorious ransomware attacks to date (such as WannaCry and NotPetya) could have been avoided if systems had been patched on time.
At the same time, the huge palette of other existing types of malware can facilitate the infiltration of malicious hackers inside your organization – think about worms, trojans, rootkits, adware, spyware, file-less malware, bots, and many more.
And do keep in mind that everything I’ve listed above refers to only a few vectors of attack that can affect your business.
How to protect your organization from threat vectors
Protecting your business from different attack vectors will not be difficult with the proper resources in place. Below I’ve included the main aspects you should focus on to reduce the risk of threat vectors and prevent potential future attacks.
#1. Educate your employees
We are strong advocates for continuous security education and we believe cybersecurity awareness training sessions should always be mandatory for your employees. Workers should hone their cybersecurity skills periodically, as prevention is key to keeping your business safe in today’s digital landscape. As long as cybercrime continues to thrive and be profitable, cybersecurity training should be a continuous journey inside your company.
Your workers must be taught to recognize the signs of phishing, BEC, how to create their passwords based on your internal password policy and avoid the most common password mistakes, identify different types of malware, and learn how to report cybersecurity incidents and potential threats. You can also try running phishing simulations to help them identify the tell-tale signs of phishing and avoid falling prey to these attacks.
#2. Apply the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)
Limiting your users’ rights to the lowest level possible that still allows them to successfully perform their tasks is the cornerstone of PoLP. This practice closes multiple security holes inside your organization, while it allows you to achieve granular control over the actions performed and eliminate the danger of insider threats.
For instance, HeimdalTM Security’s Thor AdminPrivilege is a powerful Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution that simplifies the burdensome tasks of sysadmins who now have to manually escalate and de-escalate user permissions.
System admins waste 30% of their time manually managing user
rights or installations
Heimdal™ Privileged Access
- Automate the elevation of admin rights on request;
- Approve or reject escalations with one click;
- Provide a full audit trail into user behavior;
- Automatically de-escalate on infection;
#3. Use the right cybersecurity tools
Sometimes, even the most knowledgeable employees (cybersecurity-wise) may accidentally click on malicious links or open infected email attachments. And in certain instances, cybercriminals are doing a great job masquerading as your employees’ superiors or other authoritative figures and manage to trick them into transferring large amounts of money to their accounts. For this reason, our HeimdalTM Security experts have designed next-gen cybersecurity tools and technologies with very specific vectors of attack in mind, to help organizations avoid multiple attack scenarios.
Prevention, detection, and response are the bedrock of our philosophy. As it would be impossible to discover threats individually, we’ve gone beyond signature-based anti-malware solutions that only pick up known threats. As malware attack vectors are ever-growing in size and sophistication, we look at the Internet’s infrastructure to catch threats that traditional Antivirus don’t see. We’ve developed a highly sophisticated DNS filtering solution that blocks network communication to Command & Control servers, Ransomware, next-gen attacks, and data leakages.
At the same time, since we understand the burden of manual patching, we’ve combined Windows and 3rd party software patch management into a single tool to help you remove the risk of unpatched software and systems, all at once.
Thor Premium Enterprise is our EPDR (Endpoint Prevention, Detection, and Response) solution, which combines DNS filtering, Automated Patch Management, and a next-gen Antivirus within a single interface so that you can have a complete overview on your environment.
Simple standalone security solutions are no longer enough.
HEIMDAL™ ENDPOINT PREVENTION
- DETECTION AND CONTROL
- Next-gen Antivirus & Firewall which stops known threats;
- DNS traffic filter which stops unknown threats;
- Automatic patches for your software and apps with no interruptions;
- Privileged Access Management and Application Control, all in one unified dashboard
To Sum Up
To evade threat vectors, organizations must simultaneously rely on ongoing employee cybersecurity education and the proper tools.
Adopting a DNS-based approach to security, which analyzes and monitors network threats and is successful in detecting unknown malware and emerging threats is essential. At the same time, eliminating attack vectors related to unpatched software and systems, as well as properly managing admin rights will help you neutralize cyber threats before they damage your organization.