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What are the Top Network Security Threats?

Cybercrime is a type of criminal activity that targets either a computer, a computer network, or a connected device on your network. Cybercrime is also one of the fastest-growing types of criminal activities today as it continues to rise in scale and complexity.

Network security is a set of technologies that will help prevent such potential threats from compromising the integrity of your network's infrastructure. The need for network security has never been more apparent.

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, global cybercrime costs will grow up to $3 trillion per year by the year 2025. To put things in perspective, cybercrime will prove to be more profitable than the global trade of all illegal drugs combined.

Cybercrime can inflict damage to individuals and businesses alike. These damages can occur from the destruction of data, stolen assets, embezzlement, fraud, and theft of personal data to name a few.

This is where network security steps in.

Network security will help protect your network from such data breaches and intrusions. It is a generally broad term that is inclusive of hardware and software solutions tailored for threat protection.

It is a vital need for individuals and businesses alike, helping you protect your sensitive data and information, keeping your data secure, and facilitating reliable access between networks without allowing data breaches.

Today's network security types are spread over hardware, software, and cloud services. A good network security system will consist of multiple layers of defense so even if a threat manages to bypass the first layer, the others should actively prevent it from getting through to your network.

Each layer on its own has its active threat monitoring, identification, and filtering set up to keep your network as secure as possible. This is because modern-day threats are much more sophisticated than before, capable of getting through poor network security with immense ease. To better understand how your network security can protect you, you must first understand how network security threats work. There are several network security threat types available, we'll be going over some of the most commonly detected ones:

What are the Top Network Security Threats?

Figure 1. What are the Top Network Security Threats?

1. Phishing

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack in which cybercriminals use malicious emails, instant messages, text messages, or malicious URLs to trick users into handing over their sensitive information or installing malware into their devices. Such attacks may further lead to the stealing of funds, identity theft, or revealing of sensitive information.

The cybercriminals may send you malicious email attachments. Once you open these attachments they will automatically download malware into your device. These emails may be sent to a random group of people in the hopes to target as many people as possible or they may be specifically targeted toward specific individuals or organizations.

Alternatively, the cybercriminal may send you malicious links to websites that may look legitimate. However when you open them they will attempt to download malware onto your device, others may use login pages to capture your credentials.

Phishing that targets larger corporations or government networks may also be used to gain a foothold in your network that will act as a preliminary for much larger attacks such as an APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) event.

So how can you protect yourself from phishing attacks? You must first be able to recognize phishing emails or malicious URLs. Look out for public email domains, misspelled domain names, grammatical errors, suspicious attachments, etc. However, to completely mitigate phishing attacks you must implement appropriate network security practices.

2. Computer Worm

A computer worm is a type of malware that has a self-replicating function i.e. it will continue to self-replicate and spread from one computer to the next while remaining active on each infected device. This malware type will automatically replicate without the need for human interaction. Unlike viruses, these do not require a host file to infect your computer, they are stand-alone programs that run in the background.

How do they infect your computer? This type of malware will probe for network vulnerabilities to penetrate unnoticed. Hackers usually send out computer works through phishing emails or via malicious attachments. The user may willingly download such malware without even realizing it.

For instance, you may open an attachment or website URL that automatically downloads the computer worm into your device. Once the computer worm has access to your device, it will look for ways to replicate and penetrate surrounding systems. Their directive is simple enough; to remain active and spread to other vulnerable systems for as long as it can.

Computer worms may also carry a "payload", a type of attachment that can further damage your infected systems such as ransomware, viruses, or other malware. They may also create backdoors in your network security that will allow other malware programs to pass through making your device more and more vulnerable. In some cases, the cybercriminal responsible may be looking to control your infected system for other uses such as DDOS attacks or crypto mining.

3. Trojan Horse

A trojan horse is a type of program that is downloaded onto a computer. This program may appear harmless but is, in fact, malicious. These malicious codes or software are used to damage, steal, erase or harm the sensitive data stored on your network device.

Consider this, you receive an email from someone you know carrying a legitimate-looking attachment. Seems safe enough so you download the file onto your device. What you don't notice is that the file has gone on to install malware into your device. Like the Trojan horse used to bring down Troy, the malware will carry a "payload". This will help the malware perform its function.

  • A backdoor trojan, for instance, will allow hackers to access and control your computer.
  • A banker trojan will specifically look for information used in banking and online transactions
  • A DDoS trojan will be used to perform a DDoS attack
  • A downloader trojan may go on to download additional malware onto your device
  • A ransom trojan may require that you pay ransom to undo the damage done to your computer.

In short, there are many types of Trojan malware, each having its agenda which does not become apparent until it has successfully infected your device.

4. Rootkit

A rootkit is a type of malicious software that allows unauthorized users to gain "root-level" or administrative access to a computer. This type of malware will conceal its existence and actions from other users so it can continue running undetected. As a result, it will control a computer or a network device without the user knowing about it.

Once they gain unauthorized access to your computer, they also gain access to much more sensitive information. They may use this access to steal your data and financial information, they may install other malware onto your computer or use your computer to participate in a DDoS attack.

They may use keyloggers that capture your keystrokes and therefore make it easier to capture your online banking details or credit card information. They may even take down your security software so your device is more vulnerable to external threats.

How do rootkits get access to your device? A cybercriminal may install a rootkit onto your device through phishing or any social engineering attack that tricks the victim into unknowingly downloading malware onto their devices. In other cases, they may exploit a vulnerability in your operating system or network security to force the rootkit onto your computer. They also use pirated media or third-party apps to bundle rootkit malware that will then be downloaded into your device.

5. MITM attacks

A MITM attack or "Man-In-The-Middle" attack is a type of cyber attack in which attackers will intercept a data transfer or a conversation between two parties. The attackers will successfully insert themselves in the transfer and pretend to be either of the involved parties.

The attacker may intercept information and steal this data or they may send out malicious links or altered data to any one of the participants to both of the participants. Both legitimate parties are unaware of the manipulation until it is too late. Some typical targets of MITM attacks include the users of financial applications, e-commerce sites, and other websites that they may log into.

How does it work? The attacker will first intercept the user traffic before it can reach its destination. The attacker may use free Wifi hotspots available to the public for this, once you connect to such a hotspot, the attacker gains full visibility of your activities.

The attacker may also use IP spoofing, ARP spoofing, or DNS spoofing in the attempt to redirect the user to the attacker's website or to redirect data sent by the user to the attacker instead of its intended destination.

Once your connection is intercepted, the attacker will decrypt the conversation. This will allow the attacker to control the entire session where the application site will think it is connected to a legitimate user whereas a user will think he is connected to the application site.

To prevent MITM attacks, applications use a combination of verification methods and encryption to secure your connection. For users, you should avoid public WiFi hotspots that aren't password-protected and never conduct sensitive transactions over public networks. You should also close a website that is reported as "insecure" by your browser and log out of applications when not in use.

6. SQL Injection Attack

A SQL injection attack is a type of cyberattack in which attackers will attempt to read and access sensitive data stored through malicious SQL coding. SQL also known as Structured Query Language is a type of computer language that is used to store, manipulate and retrieve data stored in a database.

However, in an SQL attack, a hacker will use a piece of SQL code to manipulate a database and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. They do so by exploiting website security vulnerabilities that are usually protecting SQL databases. In general, a SQL query is used to send requests to a database for some type of activity.

A SQL injection will allow an attacker to interfere with such SQL queries that an application makes to its database. The data stored here may belong to users, or the application itself, which the attackers can then modify, delete or change. As a result, this may compromise the backend infrastructure of the application entirely.

SQL injections may be used to retrieve hidden data, subvert application logic, examine the database or retrieve data from different database tables.

7. Adware

Adware is a type of malicious software that is used to display automated unwanted advertisements on your computer or device. Users may unknowingly download adware as it is bundled with seemingly legitimate applications. However, when you download them, you might be bombarded with annoying pop-up ads every way you turn. Adware isn't limited to computers, it can also be used to infect mobile devices as well.

Some adware may be safe enough as they only intend to display advertisements but others may be malicious. Malicious adware may be used to collect your sensitive data and information to send you targeted adverts. They will then further direct you to malicious websites that may download viruses and other malware into your device.

Note that if you download free software and it carries ads, this isn't adware, and nor is it illegal. Most applications will declare that they display third-party ads. However, if a third-party app adds malicious adware onto your device without your consent then it is illegal.

Adware creators typically use adware to make money because every time you click on an advert displayed to you, the creator will get paid. However, the adware can also compromise your data, and your search history and send you tailored ads according to your interests. Such developers may further try to access your location and browsing history which they may sell to third parties.

Adware used here may also end up slowing down your device over time, freezing your device, or having your programs crash randomly so they tend to harm regardless and should therefore be avoided.

8. Spyware

Spyware is a type of malicious software or malware that is used to monitor, track, and record data from unsuspecting users. Attackers that use spyware may use this malware to steal your information and send it to third parties without your consent. These third parties may include advertisers or marketing data collection firms.

Spyware will essentially seek access to your data and activity, authorized or unauthorized. Usually, spyware will take action on your device in a series of steps. First, they may infiltrate your device by bundling it into malicious file attachments or app install packages. Some malicious websites may also end up downloading spyware into your device.

Malicious software will effectively mask itself so it can be installed and operate on your device unnoticed. Once the spyware has access, it will begin monitoring and capturing your data, and then send this stolen data to third parties.

While some spyware types may simply monitor your data and send it to the attacker, others may intend to do more harm. System monitors and adware for instance may gather information and make changes to your system so it is more vulnerable to external threats.

The data compromised by spyware usually includes confidential information such as login credentials, account PINs, credit card information, browning history, and keyboard strokes. This can further lead to financial damage, computer damage, data theft, and identity fraud.

How to Avoid Network Security Threats?

The wide range and complexity of network security threats prove the need for more robust network security protection. Malware, potential attacks, and vulnerabilities seek to expose your and your users' confidential data. Fortunately, many advanced security implementations can be used to protect you and your business from online security risks.

Since by nature, such threats are unpredictable and may occur anywhere along the line of your network, you must invest in preventive security measures to tackle them effectively.

Start by boosting access control measures, and make sure you have a strong access control policy and strong password systems in place. Next, be sure to keep all your system software operating software updated at all times. This is because software is constantly updated to prevent new and sophisticated threats from compromising them.

Finally, be sure to install the right network protection measures onto your devices to keep your network and network traffic secure.

What are the Types of Network Security Protections?

As mentioned earlier, network security protection uses a range of hardware and software solutions to keep your network secure and provide active threat protection. Here are some of the most common types of network security protections that are ideal in any network security setup.

  1. Firewall: Firewalls are one of the core elements of any network security model. They act as a wall that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic ensuring that malicious traffic does not pass through. They are used to protect your internal network from external malicious sources. They do so through pre-established traffic filtering rules and policies that are applied at the computers' entry points or "ports". Only verified and trusted source addresses are allowed to pass through.
  1. Remote Access VPN: Remote access VPNs or "Virtual Private networks" will allow users working remotely to access data and applications from corporate data centers. Businesses use remote-access VPNs to establish secure connections between their networks and remote workers. While the VPN may seemingly pass through the public internet, is it protected by encryption and strong security protocols to maintain its security. As a result, even if hackers try to intercept the data, they won't be able to use it since it is encrypted.
  1. Email Security: Email security solutions are used to protect your email accounts from external threats and malicious incoming emails. These solutions use a set of procedures and techniques to protect your email accounts from unauthorized access, loss, or compromise as well so they can not be used in phishing attacks or to spread malware. As we discussed above, emails are a popular medium for hackers to use in spreading malware and in phishing attacks. Attackers may also use emails to gain a foothold into an enterprise network so they can weaken its network security.
  1. Anti-Virus Software: Antivirus software is a type of program used to monitor, prevent, search and detect viruses and other malicious software such as computer worms, trojan horses, adware, etc. Antivirus software will scan specific files to look for any malicious software and will also allow you to schedule scans automatically. If it detects any malicious code or malicious software you will be notified and be asked to take preventative measures. If you wish to clear away the virus, the software will get into action and make sure your computer is virus-free.
  1. Anti-Malware Software: While antivirus software is designed to provide general protection to your device against existing viruses and other malicious software, anti-malware software is more specifically tailored to protect against Trojans and malware. They both work hand in hand to protect your device against new and old threats alike.
  1. Data Loss Prevention: Data Loss Prevention or DLP is a type of technology that is used to detect and prevent data breaches, unwanted extraction, or destruction of sensitive data. Organizations use DLP practices to protect their databases from external threats such as ransomware attacks that may lead to data loss. The practices will allow a network administrator to control the data that users can transfer. In this way, unauthorized users are unable to accidentally share sensitive data and information that may put your organization at risk.
  1. Sandboxing: Sandboxing is a type of cybersecurity practice that is used to actively detect malware and prevent it from compromising your network. In this case, you can run a suspected code in a safe isolated test environment called a "sandbox" and see how it reacts. If the program reacts negatively it won't be able to harm your host devices. In this way, untrusted code can be regulated and kept isolated from your organization's environment.