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What is Attack Vector?

An attack vector is a route or method that a hacker uses to gain unauthorized access to a network or computer in order to exploit system flaws. Hackers utilize a variety of attack vectors to launch attacks that exploit system flaws, breach data, or steal login credentials. Malware and viruses, dangerous email attachments and web links, pop-up windows, and instant messages are examples of such techniques, in which the attacker deceives an employee or individual user. Hackers come in all shapes and sizes, and they can all break into a network. They could be dissatisfied former workers, politically motivated groups, hacktivists, expert hacking gangs, or state-sponsored groups. Many security vector attacks are financially motivated, with attackers taking money from persons and organizations or data and personally identifiable information (PII) to then hold the owner to ransom.

As hackers seek for unpatched vulnerabilities posted on CVE and the dark web, the number of cyber risks is increasing, and no single solution can protect every attack vector. Because cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated, antivirus software is no longer sufficient as a primary security measure. To reduce cybersecurity risk, businesses must deploy defense-in-depth strategies.

What does Attack Vector Mean?

The attack vector name was drawn from the biological concept of vectors. An attack vector can be exploited manually, automatically, or a mix of both. An attack vector is a method through which hackers obtain unauthorized access to a device or network for malicious reasons. To look at it another way, it's used to attack or exploit a network, computer, or device. Unauthorized elements, including humans, can use attack vectors to exploit security flaws or networks.

There are three important terms at the heart of every enterprise's cyber-defenses, regardless of their business or industry.

  1. Attack surface: The total number of places on a network where an unauthorized user (the "attacker") can attempt to change or extract data through a variety of breach tactics (the "cyber attack vectors"). If you imagine a graph with the x-axis listing all of the devices and apps on your network (infrastructure, apps, endpoints, IoT, etc.) and the y-axis listing various breach methods such as weak and default passcodes, reusable passcodes, phishing, social engineering, unpatched software, configuration issues, and so on, the plot represents your attack surface.
  2. Cyber-attacks vector: An adversary's method for breaching or infiltrating a network or system. Hackers can use attack vectors to exploit system flaws, including the human factor.
  3. Security breach: Any security event in which an unauthorized party gains access to or steals critical, guarded, or confidential data, compromising an organization's brand, customers, and assets. DDoS attacks, Bitcoin mining, and other security breaches are examples. The most common security incidence is data theft, although not all security incidents involve data theft.

How Does Attack Vector Work?

The general process for exploiting attack vectors is the same in all of these cases:

  • Hackers choose a system to breach or exploit for their target.
  • Hackers gather information about the target using data gathering and observation techniques such as sniffing, emails, malware, or social engineering. Hackers utilize the knowledge to determine the optimal attack vector and design tools to exploit it.
  • Hackers use their own tools to bypass the security system and then install malicious software.
  • Hackers start tracking the network, collecting personal and financial information, or infecting computers or other endpoints with malware bots.

IT firms must develop rules and procedures that stop hackers from gaining useful info about IT security flaws in order to protect potential attack vectors from exploitation by hackers.

What are the Common Types of Attack Vectors?

Cybercriminals use a variety of attack vectors to target large and small firms in any industry, as well as individuals at practically every level of the organization. The following are some of the most common threat vectors.

Common Types of Attack Vectors

Figure 1. Common Types of Attack Vectors

1. Brute Force

This is a trial-and-error attack in which the hacker tries to figure out passwords or gain access to encrypted data. The brute force attack, like a criminal trying to break into a safe, tries countless combinations until one finally works. Consistent data like the person's IP address and the time and location of the login process are often used in the session ID. By using a brute force technique, hackers can estimate these types of identifying patterns. Brute force is used in all of the attack vectors, including password attacks, breaking weak encryption, and so on, therefore it isn't an attack vector in and of itself.

2. SQL Injections

SQL injection is a type of attack that exploits programs that produce SQL queries from user-supplied data without validating or pre-processing it to ensure that it is genuine. By injecting a string of malicious code into a database query, attackers can get unauthorized access to a web application database.

The goal is to trick the database system into running malicious code that will divulge sensitive information or compromise the server in some other way. An attacker can submit SQL queries and send the command line to the database by changing the anticipated Web application parameters. SQL injection attacks can affect any application that uses a SQL database, with websites being the most typical victim. MySQL, Oracle, and SQL Server are examples of SQL databases.

If a SQL injection attack is carried out effectively, it has the potential to do significant damage by exposing sensitive material and endangering client trust. Businesses can use the following procedures to avoid SQL injection attacks:

  • Provide personnel with preventative training.
  • Do not rely on user input.
  • Instead of a blocklist, use an allowlist.
  • Update routing and use the most recent version of programs.
  • Use proven preventative techniques.
  • Run periodic security scans

3. Trojans

Viruses, which can act as their own attack vectors, Trojan horses, worms, and spyware are the most typical malicious payloads. Trojan horses are malicious programs that deceive users by posing as legitimate programs. They are commonly propagated by infected email attachments or bogus software. Because Trojan pretends legitimate software, it is one of the most difficult kinds of attacks to identify. This type of infection contains malicious code and instructions that, when run by the victim, allow the infection to operate undetected. It's commonly used to introduce other viruses into the system.

4. Session Hijacking

The use of legitimate computer sessions to obtain unwanted access to the computer or server is known as session hijacking. An attacker who hijacks your session can do anything you can do on the platform. As a result, the hijacker convinces the computer or website that they are the legitimate user of the computer or service. When you use a service, it normally saves a session key or cookie on your computer so you don't have to log in again. An attacker might take control of this cookie and use it to get access to the data. Based on the importance of the service being accessed and the quality of the information exposed, a session hijacking attempt could pose a serious danger. Financial Fraud, Data Breach, and Bypass Single Sign-On (SSO) are what the attackers gain from the session hijacking

5. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

XSS (cross-site scripting) is a sort of attack in which malicious code is injected into websites and online apps with the intent of running on the end user's device. Unsanitized or unvalidated inputs (user-entered data) are utilized to affect outputs during this procedure.

Some XSS attacks don't have a specified target; instead, the attacker exploits a flaw in the program or site, preying on anyone unfortunate enough to become a victim. However, XSS is often used in a more direct way, such as in an email message. An XSS attack can turn a web application or website into a vector for spreading malicious scripts to unwitting users' web browsers.

XSS attacks include introducing malicious code into a website, but the website is not targeted; rather, it is the website's visitors who are targeted. Injecting malicious code into a comment, for example, embedding a link to malicious JavaScript in a blog post's comment section, is a typical approach for attackers to launch cross-site scripting attacks.

6. Third and Fourth-Party Vendors

When you choose to outsource certain services or utilize software developed by third parties to complete specific activities, you run the risk of experiencing an unfavorable event (e.g., data breach, operational disruption, or reputational damage). Any independent business or individual providing software, physical products, supplies, or services is considered a third party. Software vendors, suppliers, employment agencies, experts, and contractors are examples of third parties. Putting your business's success in the hands of external people is dangerous. After all, you have no control over the business procedures and activities of a distinct corporation.

The vendors of your organization's vendors are the fourth parties. Apart from third-party vendors, most corporations have no direct communication with other entities. Your information security team is still responsible for managing fourth-party risk in the same way that they are for managing third-party risk (TPRM). The System and Organization Control (SOC) reports from your own vendor might help you identify your company's fourth parties. It's critical that your third-party vendors have a thorough vendor risk management approach in place to ensure that they're properly verified.

Because of the increase in outsourcing, your vendors offer a significant cybersecurity risk to your customers' proprietary data. As more businesses outsource more of their business services, the third and fourth-party risk looks to be on the rise. Today's firms must manage both third-party and fourth-party risks, which is both critical and difficult.

7. Vulnerabilities

A vulnerability is a software or hardware problem - think of it as a malfunctioning lock that allows a criminal who knows where the faulty lock is to get access to a secure facility. A vulnerability "exploit" occurs when an attacker successfully exploits a vulnerability to gain access to a system. Most vulnerabilities can be fixed by installing software or device manufacturer updates. However, certain vulnerabilities are "zero-day" vulnerabilities, meaning they are unknown and have no known fix. An attacker can utilize a threat vector, such as malware, to gain unauthorized access if a network, operating system, computer system, or application has an unpatched security vulnerability.

Cybercriminals are constantly on the search for weaknesses or open doors in software and servers. A zero-day attack occurs when an attacker discovers and exploits a vulnerability that no one is aware of until the breach occurs. While no single strategy can completely eliminate the risk of vulnerabilities appearing in code, there are various tactics and technologies that can help to reduce the risk. Browser isolation and firewalls are two of the most significant technologies for preventing vulnerability attacks. Patching software, operating systems, and servers can help organizations and users avoid this type of cyber attack. To remove the vulnerability, a program or server must receive a software update or fix code. Patching by software developers on a regular basis is the main technique for preventing potential threats. Users should enable automated software upgrades to help with this and avoid any breaches that could expose vulnerabilities to an attacker.

8. Ransomware

Ransomware is a sort of software that encrypts data on a victim's computer and threatens to publish or disable access to the data unless a ransom is paid. Ransomware can encrypt a user's files and demand payment in exchange for the files' unlocking. The majority of ransomware is downloaded onto a computer or network by mistake. It can take the shape of a worm, which is malware that spreads across a network, or a Trojan, which integrates malicious software code in a download link that locks up the user's computer or data and then wants payment.

Ransomware is used by cybercriminals for a variety of reasons. Organizations are more likely to pay a ransom rather than risk disrupting operations and losing customer confidence. Furthermore, the margins are good. A ransomware attack can be launched using a variety of low-cost and simple attack mechanisms. Cybercriminals can make the most money with the least amount of work. The following are three of the most popular ransomware attack vectors:

  • Remote desktop protocol (RDP)
  • Email phishing
  • Software security flaws

9. Compromised Credentials

Individuals tend to use weak passwords to protect their online accounts and profiles, making weak credentials the most common attack vector. When information such as usernames and passwords are exposed to a third party, such as mobile apps and websites, stolen credentials arise. This is typically triggered by phishing victims divulging their login information to an attacker by entering it on a fake website. An attacker can use stolen or lost credentials to gain access to user accounts and business systems without being detected, then escalate their level of access within a network.

To reduce the chances of an attacker acquiring their credentials, employees should use strong passwords and consider utilizing a password manager. Organizations must shift away from relying just on passwords and adopt multi-factor authentication (MFA) to authenticate users' identities to reduce the risk of hacked credentials. Employee training is also necessary to ensure that users are aware of the security dangers they face and the warning indications of a potential cyberattack.

10. Malicious Insiders

Some security flaws occur inside the firm, as a result of employees disclosing sensitive information to attackers. Malicious insiders reveal corporate data or vulnerabilities to third parties, which can be unintentional. Employees who have high access to data and networks are frequently unhappy or resentful.

Because malicious insiders are authorized individuals with valid access to business networks and systems, it can be hard for enterprises to detect them. As a result, firms should keep an eye on network traffic for unusual activity or users accessing files or systems they shouldn't, as this could indicate insider risk.

11. Weak Credentials

Due to weak passwords and password reuse, a single data breach can lead to much more. Brute-force attacks target weak or readily known user IDs and passwords. Hackers can also steal passwords by watching for users to enter their login credentials on public Wi-Fi networks. A hacker may, for example, install keylogging software on a user's computer via an infected website or email. The keylogger records all user input, including the user name and password. Hackers can also get access by luring consumers to click unsolicited email attachments with malicious links to fake websites that persuade them to surrender personal information (PII).

It would be helpful to teach employees how to create a secure password, invest in a password manager or single sign-on solution, and educate them on the benefits of using a knight.

How Do Hackers Exploit Attack Vectors?

Hackers have full knowledge of the many security attack vectors open to them. When figuring out how to hack one of these security vectors, they look for vulnerabilities, or security holes, that they believe they can exploit.

A security vulnerability can be found in a piece of software or a computer's operating system (OS). A security flaw might happen as a result of an application's programming error or a bad security setup. Low-tech hacks, such as getting an employee's security credentials or breaking into a building, are also possible.

Hackers are continually analyzing individuals and businesses for possible entry points into their systems, applications, and networks. They may even attack physical facilities or find insecure users and internal staff who will reveal their information technology (IT) access credentials intentionally or unconsciously.

1. Passive Attack

A passive attack occurs when an attacker observes a system for open ports or vulnerabilities in order to gain or collect information about their target. Passive attacks are difficult to detect because they do not damage data or system resources. Rather than causing serious damage to a company's systems, the attacker jeopardizes the security of its data.

Passive attack vectors include passive recon, in which an attacker uses tools like session capture to monitor an organization's systems for security flaws without direct interaction with them, and active reconnaissance, reconnaissance, in which the attacker gets involved with target systems using techniques like port scans.

2. Active Attack

An active attack vector is one that attempts to disrupt or harm a company's system resources or interrupt its routine operations. This involves attackers using denial-of-service (DoS) assaults, targeting users' weak passwords, or using malware and phishing attempts to exploit system weaknesses.

A masquerade attack, in which an attacker poses as a trusted user and obtains login details to get access to system resources, is a common type of an active attack. Cybercriminals frequently utilize active attack methods to obtain the information they need to launch a larger cyber attack against a company.

What is the Difference Between an Attack Vector and an Attack Surface?

These terms are commonly used interchangeably, although they are not synonymous. An attack vector is distinct from an attack surface in that the vector is the method by which an intruder gains access, whereas the attack surface is the target of the attack.

An attack vector is used by cybercriminals to initiate attacks. This could happen as a result of malware or a phishing attempt aimed at stealing user credentials and gaining unauthorized access to corporate data or resources. Another kind of attack is through using social engineering.

The attack surface refers to the whole network space that an attacker can utilize to launch cyber attack vectors and extract data or obtain access to a company's systems. Because their flaws, such as weak passwords or unpatched software, might be exploited by an attacker, devices and people are considered part of an organization's attack surface.

The SolarWinds supply chain attack was one of the most well-known hacks. The attack paths were investigated, however, the intrusion could have been the result of compromised credentials or possibly access through SolarWinds' Orion IT management software's development environment.

How to Protect Devices Against Common Vector Attacks?

To get access to company IT assets, hackers employ a range of methods. IT's role is to identify and apply the policies, tools, and strategies that are most effective in defending against these attacks as they change. A list of effective protective techniques is offered below.

  • Setting up effective password policies. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) or verification procedures like a password and a personal identification number to add an extra layer of security to system access (PIN).
  • Installing software for security monitoring and reporting. Once a potential attack by an unknown or unauthorized user or source is detected, the monitoring application identifies, alarms, and even locks down entryways to networks, systems, workstations, and edge technologies.
  • Auditing and testing IT resources for vulnerabilities on a regular basis. IT vulnerability testing should be performed at least regularly, and IT resources should be tested for vulnerability annually by an outside IT security audit firm.
  • Maintaining a high level of IT security. Security investments are costly, and a chief information officer (CIO) and a chief security officer (CSO) must obtain approval from the CEO and the board of directors before proceeding. This necessitates regular briefings and education for C-level managers so that they are aware of the importance of safeguarding IT and the consequences for the organization and its reputation if it is not.
  • Stimulating learning environment. All new employees should receive thorough training in IT security rules and procedures, with current staff receiving annual refresher training. Security employees, in particular, should be up to date on the newest security rules and practices.
  • Working together with human resources (HR). At least once every two to three years, an outside security audit firm should conduct a social engineering vulnerability audit. If an employee engages in suspect behavior, IT can notify HR, which can then meet with the employee, restrict the person's access, coach the employee, or fire the employee.
  • Installing all available updates. IT should deploy any hardware, firmware, or software updates as soon as possible. If devices are used in the field, security patches should be sent by push notifications, which update software or firmware automatically.
  • Using a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. All corporate data should be stored in a secure cloud or other enterprise systems so that users may log in from home or on their own devices using a virtual private network (VPN), which is restricted to a small group of users and is not exposed to the general public.
  • Utilizing powerful data encryption on portable devices. Data encryption should be utilized everywhere sensitive data is held, whether it is on a laptop, a cell phone, a sensor, or any other form of the edge device.
  • Reviewing and configuring all security settings for operating systems, web browsers, antivirus software, network hubs, and edge devices including sensors, cellphones, and routers.
  • Safeguarding workspaces. Hacking targets include data centers, servers in various company divisions and distant field offices, medical equipment, field-based sensors, and even physical file cabinets in offices. They should be secured, safeguarded, and inspected on a regular basis.