Cyber security in Australia is hotting up. And it’s because we need it now more than ever. Over the last few years, there have been record numbers of cyber threats against both organisations and individuals. So much so that around five years ago, the Australian government officially marked cyber security as an area of growth, setting up the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network (AustCyber) to build out the country’s IT security skillset. But what is cyber security and how can you arm yourself against cyber threats?
What is cyber security?
Cyber security is all about protecting computers, servers, electronic devices and systems, networks, personal information and data from attacks. It involves using a selection of technologies and processes to reduce the risk of cyber attacks, so the networks and systems we rely on don’t become compromised or exploited.
Right now, Australia has a $1.7 billion Cyber Security Strategy in place. It’s a healthy figure that should give us some peace of mind. But it doesn’t mean businesses and individuals are off the hook. It’s important that you get to know the types of attacks in cyber security, so you can learn how to protect yourself against phishing and all the other dodgy threats out there.
Why cyber security is important
In today’s world, when we’re online - let’s face it - every day, we need cyber security to protect us from the many potential cyber attacks out there. It goes beyond just having your passwords stolen. When your systems get into the wrong hands, you’re at risk of a huge data breach campaign. This could lead to not only your personally identifiable information (PII) being stolen, but your company’s sensitive data could also be at risk.
In short, without cyber security, businesses are at risk of losing a lot of money along with their reputation. To stay protected, we have to make sure all bases are covered. Just installing a Firewall and hoping for the best is no longer enough.
What is a cyber attack?
A cyber attack is an attempt to steal, compromise, alter, withhold or destroy data, by gaining unathorised access to a computer system or network.
Cyber attacks fall into three broad categories:
- Criminal - data theft or business disruption, for financial gain
- Political - a form of “hacktivism”; may be an attacker that’s after public attention or wants an unfair advantage in a political battle
- Personal - tends to occur when someone has a vendetta against a person or company, such as a ticked-off former employee
Some common types of attacks in cyber security
Just to make things even more complicated, there are multiple types of attacks in cyber security. It helps to get to know the most common ones, because when you know what you’re up against, you can level up your IT security and fight the good fight.
Malware, AKA malicious software or malicious code, is a program that manipulates an IT system to affect the data in there. In most cases, malware gets activated when a user clicks on a link or attachment which then installs dangerous software onto their system.
There are a few ways malware can infect a computer. It can block access to a user’s files and refuse to release them unless a fine is paid - this is known as ransomware. It could also spread a virus by attaching itself to a clean file; disguise itself as legitimate software (trojans); record a user’s activity (spyware); advertise dangerous software (adware); and infect whole networks of computers (botnets). No rest for the wicked, hey?
2. Spam & phishing
Phishing emails or spam emails basically involve cybercriminals sending dangerous messages from an email address that looks perfectly fine on the surface. They usually trick people into sharing personal information or credit card details.
So how can you protect yourself against phishing? Here at The IT Department, we recommend you never click on a link or attachment in an email unless you can answer “yes” to all three questions:
- Do I know the sender?
- Was I expecting this email?
- Does the email address look legit?
3. Denial of service (DoS)
A denial of service attack will stop your system from performing the actions you want, by overwhelming the network with traffic. Some cybercriminals use the network’s downtime to launch other attacks.
You might also come across a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), which means more or less the same thing, except the attack comes from a computer network.
4. SQL injection
A Structured Query Language (SQL) injection inserts malicious code into a server using SQL. (SQL, by the way, is a programming language used to communicate with a database.)
When cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities to insert malicious code into applications, they’re able to gain access to sensitive info in that database.
5. Man-in-the-middle attack
A man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack is a type of cyber threat where hackers place themselves in the middle of a transaction. Once they interrupt the flow of traffic, they can steal the data they want. MITM attacks mostly take place when visitors use unsecured public WiFi - attackers intercept the data that travels between the user’s device and the network.
How can you protect yourself against phishing & other cyber threats?
Cybercrime is a big business, costing the world economy as much as $1 trillion USD every year. As cybercriminals become even smarter (and sneakier), they spot more opportunities to target businesses and individuals, so it’s down to IT security companies and every online user to protect against phishing and other attacks.
Implement endpoint security
It’s a term you might have heard before, but what is endpoint security, really? To put it simply, it involves securing the entry points of the devices we use most days - like our smartphones, desktops and laptops.
Endpoint security looks after the data associated with these devices that connect to your network. Endpoint protection platforms (EPP) check files when they enter the network for malware and other threats. As more workplaces adopt BYOD (bring your own device), the number of devices in each network is increasing, along with the need to protect these endpoints.
Education (because learning is cool when it comes to your IT security)
When you run a small business or other organisation, employee awareness is vital for your IT security. One of the most common ways businesses are targeted by cybercriminals is through their staff. Make sure your employees don’t click links, open emails or send sensitive information unless they’re confident they know who they’re communicating with.
It might be innocent on their end, but it could lead to a dangerous data breach in your company.
Update your software
Always ignoring the prompts on your computer to install updates and hit restart? It’s time to pay attention to them! Keeping your software and systems up to date reduces the vulnerabilities that hackers like to take advantage of.
Install a firewall
Install a firewall to block threats, and use the sophisticated antivirus solutions on offer nowadays. New data breaches and cyber threats pop up every day, and a firewall system defends your network before they can do any damage.
Backup data - and back it up often
Backing up your business data means you’re ready if a data-based disaster were to strike. This is simply about creating a copy of your business’ data, in case the original data is stolen, lost, corrupted or deleted.
So, in the event of a data loss, your business can keep on business-ing without the worry about downtime or money losses.
Take care of access management
Are you in control of who can access the data and software in your network? You should be. Set up managed admin rights and block certain employees from installing software or accessing critical data. If something goes wrong, it could compromise your entire system.
Practise good password hygiene & MFA
A strong password is a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. We know it’s tempting to use the same password you’ve had for the last 15 years, but it just won’t cut it. It’s too easy for cybercriminals to work it out.
Instead, use a password manager and set up 2FA or MFA as an extra layer of security.
Get help from an IT security company
If you’ve made it this far, congrats on being clued up on what cyber security is. We know it can be a worrying and overwhelming subject, but now you know how to protect your organisation against cyber threats, you can implement best practices and avoid nasty run-ins with cybercriminals.
If you’re still feeling a little lost in cyberspace, that’s what IT security companies are for. Ask about our managed IT security services by giving us a call on 1300 10 10 40 or shooting us a message.