8 Types of Cyber Attacks Your Business Needs to Know

5 min
Cybernetic Search

By Cybernetic Search

In today's interconnected world, the prevalence of various types of cyber attacks has grown to unprecedented levels, posing a substantial threat to businesses of all sizes. Understanding the nature of these attacks and their potential impact is not just a matter of choice; it's a necessity for safeguarding your company's digital assets. 

Within this guide, we will explore what a cyber attack is, how often they occur, the costs of an attack and how long they typically last. We will then explore the different types of cyber attacks and outline the steps you can take to identify them.

In this guide, we will explore the following: 

  • What is a cyber attack?
    1. How often does a cyber attack happen?
    2. What is the cost of a cyber attack?
    3. How long does a cyber attack last?
  • What are the different types of cyber attacks?
  • How to identify a cyber attack

What is a cyber attack?

A cyber attack is a deliberate effort to gain unauthorised access to an individual's or company's IT infrastructure, including hardware, software, networks and other digital assets. Once the attacker has gained access to their targeted computer systems, they will seek to extract, disable, compromise, or destroy private information, data, finances, applications and other assets they can access.

Cyber security attacks are carried out by independent hackers, cybercriminal groups,  terrorist organisations and even nation-states. We’ll discuss the different types of cyber attacks later in this guide, but these threats can be implemented for various reasons. The motivations of a cyber attack vary from stealing financial assets for personal gain, bringing severe reputational damage upon a business, to achieving political goals to starting acts of war.

Now you know what a cyber attack is, you may be asking yourself:

  • How often does a cyber attack happen?
  • What is the cost of a cyber attack?
  • How long does a cyber attack last?

Scroll to find an answer to these questions. Warning: the statistics below may shock you.

How often does a cyber attack happen?

In the world of cyber security, attacks and threats are increasing at an alarming rate, rising 38% in 2022. It’s estimated that a cyber attack happens every 39 seconds, with various sources stating that anywhere between 2,000 to 4,000 new cyber threats are recorded each day. 

Any business with an online presence is vulnerable to attacks at any time. Some sources state that 46% of cyber threats affect companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. Additionally, according to UK government statistics, 32% of companies recalled being vulnerable to breaches or cyber-attacks. Their results also showed that the statistics for attacks were greater for medium and large-sized organisations, with 59% and 69% of the respective-sized companies reporting an attack. 

What is the cost of a cyber attack?

The cost of a cyber attack can range from hundreds and thousands to billions of pounds. According to IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, the average global cost of a data breach is $4.45 million. This scary statistic is a 15% increase compared to the previous three years. The financial strain of a cyber attack can stretch as far as putting your business in grave danger. In fact, some sources estimate that 60% of SMEs close down within the first six months as a result of an attack.

In the UK alone, government statistics estimated the average cost of an identified cyber attack over the last year to be an average of £1,100 for businesses of any size. They also indicated the expenses were higher for medium to large-size companies, with costs reaching around £4,960. 

Of course, the cost of a cyber attack will also depend on how long the attack lasts. 

How long does a cyber attack last?

As there are different types of cyber attacks, which we’ll explore later, the duration of an attack can vary. Attacks can be completed in a matter of minutes, whilst others can last days, months and even years. In the US alone, the duration of ransomware attacks lasts an average of 24 days, according to Statista. Similar to the cost of a cyber attack, the duration will depend on how early the threat is detected. 

According to IBM, it took companies an average of 277 days, or close to 9 months, to identify and report a data breach. Other sources state it takes businesses an average of 49 days to detect a cyber threat. Regardless of the duration, imagine how much damage could be caused during this time. 

Therefore, it’s vital to recognise a cyber attack as early as possible to mitigate its impact and prevent your organisation from financial and reputational harm. We’ll explore the ways to identify a cyber attack later in this guide. First, let’s delve into the different types of cyber-attacks your business needs to know.

What are the different types of cyber attacks?

Cyber attacks affect businesses of varying sizes, with some form of an online presence and those working in key industries such as healthcare and medtech, finance and legal, energy and utilities and more. We’ve established the frequencies, costs and duration of cyber attacks, but we have yet to discuss the different types of cyber security attacks. 

Having an understanding of the various types of cyber attacks is essential for any company looking to defend itself effectively. With that said, here are eight of the most common cyber attacks your business should be aware of:

1. Phishing Attacks

First on our list of the eight most common cyber attacks is a phishing attack. These types of cyber-attacks involve an attacker sending emails or messages from seemingly legitimate sources. Phishing attacks aim to deceive the recipient into providing sensitive data to an attacker or clicking on malicious links that get them to unknowingly download malware and viruses - more on malware later. 

It’s estimated that 3.4 billion phishing-related emails are sent every day, with many attacks going unnoticed by people within a business, often resulting in the attacker being able to target others within the company. As phishing attacks come from what appear to be legitimate communications from trusted sources, they are considered a common and highly successful cyber threat. 

2. Ransomware

Next on our list of the most common cyber attacks is ransomware, a type of threat involving an attacker holding the victim's IT infrastructure hostage until a ransom payment is made or valuable data is exchanged. Once the ransom has been paid or exchanged, the attacker will typically provide instructions on how the victim can regain access to the hacked systems or devices.

Ransomware attacks often stem from the victim clicking on a malicious link and downloading a virus. These links are commonly sent via a phishing email - covered in a previous entry. Once downloaded or clicked on, the attack will encrypt a victim's device or data, leaving the victim unable to access it. Paying the demanded ransom is the only solution for the victim to gain the decryption key to regain access to their assets. 

These types of cyber security attacks can disrupt business operations, compromise data integrity, and result in financial losses. In 2022, over 493 million ransomware attacks were reported by companies worldwide. 

3. Malware

We touched on the word 'malware' in our opening point surrounding phishing attacks. Malware attacks can be defined as a type of malicious software that can infect a victim's IT infrastructure and allow a hacker to gain unauthorised access to assets such as networks, devices, data and finances. These assets can then be stolen, destroyed or exploited at the wishes of the attacker. 

There are many different types of malware, but some of the most common include:

  • Viruses are programs that can self-replicate, attaching themselves to other files and programs. Once a virus is attached to a file, it can spread to other computers when the file is shared or opened.
  • Worms are closely related to viruses but can spread without attaching themselves to other files. Typically, worms target vulnerabilities in software or networks and can spread incredibly quickly.
  • Trojans are another type of malicious program disguised as legitimate programs - similar to how phishing emails appear harmless at a glance. Once trojans are installed on a device, it can grant the attacker access to the data and other assets present on the device.
  • Spyware is another type of malware that collects information about a user's device and online activity without the user's knowledge or consent. It can be used to steal personal information, such as credit card numbers and passwords.
  • Ransomware has already been covered in this guide, but it is another type of malicious software that falls under the malware umbrella. As a reminder, a ransomware attack involves encrypting a victim's IT assets and demands a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key.

Between 2021 and 2022, the number of malware attacks increased from 5.4 billion to 5.5 billion.

4. DoS and DDoS Attacks

Denial-of-Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks aim to overload a system or network with traffic, rendering it unavailable to users. A DoS attack is carried out by flooding the target with traffic or by exploiting a vulnerability in the target's software or hardware. Similarly, a DDoS attack involves using multiple devices to send unmanageable amounts of traffic to a website.

The types of cyber attacks are referred to as 'denial of service' attacks, as the victim's website is left unable to provide a regular or efficient service to its users. You can imagine how this could impact your business's ability to deliver exceptional services. 

For context on the amount of of these types of cyber security attacks, in the fourth quarter of 2022 alone, global businesses had to deal with an average of just over 29 DDoS attacks each day. This number of DDoS attacks was a stark rise compared to slightly more than the eight daily attacks reported at the end of 2021. 

5. Insider Threats

At the halfway mark of exploring the different types of cyber attacks your business should be aware of, it’s time to explain how threats can come from within your organisation. You heard it correctly: insider threats involve employees, contractors, business partners, or any individual associated with your company who misuses their access privileges to steal sensitive data, compromise systems, or damage your organisation from within. 

Of course, these attacks can be challenging to detect because they come from within and from people you thought you could trust. Insider threats typically come from insiders with specific admin access or who know the intricacies of your cyber security architecture and defences. As insider threats affect 34% of global businesses, they’re certainly something to be aware of, no matter how much you trust your employees. 

6. Structured Query Language (SQL) Injection

Another of the most common cyber attacks is a Structured Query Language (SQL) injection attack. SQL injections target vulnerabilities in web applications relying on databases and servers. When a device is used to access information from the database, an attacker will inject a malicious SQL query code into the device, which is then sent to the database on the server. The injected code could take the place of a login or password.

For example, an attacker might enter a malicious email address into a login form on a web application. When the web application validates the email address, it will construct an SQL query to check if the email address already exists within the database. During this time, the attacker can inject a malicious SQL code into the email address field, which will cause the web application to execute the malicious code when it constructs the SQL query.

This database manipulation can allow an attacker to gain unauthorised access to release, modify or delete sensitive data. According to Statista, in 2022, SQL injection attacks were the primary source of global vulnerabilities to web applications, with 33%, followed by cross-site scripting (stored) attacks with 26.7%.

7. Zero-Day Exploits

A zero-day exploit is one of the most common cyber attacks where a hacker takes advantage of a software vulnerability unknown to the software, developer or antivirus vendors. Due to them being unaware of the threat, no patch signature or alternative solution is available to detect or block the exploit, making it challenging to defend against.

These types of cyber security attacks are referred to as ‘zero-day’ as the vendor would have only just become aware of the threat, leaving them ‘zero-days’ to find strategic solutions to counter it. Zero-day exploits are carried out by sophisticated attackers who target high-value victims such as governments, businesses, and individuals. 

According to research by Mandiant, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities in 2022 was 55, a decrease from the 81 recorded in 2021. However, the 55 vulnerabilities recorded in 2022 are almost double the amount recorded in 2020. These types of cyber attacks are typically used to steal data, install malware, or disrupt operations.

8. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks

Our final entry to our list of different types of cyber attacks is Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks. With a MitM attack, the perpetrator spies, eavesdrops, intercepts and potentially alters communications between two parties without their knowledge. These communications can occur between different networks and devices and can lead to unauthorised access, data and financial theft, or the manipulation of information.

These types of cyber security attacks are referred to as ‘man-in-the-middle’ as the hacker is in the ‘middle’ of the two parties communicating with each other. The two parties in communication will be unaware of any interference when, in fact, the attacker has accessed the message and potentially modified it before it is sent. 

MitM attacks can be conducted in different ways. For example, a common method used by attackers is to create a fake Wi-Fi hotspot. When the victim connects to the hotspot, the attacker can intercept their traffic and redirect them to a malicious website or inject malware into their device. 

According to research conducted in 2021, out of all the cyber attacks recorded that year, 19% were made up of MitM attacks. Additionally, a 2020 report by Accenture MitM attacks have contributed to an estimated $2 billion annual losses worldwide.  

Now you know the various and most common cyber attacks that could plague your business, you’re probably wondering how to identify a cyber attack. Scroll to find out more. 

How to identify a cyber attack

Understanding what the different types of cyber attacks are and the potential threat they pose against your business is one thing. Knowing how to identify a cyber attack is another. Recognising a cyber threat in its early stages is crucial to mitigating its impact on your business, an impact that could cost your organisation from a financial and reputational standpoint. 

Here are some common signs to help you identify a cyber attack within your business:

  • Unusual Network Activity: Monitor your network for unusual or suspicious traffic patterns, which could indicate an intrusion or DoS/DDoS attack.
  • Unexpected System Behavior: If systems and devices behave erratically or crash unexpectedly, it may be a sign of malware or ransomware.
  • Phishing Emails: Train employees to recognise phishing emails. These could be emails with suspicious addresses, spelling errors, or requests for sensitive information.
  • Unusual Account Activity: Monitor unknown user accounts requesting access, password changes, or uncommon data transfers.
  • Unexplained Data Loss: Frequent and unexplained data loss or file corruption may indicate a cyber attack, especially if accompanied by ransom demands.
  • Software Vulnerabilities: Stay informed about software vulnerabilities and apply patches promptly to prevent zero-day exploits.
  • Monitor Insider Activity: Watch for unusual employee behaviour, such as unauthorised access to sensitive data or abnormal login times - outside of usual working hours.
  • Check for MitM Indicators: Look for SSL certificate errors, untrusted network connections, or unexplained rerouting of network traffic.
  • Educate Employees: Provide regular cyber security training to employees to help them recognise and report suspicious activity.
  • Security Tools and Incident Response Plans: Invest in cyber security tools and develop an incident response plan to effectively detect, contain, and respond to cyber attacks.

The final word on the different types of cyber attacks

In this guide, we've uncovered the critical aspects of the most common cyber attacks you should be aware of – from their definition and frequency to costs and durations. We've also provided key indicators to show you how to identify cyber attacks early.

As we conclude, it's vital to recognise that the digital and technological landscape is constantly changing, and cyber attacks continue to threaten individuals and businesses worldwide. Your best defence is to stay aware and ensure your business is prepared. To strengthen your organisation's security against the different types of cyber attacks, explore our guide on how to prevent cyber attacks from impacting your business.

Get in touch with a cyber security recruiter today!

Now that you know what the different types of cyber security attacks are, you may be considering the next steps in building your security team and recruiting the cyber security experts capable of safeguarding your business’s IT infrastructure from these threats. Thankfully, as specialists within the cyber security recruitment space, we can help you here. 

Our experienced team of cyber security recruiters are ready to partner with you on your journey to finding the top talent who can help your business defend itself from the most common cyber attacks that have the potential to cause significant damage to your brand.

Get in touch with one of our experts today and discover how we can connect you with IT professionals who can protect your business from the different types of cyber attacks.