Cyber Threats

Understanding Cyber Threats: Meet the Enemy

Building your defense against cybersecurity threats doesn’t have to be hard. Find out how to shield yourself from digital dangers

February 7, 2024

Cybersecurity threats can be daunting, but understanding and preparing against them is essential for today’s digital citizens, business leaders, and organizations. This article demystifies current cybersecurity threats, identifies who is perpetrating these attacks, and presents practical defense strategies to prevent a data breach.

Key Takeaways

  • Cyber threats have evolved into sophisticated tactics such as ransomware and state-sponsored attacks, and economic losses from cybercrime could reach $10 trillion by 2025.
  • The dark web exacerbates cyber threats by providing cyber criminals a platform to sell malware, trade knowledge, and launch attacks, which impacts national security and the economy.
  • Cyberattacks are resulting in substantial data breaches, exposing sensitive information for millions, leading to financial losses and damage to the reputation of the organizations involved.
  • Effective cybersecurity strategies include implementing robust security controls, educating users, and developing a comprehensive incident response plan to combat and mitigate cyber threats.

What is a cyber threat?

A cybersecurity threat is a harmful activity committed with the intent of destroying, stealing, or disrupting data, critical systems and digital life in general. Computer viruses, malware attacks, data breaches, and Denial of Service (DoS) assaults are examples of these risks. As we depend more on technology, these cyber security dangers have progressed and grown more pervasive, presenting a substantial risk to persons and enterprises. Understanding your cyber threat risks is the first step in defending yourself from them.

Common cyber threats actors

Cybersecurity threats come from a variety of places, people, and contexts. Malicious cyber threat actors can include:

  • Criminal organizations
    Organized groups of hackers aim to break into organizations for financial gain. These cyber threat actors use phishing, spam, spyware and malware for extortion, theft of private information, and online scams that are run like corporations, with large numbers of employees developing attack vectors and executing attacks
  • Nation-states
    Hostile countries can launch cyber attacks against local companies and institutions to interfere with communications, cause disorder, and inflict damage.
  • Terrorist organization
    Terrorists conduct cyber attacks aimed at destroying or abusing critical infrastructure, threatening national security, disrupting economies, and causing bodily harm to citizens.
  • Rogue insiders
    Employees with legitimate access to company assets abuse their privileges to steal information or damage electronic assets for economic or personal gain. This insider threats may be the target organization's employees, contractors, suppliers, or partners. 

Types of cyber threats 

Cyber attacks take various forms, each with its own set of techniques and objectives. We have put together a list of the Top 9 cyber threats that could put your business at risk. Understanding these types of cyber assaults is a critical first step in defending yourself and your company from possible dangers.

Malware attacks

Malware, also known as malicious software, is a very common type of cybersecurity attack. It includes viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, and even ransomware attacks. Malware is a program inserted into a system intending to compromise data confidentiality, integrity, or availability.

 Attackers may embed malware in app downloads, mobile websites, or phishing emails and text messages. Once compromised, a mobile device can give the malicious actor access to personal information, location data, financial accounts, and more. Here are some common types of malware:

  • Virus: This type of malware attaches itself to clean files and spreads throughout a computer system as those files are executed. It can quickly corrupt or delete data on a device.
  • Worm: Worms infect entire networks of devices either by local networks or through the internet. They operate by exploiting vulnerabilities in operating systems.
  • Trojan: Unlike viruses, Trojans don’t replicate themselves, but they can be just as destructive. They disguise themselves as legitimate software but act maliciously once inside the device.
  • Spyware: As its name implies, this type of malware spies on users. It can gather data like user habits, logins, credit card information, and other personal details.
  • Ransomware: This malware locks or encrypts data on a victim's device and demands payment (ransom) to restore access.
  • Cryptojacking: attackers deploy software on a victim’s device, and begin using their computing resources to generate cryptocurrency, without their knowledge.
  • Adware: While not always malicious in intent, adware presents unwanted advertisements to the user, which can lead to other types of malware being installed.
  • Rootkit: These are designed to gain administrative access to a device. Once they do, they become deeply embedded and are difficult to detect and remove.
  • Botnet: This is a network of compromised devices that are controlled remotely by an attacker, usually to carry out large-scale attacks or to send spam.
  • Fileless Malware: Unlike traditional malware that relies on files, fileless malware resides in a system's RAM and exploits legitimate programs to infect a computer.
  • Mobile Malware: As mentioned in the article snippet you provided, this targets mobile devices and can include a range of malicious code types tailored for these devices.

Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering remains one of the most dangerous hacking techniques employed by cybercriminals, largely because it relies on human error rather than technical vulnerabilities. The victim provides sensitive information or unwittingly installs malware on their device because the attacker poses as a legitimate actor.

Types of social engineering attacks:

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks use emails to trick the recipient into disclosing confidential information or downloading malware by clicking on a hyperlink in the message.
  • Spear Phishing: A more sophisticated form of phishing where the attacker learns about the victim and impersonates someone he or she knows and trusts.
  • Vishing (voice phishing): the imposter uses the phone to trick the target into disclosing sensitive data or grant access to the target system. Vishing typically targets older individuals but can be employed against anyone.
  • Smishing (SMS phishing): the attacker uses text messages as a means of deceiving the victim.
  • Baiting: the attacker lures a user into a social engineering trap, usually with a promise of something attractive like a free gift card. The victim provides sensitive information such as credentials to the attacker.

Supply Chain Attacks

Supply chain attacks have emerged as a new type of cyber threat to software developers and vendors. These cybersecurity attacks mainly aim to infect genuine applications and spread malware through source code, build processes, or software update mechanisms.

Attackers search for insecure network protocols, server infrastructure, and coding techniques to steal data and compromise build and update processes. They modify source code and hide malicious content, making it difficult to detect the threat.

Supply chain vulnerabilities and attacks are particularly dangerous because the applications that attackers compromise are signed and certified by trusted vendors. In a software supply chain attack, the software vendor is unaware that their applications or updates are infected with malware. Malicious code runs with the same trust and privileges as the compromised application.

There are different types intended targets of supply chain attacks, including the compromise of build tools or development pipelines, code signing procedures, server resources, or developer accounts. Attackers may also send malicious code as automated updates to hardware or firmware components or pre-install it on physical devices.

“Man in the Middle” (MitM) attacks

MitM attack involves intercepting the communication between two endpoints, such as a user and an application. The attacker can eavesdrop on the communication, steal sensitive data, and impersonate each party participating in the communication.

Examples of MitM attacks include:

Wi-Fi eavesdropping: Wi-Fi eavesdropping is a cyberattack where an attacker creates a fake Wi-Fi connection to intercept users' data, such as login credentials and payment card details.

Email hijacking: This cybersecurity attack occurs when an attacker impersonates a legitimate organization's email address to deceive users into revealing sensitive information or transferring money to the attacker.

DNS spoofing: a domain is spoofed, directing a user to a malicious website posing as a legitimate site. The attacker may divert traffic from the legitimate site or steal the unsuspecting user’s login credentials elsewhere.

IP spoofing:  An attacker can spoof an IP address to pose as a website and deceive users into thinking they are interacting with that website. 

HTTPS spoofing: HTTPS is generally considered the more secure version of HTTP, but can also be used to make malicious links to trick users of the browser into thinking that a malicious website is safe. The attacker uses “HTTPS” in the URL to conceal the malicious nature of the website from unsuspecting user.

Denial-of-Service Attack (DDoS attack)

Denial of service attacks is when an attacker takes over many (perhaps thousands) of devices and uses them to invoke the functions of a target system, e.g. a website, causing it to crash from an overload distributed denial of service on demand.

Attacks on IoT Devices

IoT devices like industrial sensors are vulnerable to multiple types of cyber threats. These include hackers taking over the device to make it part of a DDoS attack and gain unauthorized access to data being collected by the device. Given their numbers, geographic distribution, and frequently out-of-date operating systems, IoT devices are a prime target for malicious cyber threat actors.

Zero-day exploits and attacks

Zero-day exploits refer to security vulnerabilities that exist in a software operating system or network that the manufacturer is not aware of. For instance, a technology vendor could launch a new version of an OS/app that inadvertently includes a loophole that allows hackers to gain access to your data.

Injection Attacks

Injection attacks exploit vulnerabilities to insert malicious input into web application code. Such attacks may expose sensitive information, execute DoS attacks, or compromise the entire system.

Main vectors for injection attacks:

SQL Injection is a type of cyber attack where the attacker inserts an SQL query into an input channel, such as a comment field or web form. If the application is vulnerable, the data will be sent to the database, and the injected SQL commands will be executed. Since most web applications use SQL databases, they are susceptible to SQL injection attacks. A new variation of this attack is NoSQL injection, which targets databases that don't employ a relational data model

Code injection: Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in applications by injecting malicious code. When executed by the web server, the code behaves as part of the application.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a cybersecurity attack where an attacker inputs a string of text containing malicious JavaScript. When the target's browser executes this code, it can redirect users to a malicious website or steal session cookies to hijack a user's session. An application is vulnerable to XSS if it doesn't sanitize user inputs to remove JavaScript code.

Password Attacks

Password attacks refer to any cyber attacks in which hackers try to guess, brute force, or deceive you into revealing your passwords. There are several types of password-based cyber attacks that you need to be mindful of. 

Password spraying is when hackers attempt to use the same password across multiple accounts. For instance, more than 3.5 million Americans use the password "123456". 

Brute force attacks occur when hackers develop software that tries various combinations of usernames and passwords until they find the correct one. They often use logins leaked to the Dark Web because many individuals reuse passwords across multiple accounts. 

The role of the Dark web

The dark web is an unregulated and anonymous part of the internet. It allows hackers to:

  • Sell their creations multiple times, making it a multiplier for threats
  • Provide a haven for cyber criminals to share knowledge
  • Trade malicious software
  • Launch attacks

The dark web serves as a multiplier for threats, with one hacker being able to sell his or her creation over and over, making the dark web an important facet of the cyber threat landscape. It's a shadowy corner of the internet that often escapes the watchful eyes of law enforcement, creating challenges for cybersecurity professionals who strive to track and combat the increasingly sophisticated digital threats emanating from this hidden realm.

Strategies to Combat Cybersecurity Threats

Numerous strategies exist to counteract cybersecurity threats, despite the challenges they present. Companies combat cybersecurity threats by implementing robust security measures

Here are some essential steps to consider:

  1. Patch Regularly: Keep your operating system, software, and apps up-to-date with the latest security patches. Hackers often exploit outdated systems, so it's essential to check for and install updates regularly.
  2. Strong Authentication: Utilize strong, unique passwords for each of your online accounts. Consider using a password manager to help you keep track of complex passwords. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible for an extra layer of security.
  3. Secure Networks: Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for sensitive transactions. If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your data and keep it private.
  4. Firewall and Antivirus Software: Use a firewall to block unauthorized access to your computer. Install reputable antivirus and anti-malware software to detect and remove malicious software.
  5. Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be skeptical of unexpected emails, especially those that ask for personal information or prompt you to click on a link. Verify the sender's identity before responding or clicking on any links.
  6. Limit Access: Restrict access to your sensitive data. Only share it with those who absolutely need it, and be sure to revoke access when it's no longer necessary.
  7. Data Encryption: Encrypt sensitive data, particularly when it's stored on portable devices like laptops or USB drives, which can easily be lost or stolen.
  8. Regular Backups: Regularly back up your important data to an external drive or cloud storage. This ensures that you have a copy of your data in case of a cyber attack like ransomware.
  9. Employee Training: If you run a business, train your employees about the risks of cyber threats and how to prevent them. This includes safe internet usage, recognizing phishing attempts, and reporting any suspicious activities.
  10. Incident Response Plan: Develop an incident response plan so you know what steps to take in case of a data breach. This should include who to contact, how to contain the breach, and how to notify affected individuals.
  11. Stay Informed: Stay informed about the latest cyber threats and prevention strategies. Join forums, subscribe to newsletters, or follow cybersecurity experts on social media.


In conclusion, the landscape of cybersecurity is a continually evolving battlefield. Cyber security threats pose a significant risk to our digital life, impacting the key infrastructure of our society. It is crucial to understand these threats, adapt to new cyber threat actors and landscapes, and invest in our cyber skills, talent and innovation.

Individuals and companies should take precautions to safeguard themselves, such as adopting strong passwords, updating software, and watching for unusual activities. Furthermore, having a response strategy in place is critical in a cyberattack.

Prey can assist you in protecting yourself against cyber dangers. We provide a variety of device security solutions for both individuals and companies. Prey can help you keep connected devices and your important information safe and secure by providing device monitoring, anti-theft protection to prevent identity theft and to prevent data breaches, and remote wiping.

Keep in mind that cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility. Staying up-to-date on the newest risks and taking precautions to safeguard oneself and others can aid in the prevention of cyber threats and guarantee a safer digital environment. We can all help keep our digital world secure by working together and taking cybersecurity seriously.


What are the most common types of cyber threats today?
Cyber threats are a rapidly evolving menace, constantly adapting to exploit technological advancements and human behavior. The most common types of cyber threats include sophisticated phishing scams, malware attacks that can cripple an organization's infrastructure, ransomware that can lock critical data, and social engineering tactics that manipulate individuals into compromising security protocols. Additionally, the rise of state-sponsored attacks and advanced persistent threats (APTs) pose a significant risk to national security and the global economy.

How do cyberattacks impact businesses and individuals?
Cyberattacks can have a profound and devastating impact on both businesses and individuals. For businesses, an attack can lead to financial losses, intellectual property theft, operational disruptions, and damage to the company's reputation. In some cases, the cost of a cyberattack can be so severe that it leads to business closure. For individuals, cyberattacks can result in identity theft, loss of sensitive personal data, and financial harm. The psychological impact of being a victim of a cyberattack can also lead to a sense of vulnerability and mistrust in digital interactions.

How does the dark web contribute to cyber threats? The dark web plays a pivotal role in the proliferation of cyber threats. It acts as a clandestine marketplace where cybercriminals can buy and sell tools and services designed for hacking, espionage, and financial theft. This hidden part of the internet is not indexed by traditional search engines and is accessible only through special software, which provides anonymity to its users. The obscurity of the dark web allows malicious actors to trade malware, stolen data, and exploit kits with relative impunity. It also serves as a forum for hackers to share tactics and collaborate on complex cyberattacks, which can include everything from simple phishing scams to coordinated ransomware attacks against major corporations. The dark web's contribution to cyber threats is substantial, as it equips even low-skilled individuals with the means to carry out harmful activities that can have far-reaching consequences for businesses and individuals alike.

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