By George Otte
The digital threat landscape is constantly evolving. No matter how you choose to utilize the Internet, it’s important that you understand and take basic measures to protect yourself against the most common security risks online.
Five threats deserve special attention: zero-day exploits, phishing and spearphishing, ransomware, spyware and greyware, denial of service attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks. Let’s take a look at what each could mean for you — and how you can avoid or mitigate them in the future.
1. Zero-Day Exploits
A zero-day exploit is a vulnerability inherent to a software program. It is not the direct result of malicious activity; rather, it is usually an innocent flaw in program coding or compilation. However, until it is “patched” (fixed), attackers can use it to gain unauthorized access to the program and the networks it runs on.
The best defense against zero-day exploits is routine system updates. Whenever a new patch or version becomes available for a particular piece of software, install it without delay to eliminate the vulnerability.
2. Phishing and Spearphishing
Phishing and spearphishing attacks imitate trusted senders (usually email or social media users) in attempting to convince recipients to provide sensitive information (such as passwords or bank account numbers) to the attackers.
Phishing attacks are often unsophisticated and easily identified as illegitimate. Spearphishing attacks are better-targeted, more elaborate, and often very convincing.
“The best defense against these types of attacks is to avoid sharing sensitive information over email or social media, even if you trust the person or company requesting it.” — George Otte
Ransomware has been in the news a lot recently. Two recent high-profile attacks, against Colonial Pipeline and JBS, resulted in national or global business disruptions and only ended with the payment of multimillion-dollar ransoms.
Like any other type of malware, ransomware needs a way into the systems and networks it infects. Using anti-malware software and following network security best practices (including using strong passwords and two-factor authentication) can reduce the risk.
However, ransomware can still infect well-defended systems. The best way to minimize disruption if you are affected is to regularly back up your systems and data to the cloud and physical storage media not connected to your network.
4. Spyware and Greyware
Spyware is a type of malware that collects information from infected computers and networks (including potentially sensitive data) and relays it to the software’s owner or operator. Spyware often operates under the radar, collecting data for months or years without being detected.
As its name suggests, greyware occupies a gray area between malware and legitimate software. However, because it can perform unauthorized activities (including information collection and sharing) and may hinder system performance, it should not be tolerated.
The best defenses against spyware and greyware are a robust, regularly updated anti-malware program and routine deletion of unnecessary or unrecognized programs from your system.
5. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks
Man-in-the-middle attacks are also known as eavesdropping attacks. They often begin when the victim connects to an unsecure public WiFi network without first encrypting their traffic through a VPN. Without the victim’s knowledge, the attacker can “eavesdrop” on their traffic over the network, possibly collecting sensitive information like passwords and financial account records in the process.
The best protection against man-in-the-middle attacks is a secure WiFi network run on a system with robust anti-malware protection.
Have you encountered any of these digital threats recently? What are you doing to keep your devices and networks safe?
George Otte is a Miami-based entrepreneur and executive with more than 15 years of multifaceted business operations experience.