10 cyberattack vectors and how to prevent them
Around 79% of companies expect a cyberattack this year, a fact that makes MSP services a critical need for most organizations. MSP teams are entrusted with managing key IT infrastructures and services for their clients. Cybercriminals look at these clients as high-value targets, which they attempt to exploit via cyberattack vectors. Successful breaches can result in your client facing data loss, suffering downtime, and inflicting a big blow to their reputation. There’s also a concern about internal threats as well, with cybercriminals potentially looking into hacking your systems to reach your clients.
Understanding how these vectors work and how to counter them is extremely crucial as cyberthreats continue to evolve. This article will discuss the most common cyberattack vectors and help you get familiar with prevention strategies. By following these strategies, you can protect your clients from malicious actors and preserve their data and daily operations.
Understanding cyberattack vectors
Cyberattack vectors (also known as threat vectors) are pathways through which cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to an organization’s computer systems, networks, or data. These vectors can exploit vulnerabilities in hardware, software, human behavior, or a combination of these elements.
For example, an employee at a bank receives an email from a cybercriminal who is posing as the bank’s IT department, urging them to update their password. The employee clicks on a link provided in the email, which routes them to a fake login page – looking exactly the same as the bank’s official online portal. This way, the employee is tricked into revealing their email credentials, which the hacker then uses to carry out nefarious activities (e.g., stealing credit card data). This particular attack vector, the way hackers gained entry to the bank’s system, is known as phishing.
MSPs need to be aware of each different of these vectors because they are potential entry points for malicious parties looking to steal sensitive information from their clients, disrupt their operations, cause financial damage, and impact their public perception negatively. Understanding how these attack vectors work helps MSPs implement robust security measures, perform regular vulnerability assessments, and educate their clients on how they can remain safe. With this in mind, let’s review some of the most common cyberattack vectors.
1. Phishing attacks
In 2022, a Cisco employee fell victim to voice phishing attacks, inadvertently granting hackers access to Cisco’s internal systems. The attacker, tied to cybercrime groups UNC2447, Lapsus$, and Yanluowang, targeted product development and code signing systems. Cisco learned of the intrusion on May 24 but publicly disclosed it after the attacker released stolen files on the dark web. As one of the biggest names in the IT industry, this attack damaged Cisco’s reputation.
Phishing attacks are one of the most commonly used attack vectors that are delivered through deceptive emails or messages. They involve tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information (e.g., login credentials and credit card numbers). This can tempt people into performing certain actions (e.g., clicking a link) when hackers masquerade as a trustworthy entity(e.g., law enforcement agencies, or management within an organization). The common variations of phishing include
- Spear phishing: Highly targeted attacks on specific individuals or organizations.
- Vishing (voice phishing): Scammers use phone calls, often posing as trusted entities.
- Smishing (SMS phishing): Attackers send fraudulent text messages with malicious links or requests for information.
For spear phishing, MSPs can protect their clients by implementing email filtering to block or flag those emails. They can educate their client’s teams on how to identify phishing attempts. This can be done via training programs and simulated phishing exercises.
You can implement call validation protocols to combat voice phishing. Some organizations use technologies like STIR/SHAKEN to validate the authenticity of calls, making it more difficult for scammers to spoof phone numbers.
When it comes to smishing, you can install anti-smishing apps on your clients’ phones. These apps can flag and block potentially harmful text messages.
2. Ransomware attacks
Bridgestone, a major tire manufacturer, faced a security breach by the LockBit ransomware gang last year on February 27, 2022. To counter the attack, they disconnected North and Latin American facilities, resulting in a week-long production halt.
Ransomware attacks are malicious incidents where cybercriminals access entry to a computer system or network, encrypt the victim's data, and demand a ransom for the decryption key to unlock the data. These attacks can lead businesses to lose sensitive business information.
Based on the size of the affected business, they can ask for a hefty payment, usually in cryptocurrency, in exchange for the decryption key. Refusal to pay ransom can lead to data loss and operational downtime. Even if you pay the ransom, there’s no guarantee that the attackers will send the decryption key. Besides, the brand damage alone is devastating for many organizations.
What makes ransomware a tricky vector is that it can infiltrate your client’s systems in more ways than one, including:
- Phishing emails: Ransomware is delivered via malicious attachments or links in phishing emails.
- Malicious downloads: Cybercriminals can disguise as legitimate free software available for download on the internet.
- Exploiting software vulnerabilities: Cybercriminals exploit security vulnerabilities in operating systems, software, or applications to deliver ransomware.
- Drive-by downloads: If your client’s employees visit compromised or hacked websites, it can lead hackers to install ransomware silently.
- Remote desktop protocol (RDP) attacks: Cybercriminals can exploit poorly secured RDP connections to gain access and distribute ransomware across a network.
You can protect your clients by following these practices:
- Backups: Keep regular and automated daily backups and ensure offline storage is also done.
- Access control: Enforce access controls and review user permissions to prevent unauthorized access to critical data.
- Network segmentation: Divide your network into segments to limit the lateral movements of ransomware in the event of an infection.
- Data encryption: Encrypt sensitive data at rest and in transit to prevent unauthorized access from reading sensitive information.
3. Malware infections
Malware refers to a wide range of software that is created to damage and gain unauthorized entry to computer systems. Malware can come in different forms, such as viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, and adware. For example, once a virus attacks your client’s system, it can multiply and spread to other systems and networks. Similarly, spyware can track user activities and steal sensitive corporate information.
You can consider the following prevention strategies to safeguard your clients:
- Firewall protection: Install a firewall to monitor and block suspicious incoming and outgoing activity.
- Endpoint security: Endpoint security means to protect your client’s individual devices (known as endpoints), such as laptops, phones, and servers. You can do this by installing anti-virus, anti-malware, and intrusion detection software to identify malware infections and remove them before they can do anything dangerous.
- Pentesting (penetration testing): Pentesting methodology allows MSPs to emulate the techniques that malicious actors would use in a safe environment to determine their clients’ security status, and adjust accordingly.
4. Insider threats
Insider threats refer to the risk posed by individuals within an organization who might misuse their access to harm the organization. There are two types of insider threats.
- Malicious insider threats: These are employees with ill intent, who are looking for ways to steal data and compromise security to sabotage your client’s company. Their actions are deliberate and can be driven by financial gain, revenge, or any other personal reason.
- Accidental insider threats: These are employees who are not intentionally looking to harm your client’s company. These attacks occur due to negligence, such as falling for phishing traps or mishandling sensitive data.
You can prevent malicious insider attacks by having your clients run thorough background checks before they hire employees who are expected to deal with sensitive business information.
Accidental insider attacks can be avoided via employee training and awareness programs. Comprehensive training can educate employees about the risks and signs of insider threats. This includes recognizing social engineering tactics, understanding the importance of data protection, and reporting suspicious activities.
5. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a malicious attempt to disrupt online services or websites by overwhelming them with a flood of traffic from multiple sources. These attacks force online systems to stop working, making them inaccessible to users.
MSPs need to be aware of DDoS attacks as they can cause downtime for their clients, resulting in loss of revenue, reputational damage, and customer dissatisfaction. For example, if your client has an e-commerce website, then a DDoS attack might make their website inaccessible to online buyers, costing them sales.
You can prevent DDoS attacks via the following steps:
- Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): Use CDNs to distribute traffic and absorb DDoS attacks.
- Anycast routing: Implement anycast routing to redirect traffic and absorb attacks.
- Rate limiting: Employ rate limiting to restrict incoming connections.
MSP teams should also focus on building a DDoS-resilient infrastructure for their clients. This includes helping them design networks with redundancy and failover capabilities. Redundancy involves duplicating critical components, such as servers or network pathways. If one component fails due to a DDoS attack, another can take over, ensuring continuous service availability.
Failover capabilities can help your clients automatically switch to backup systems when primary components are under attack, minimizing disruptions.
6. Zero-day exploits
Zero-day exploits target software vulnerabilities that are unknown to the software vendor or have remained unpatched. Cybercriminals use these vulnerabilities to breach systems before the vendor can release a patch. Zero-day exploits pose a significant threat to your clients because there's no defense in place when they're first discovered to counter them.
Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access, steal data, install malware, or disrupt operations. If an organization is exposed to zero-day vulnerabilities for an extended period, it increases the likelihood of a successful breach.
Effective patch management strategies can be useful for mitigating zero-day threats. Regular vulnerability assessments can help to identify vulnerabilities. MSP teams should establish a systematic process for identifying, testing, and deploying patches for their client systems. Automated patch management systems help streamline this process, reducing exposure to zero-day threats.
Network segmentation is a viable defense strategy against zero-day exploits. By isolating critical systems from less secure areas, you can limit the potential lateral movement of attackers who have breached the client network. This containment can prevent the spread of an attack from one system to another and protect sensitive data.
7. Credential attacks
Credential attacks occur when cybercriminals gain access to a network or system using legitimate login credentials, often stolen or obtained through social engineering. These attacks are difficult to detect as they appear as authorized access.
There are several methods for carrying out credential attacks, including:
- Brute force attacks: Repeated login attempts to guess the correct password.
- Credential stuffing: Using known username and password combinations obtained from other data breaches.
- Phishing: Deceptive emails or websites trick users into revealing their login credentials.
- Keyloggers: Malware that records keystrokes to capture usernames and passwords.
MSPs can begin by strengthening authentication for your clients’ employees. Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) and promote the use of strong, unique passwords. MFA adds an extra layer of security, requiring users to provide a second form of verification.
Another important tool is using security information and event management (SIEM) systems to monitor and detect credential-based threats. These systems detect suspicious login activities and trigger alerts for potential credential-based threats.
8. IoT vulnerabilities
IoT vulnerabilities refer to security weaknesses in Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which entail a wide range of connected objects, from smart thermostats to industrial sensors. These vulnerabilities can expose devices and networks to attack vectors in cybersecurity.
IoT devices often possess limited computing power and may lack robust security features. They frequently collect sensitive data, making data privacy a concern.
You can secure IoT environments for your clients with:
- Regular updates: IoT devices, like any technology, may have vulnerabilities that become known over time. Regular updates and patches help address these vulnerabilities, ensuring the devices remain secure.
- Security standards: Adhere to established security standards like OWASP and IoT Top Ten.
- Vendor assessment: Assess the security practices of IoT device vendors. This can include determining how they encrypt data at rest and in transit, which secure communication protocols they use (e.g., TLS) to prevent eavesdropping, and how the vendor’s incident response and recovery plan works.
9. Supply chain attacks
Supply chain attacks are a type of cyberattack vector where attackers target trusted tech suppliers or vendors to compromise the products or services they provide. This approach allows the attacker to infiltrate the supply chain, introducing malware, backdoors, or vulnerabilities.
Just over 10% of businesses (13%) conduct risk assessments for their immediate suppliers, with only half that percentage (7%) extending these assessments to the wider supply chain. For example, the CarderBee supply chain attack targeted around 100 victims, primarily organizations in Hong Kong and other regions in Asia. The attackers compromised the security software known as Cobra DocGuard, by hijacking its software updates. This allowed them to introduce the PlugX backdoor into the legitimate software. The backdoor, once installed, could provide the attackers with unauthorized access to the victim's systems.
To mitigate supply chain risks, you should implement a combination of strategies, including:
- Supplier and vendor vetting: Carefully vet suppliers and vendors to ensure they meet security and compliance requirements.
- Continuous monitoring: Continuously monitor the products or services provided by suppliers for security vulnerabilities or signs of compromise.
- Security clauses: Use contractual agreements to establish security clauses and ensure suppliers maintain adequate security measures.
10. Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks
Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks are a type of cyberattack vector where a cybercriminal secretly intercepts and potentially alters communications between two parties. These attacks can compromise the confidentiality and integrity of an organization’s data exchanges. For example, unsecured public Wi-Fi networks can be a breeding ground for MitM attacks, where attackers intercept data between two users communicating over the network.
MitM attackers position themselves between the communication channels of two parties, intercepting data as it passes through. They do this via the following ways:
- ARP spoofing: By manipulating the Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) cache, the attacker can associate or link their MAC address with a legitimate IP address, leading to rerouting of network traffic through their systems.
- DNS spoofing: The hacker can corrupt the DNS resolution process to redirect users to malicious websites or servers controlled by the attacker, tricking them into providing sensitive information.
- SSL stripping: The attacker can downgrade HTTPS connections to unencrypted HTTP, intercepting sensitive data transmitted over the network without the knowledge of the users, leading to potential data theft or manipulation.
- Rogue access points: The hacker can set up a fake access point that impersonates a legitimate network, tricking users into connecting to it instead. This allows the attacker to eavesdrop on the network traffic.
- Unsecured public WiFi networks: Attackers can exploit the lack of security on public WiFi networks to intercept and monitor unencrypted data transmitted by users.
- Packet sniffing: Cybercriminals can capture and analyze data packets traversing the network to intercept sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords.
Next, they eavesdrop on sensitive conversations, steal credentials, or even manipulate the content of the communication without the knowledge of the communicating parties.
MSPs should focus on methods to implement secure communication for your clients. These include:
- VPN (Virtual Private Network): VPNs create secure, encrypted tunnels for data to pass through. This is particularly useful when accessing public Wi-Fi networks.
- DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions): DNSSEC protects against DNS spoofing and cache poisoning by adding cryptographic signatures to DNS data.
- IPsec (Internet Protocol Security): IPsec is a suite of protocols for securing data transmitted over the Internet.
- Two-factor authentication (2FA): Implement 2FA to add an extra layer of security, making it more challenging for attackers to compromise accounts.
Protect your clients with ConnectWise’s cybersecurity management solutions
From zero-day exploits to supply chain breaches, these cyberattack vectors continuously evolve and put your client’s online security at risk. MSP teams have to protect client businesses from threats by implementing robust and latest security measures. To do that, you need the most effective cybersecurity tools and solutions, and ConnectWise can help in this regard.
ConnectWise Cybersecurity Management Solutions help minimize the risk of cyberattack vectors, while also helping with a swift response if an incident happens. Get a free demo of our cybersecurity suite or speak to one of our cybersecurity experts today to learn how you can better safeguard your clients against the most dangerous attack vectors.