How to Identify and Protect Against Cyber Attacks

With an increasing number of businesses moving data online, a steady rise in cybercrime has occurred over the last few years. Most evident during the transition to remote work that happened during the Covid-19 pandemic, a stunning 150% surge in cyber attacks has caused many businesses to implement new security policies.

Learning how to protect yourself, whether as an individual or as an organization, against cybercrime can help prevent the loss of sensitive information.

What is a Cyber Attack?

First and foremost, a cyber attack is any type of cyber assault launched by hackers against one or more computers with the intent to steal, damage, release, or access data. There is a multitude of different types of cyber attacks, with each type ranging in how it impacts the software or hardware that’s being targeted.

The most commonly known example of a cyber attack is malware being installed on a computer by accidentally clicking a link from a suspicious email. While this type of cyber attack can be squashed with simple anti-virus software, there are far more dangerous types of cyber assaults.

Why is a Cyber Attack Dangerous?

In most cases, a cyber attack won’t involve harmless malware being installed on a computer or a network. Hackers conduct real cyber attacks with malicious intent. These types of cyber-attacks are dangerous because they target key items such as financial information, sensitive data, medical information, and more.

Sometimes this information will be held by the attacker with the threat that they will release it to the public unless they are paid. Other times the data may be sold or used for identity theft. Whether you are a company or an individual, hackers getting a hold of confidential private information can damage you from both a monetary and reputational standpoint.

Different Types of Cyber Attacks

The first step to identifying a cyber attack is understanding the most common types to watch for. Below are three commonly seen cyber attacks that you may find yourself faced with:

SQL Injection Attacks

A relatively sophisticated cyber attack, SQL injection attacks target the backend code of a network itself. Attackers will inject SQL queries into SQL code that exposes hidden information within the code. Anything, including sensitive customer or personal information, stored within SQL databases could be stolen.

Learning how to protect against SQL injection is possible, but requires preemptive action when building out SQL databases. That’s why understanding this type of cyber attack first is so important.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks come in many shapes and forms, but the most common are email phishing, spear phishing, whaling, and vishing. Email phishing is when a hacker sends an email, typically claiming they are a company, yet they are registered under a fake domain.

Spear phishing is emails intended for a specific target that typically include some level of personal information about the person. They use this information to pretend they are a friend, or family member, or have some personal relationship with you in order to get you to release information. Whaling is spear phishing targeted at high net worth or important individuals.

Finally, vishing is spear phishing but over the phone.

DOS and DDoS attacks

Another common type of cyber attack seen, particularly affecting businesses, is a DOS or DDoS attack. This attack essentially involves overloading traffic entering a server to shut it down. Hackers then demand a ransom of some form in order to stop the attack.

Common Signs of a Cyber Attack

Learning how to protect yourself against a cyber attack starts with identifying the common signs that an attack is already underway. Here are some of the most common signs that a hacker is attempting to steal information:


  • Your computer speed inexplicably slows down
  • Your security software has seemingly been disabled
  • The system and computer continuously shutdown and restart
  • Accounts have been locked or passwords have been changed
  • You’ve lost all control over your computer
  • Files have been deleted, corrupted, moved, sent, or otherwise tampered with


The above signs are just the tip of the iceberg. While identifying a cyber attack in the process can help any person or company initiate procedures to stop the attack, it’s not as secure as preventing the attack in the first place.

How to Protect Against a Cyber Attack

There are four main strategies any organization can use to protect against a cyber attack. Data shows that a cyber attack occurs roughly every 44 seconds of the day, meaning that you should waste no time in implementing the following tips:

Implement multi-factor authentication

A simple yet effective way to prevent a cyber attack is to use multifactor authentication. Using this strategy, even if a password is leaked, the second form of authentication is still secure and data cannot be accessed. Common examples of multi-factor authentication include a rotating token, a secondary password message to a specific email or number, and more.

Train your workforce on how to spot cyber attacks

Protecting against hackers starts with educating your workforce. Train employees on how to spot phishing attempts and instruct them on what fake emails look like. Conduct mandatory training and test your employees periodically throughout the year with cyber attack drills. Make sure your email domain is protected with DMARC.

Force your workforce to reset their passwords often

While making your workforce create a new password often may receive backlash, it’s undoubtedly one of the best ways to secure data. Most security experts agree that a password should be changed every three months to guarantee the most effective level of protection.

Keep all systems and software fully up to date

Legacy systems are easier for hackers to get into as they often don’t have updates or support for their security. Always keep your systems, and anti-virus software, up to date to ensure it’s as difficult as possible for a hacker to access.

Keep your organization protected

In an ideal world, you or your company will never suffer a cyber attack. However, the rising rates of cybercrime mean that it’s important to be prepared for anything. Keep an eye out for the common signs, and types, of cyber attacks while taking preventative action to secure any and all sensitive data.

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