12 Types of Security Threat and How to Protect Against Them


Tech Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for IT pros

Thursday, February 1, 2024

As hackers constantly evolve their tactics, it's vital that businesses make IT security a top priority and guard against these 12 types of security threat.

Article 20 Minutes
12 Types of Security Threat and How to Protect Against Them
  • Home
  • IT
  • Security
  • 12 Types of Security Threat and How to Protect Against Them

Security is perhaps the biggest challenge facing any IT professional today. Regardless of the size of the company or the sector it operates in, all businesses will now be targets for criminals looking to steal data, disrupt operations or just wreak havoc.

Recent statistics underscore a growing concern for businesses regarding cybersecurity. By 2025, the global cost of cybercrime is projected to soar to an estimated $10.5 trillion annually, a significant increase from $3 trillion in 2015. This threat isn't limited to large enterprises; small to medium-sized businesses are especially at risk. Although 43% of these smaller entities are targets of cyberattacks, only 14% are sufficiently prepared to defend themselves.

In the UK, the situation is just as concerning, with losses from coronavirus scams exceeding £34.5 million. Similarly, in the US, the financial toll of cyberattacks is significant. The average cost of a data breach in 2023 reached $4.45 million, and the cost of a single ransomware attack has increased to $1.85 million. Without appropriate safeguards, the repercussions can be severe.

The reported number of cyber attacks between 2021 and 2022, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, is significantly higher than in previous years. The evolving business landscape, shaped by lockdowns and disruptions, has led to an increase in remote and hybrid working, yielding positive results for employees and businesses but also introducing security challenges, such as reduced endpoint security.

According to a recent survey from Insights for Professionals, businesses report that laptops, tablets, and mobile devices are their most vulnerable endpoints — the devices we rely on to work.A report from Insights for Professionals visualizes the top 3 endpoints

What is a cyber attack?

cyber attack is a deliberate exploitation of computer systems, networks, and technology-dependent enterprises. These attacks use malicious code to alter computer code, logic, or data, resulting in disruptive consequences that can compromise data and lead to cybercrimes, such as information and identity theft.

What are the main types of security threat?

But with so many different types of cyber attacks, and criminals constantly evolving their tactics, what sorts of threats should businesses be looking out for, and how should they go about defending themselves? 

Here are 12 common types of security risks and vulnerabilities, and what to do about them:

  1. Malware
  2. Man-in-the-middle (MITM)
  3. Cloud security
  4. Phishing
  5. Supply chain attacks
  6. Ransomware
  7. Data loss
  8. Password attacks
  9. Insider threats
  10. DDoS
  11. Network vulnerabilities
  12. Formjacking

Research survey lists 10 types of security threat

1. Malware attacks

Malware, often regarded as the most common type of cyber attack, represents a broad spectrum of unwanted software that poses a myriad of threats to businesses. Capable of causing extensive damage, malware can range from programs that destroy data to those that drain system resources. It might turn machines into botnets for coordinated cyber attacks, or repurpose them for resource-heavy activities such as cryptocurrency mining.

In 2022, a staggering 5.4 billion malware attacks underscore the persistent threat posed by malicious software. Our research indicates that 64% of IT leaders view malware as the most significant security challenge they face this year, underscoring the urgent need for strong cybersecurity defenses.

There are a few key categories, such as viruses, which seek to replicate and spread as widely as possible, Trojans, which gain entry to networks by disguising themselves as legitimate applications, and spyware, which looks to monitor an employee's usage to gather sensitive data.

But it’s important to be aware of other types of threat such as fileless malware which infects devices through legitimate software and leaves no footprint. Unlike regular malware, fileless malware can be installed on a system without needing an attacker to install it, which makes it notoriously difficult to detect. 

Protecting against malware

Defending against these multitude of threats is no easy task, which is why having strong antimalware tools is paramount. There are hundreds of tools out there claiming to offer protection, but organizations need to ensure the solutions they choose can detect even previously unknown malware by spotting their key characteristics - for example, a program that tries to hide once installed. It's also essential this is kept up to date and is able to scan every potential entry point to a network, from emails to USB flash drives.

Learn more: Getting Started With Malware Analysis

2. Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks

A Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack is a significant cyber threat that involves an attacker secretly intercepting and altering messages between two parties who believe they are in direct communication. This type of attack can take various forms, including session hijacking, email interception, and Wi-Fi eavesdropping. The ramifications of a successful MitM attack are serious; attackers may gain unauthorized access to confidential information or manipulate communications to cause harm.

Protecting against MITM

To protect against MitM attacks, implementing the following two encryption protocols is recommended:

Transport Layer Security (TLS):

  • TLS provides a secure channel between two communicating applications
  • It encrypts the data in transit, maintaining confidentiality and data integrity
  • Through the use of digital certificates, TLS authenticates the communicating parties, making it easier to detect any attempted interference by an intermediary

Secure Shell (SSH):

  • SSH is ideal for system administrators requiring secure remote access via potentially insecure networks
  • It encrypts all communications to and from the client and server, thwarting attackers from intercepting or altering transmitted data
  • SSH applies robust authentication techniques to guarantee that connections are established only by authorized users

By employing these encryption protocols, organizations can significantly enhance their defenses against the threat of MitM attacks.

3. Cloud security

The majority of businesses, both small and large, work in the cloud. From reduced IT costs to improved scalability and easier collaboration - there are plenty of reasons most modern organizations rely on cloud computing. However, it’s not without its own set of challenges.

Cloud security is one of the main cybersecurity threats businesses are facing this year, with 57% agreeing that it’s the most significant threat after malware. Some of the main concerns businesses must be aware of when it comes to cloud security include account hijacking, misconfigurations, external data sharing, data loss/leakage, unauthorized access and insecure interfaces/APIs. For more insights, access the State of Cloud Security report here.

Protecting against cloud security threats

Implementing robust cloud security practices can help protect against the various threats and vulnerabilities to ensure your infrastructure and data is secure. From securing user endpoints to implementing encryption and highlighting the importance of good password hygiene, getting cloud security right requires attention to detail. It’s also important to ensure you choose the right cloud provider from the get-go, which will take some of the weight off your shoulders when it comes to ensuring your company’s and customers’ safety in the cloud.

4. Phishing

One of the most common types of social engineering threat, phishing typically involves sending emails that purport to be from a recognized and trusted source, usually with a fake link that invites them to enter personal details into an online form. Some 51% of IT professionals agree that phishing and other social engineering attacks are the biggest challenges they face this year.

These are often designed as ways to get access to financial data or username and password combinations, but they can do more than that - especially with the more targeted 'spear phishing' variety, which will be tailored precisely to an individual recipient.

For example, in April 2021, security researchers discovered a Microsoft 365 phishing scam that steals user credentials. This Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack works by sending emails with disguised .html files attached. Once the user opens this file, they’re directed to a website that contains malicious code and told that they’ve been logged out of Microsoft 365 and invited to log in again. Once they do this, the user’s credentials are sent to the fraudsters in charge of the scam.

Protecting against phishing

Effective email security tools can help reduce the likelihood of such emails getting through, but they're not 100% effective. Therefore, user education is the best way to tackle this threat. By training people to be wary and spot the telltale signs of a phishing attempt, firms can ensure their employees are not handing over valuable data to anyone that asks for it.

Learn more: How to Stop Your Staff from Opening Phishing Emails

Banner pointing to IFP research on the state of Enterprise Security, 2022

5. Supply chain attacks

Supply chain attacks have become a sophisticated vector for targeting the relationships of trust among software developers, vendors, and their clients. Far from being just a theoretical threat, these attacks have seen a worrying increase in frequency. A recent Anchore report indicates that 62% of surveyed organizations have been affected by supply chain threats.

In addition, Gartner predicts that by 2025, nearly half (45%) of organizations worldwide will have experienced attacks on their software supply chains. This forecast highlights an ever-evolving threat landscape, with supply chain attacks poised to continue as a significant risk for organizations around the globe.

These attacks exploit a range of vulnerabilities, from the compromise of build tools and development pipelines to the manipulation of code-signing processes and developer accounts. The result can often be the spread of malware through applications, updates, and even physical devices that appear legitimate but have been compromised before reaching the end-user.

Protecting against supply chain attacks

To mitigate the risk of these attacks, it is imperative to:

  • Conduct thorough security assessments of third-party vendors
  • Implement stringent access controls
  • Regularly update all software to patch potential vulnerabilities
  • Continuously monitor network activity for early anomaly detection
  • Establish a robust incident response plan for swift action in the event of a breach
  • Educate employees about threat recognition and the importance of reporting suspicious activities

Adopting these proactive measures can greatly enhance an organization's defenses against the growing menace of supply chain attacks, leading to a more secure and resilient operational environment.

6. Ransomware

Our research indicates that 42% of companies identify ransomware as their top security concern. Ransomware attacks involve the encryption of critical files on a system or network, denying access and demanding a ransom—often in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin—for their decryption. While the concept might appear simple, the potential for disruption is considerable, as exemplified by the 2022 Swissport incident.

The impact of ransomware can differ, with some variants encrypting specific file types vital to business functions, or others targeting system files required for booting computers. Alarmingly, the total number of global ransomware attacks has skyrocketed to 623.3 million, demonstrating a continued and dramatic increase in this type of malware. This significant rise emphasizes the need for companies to strengthen their defenses against these increasingly common and disruptive cyber threats.

Protecting against ransomware

To defend against ransomware, prevention is certainly better than a cure. Indeed, once files are encrypted, there’s often nothing firms can do to get them back without paying a ransom, or waiting and hoping a key is released publicly. Therefore, as well as normal antimalware procedures, an essential defense is to ensure all key files are safely backed up away from the primary network.

Machine learning can also be leveraged by IT professionals to protect against ransomware attacks. This technology has the power to infer and predict attacks, and allows for the constant monitoring of malicious activity allowing them to detect and prevent malware from spreading through the file system.

Learn more: Search and Destroy: 3 Methods of Detecting Ransomware Attacks

7. Data loss

Data is frequently described as the new oil, and for many hackers, the ultimate aim of their efforts will be to steal it in order to sell it on the dark web for use in identity fraud, blackmail or as part of corporate espionage.

With data the lifeblood of all business operations today, it’s no wonder that 26% of companies consider data loss to be the biggest cybersecurity threat they’re facing this year. Whether it's social engineering or hacking into a database using known vulnerabilities, getting data out of an organization is often the final step of any attack.

Protecting against data loss

It may be the case that hackers can sit inside a network for months looking for the most valuable information and waiting for the right time to act, so even if a firm's perimeter has been breached, there are still measures businesses can take to protect themselves from the most serious consequences - but to do this, they'll need good data loss prevention tools.

This usually refers to a series of measures designed to look for suspicious activities and block the access and exfiltration of data by unauthorized users. It may monitor endpoints and send out alerts if data is copied or transferred outside of normal, approved processes.

Learn more: 3 Ways to Reduce the Risk of Data Loss

8. Password attacks

Password attacks refer to the different methods used by hackers to maliciously authenticate, enter and steal data from password protected accounts. We all know about the importance of choosing a secure password, but more is required to prevent cybercriminals cracking them. Typically, these attacks are carried out by exploiting vulnerabilities in the system and using software to speed up the password-cracking process.

The most common types of password security attacks include:

  • Brute forcing
  • Dictionary attacks
  • Keylogging
  • Password spraying

One recent example of a password breach was a supply chain attack that involved software from SolarWinds. The attack compromised U.S. government agencies as hackers exploited an unnoticed vulnerability in their cybersecurity provider’s network monitoring software. This allowed them to infiltrate companies reliant on SolarWinds software and access their confidential email communications.

Protecting against password attacks

Beyond educating employees on the importance of using strong passwords to prevent putting your company at risk, there are several other best practices to be aware of to ensure you’re protected against password attacks. These include using multi-factor authentication (MFA) that requires users to provide more than a single piece of information to gain access, as well as running regular penetration tests (pen tests) to assess the security of your system.

Learn more: How to Get Your Employees Interested in Password Hygiene

9. Insider threats

It's often said that the biggest weakness in any security system is the part sitting behind the keyboard. While many of the above threats can be assisted by careless employees who don't follow basic security guidelines, you should also be taking steps to ensure your employees can't harm the business deliberately, as well as accidentally. Although it’s not the top cybersecurity concern, 17% of companies still consider protecting against insider threats a significant challenge this year. Malicious insiders who are looking to extract data or damage systems are a threat that any business may face, and it can be tough to predict, so it pays to take precautions.

Protecting against insider threats

Ensuring all employees have the right level of access is the first step. Restricting users to only the applications and data they need to do their job can be a great help - but of course, it will not stop privileged users and those who have a legitimate need to access sensitive information. It’s also important to hold security training sessions to make sure your staff are aware of insider threats and the risk they pose.

Therefore, this needs to be backed up with effective monitoring that can quickly identify any unusual or suspicious activity and shut it down, or challenge users to confirm they have a genuine reason for their actions.

Learn more: You Can't Blindly Trust Your Employees: 6 Ways to Prevent Insider Threats

10. DDoS

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks involve an attacker flooding a system - often a web server - with traffic requests until it simply can’t cope with the volume of requests it’s being asked to deliver, with the result being that it slows to a crawl and is effectively taken offline. This is a particularly tricky form of attack to deal with as it takes little skill to pull off and doesn’t require attackers to actually breach a firm's perimeter, which is likely what renders it the biggest cybersecurity challenge for 10% of companies. Indeed, botnets that provide the resources needed to launch a DDoS attack can be bought on the dark web for just a few dollars.

Until recently, DDoS attackers were regarded as more of a nuisance than a serious threat to firms. They might take a website offline for a few hours, which would certainly have an impact on revenue for digital-focused firms, but that was about the limit of their impact. Now, however, the landscape is different. Sustained botnet attacks are bigger than ever before and can last for days or weeks rather than hours, and they're also increasingly used as a cover for other attacks, such as data exfiltration, rather than being an end in themselves.

Protecting against DDoS attacks

Therefore, preventative and remedial measures must be taken. While companies can take several steps themselves, such as bandwidth buffering, having a DDoS mitigation service can be the most effective defense.

In 2021 the largest DDoS attack ever was recorded when Microsoft mitigated an attack involving an Azure customer with a throughput of 3.45 Tbps and a packet rate of 340 million PPS. Once detected, it’s vital to trace the source of the attack to ensure you won’t simply fall victim to it a second time. You can do this by working with cybersecurity professionals and law enforcement experts to ensure your business is protected in the future.

Learn more: Can a CDN Really Protect You Against DDoS Attacks?

11. Network vulnerabilities

Enterprise networks are getting ever-more complex, and that means the number of potential vulnerabilities within them is on the rise. Issues such as zero-day attacks, SQL injections and advanced persistent threats all seek to take advantage of weaknesses in code that can allow hackers to gain access to a network in order to plant malware, exfiltrate data or damage systems.

One of the main ways hackers do this is by taking advantage of outdated and unpatched software, so ensuring all systems are up-to-date is vital in guarding against many of these attacks. Yet it's something that many businesses still fail to do, with one in three data breaches originating from vulnerabilities left by unpatched software.

Protecting against network vulnerabilities

To defend against vulnerabilities, a good patch management plan is essential, especially as network sprawl continues to be an issue. This can be challenging, but many of the tasks involved in this can now be automated with the help of modern patch management tools and applications.

12. Formjacking

Formjacking is among the most recent types of cybersecurity threat. It occurs when hackers inject malicious code into a web page form to collect sensitive data. They most often occur on payment page forms, so that when a user inputs their payment information the attacker can collect the card number, address, customer name and phone number. This is part of a group of cyber attacks known as supply chain attacks.

Protecting against formjacking

To ensure your customer data is secure, make sure that you’ve implemented robust antivirus software and use MFA to protect accounts. This will make it more challenging for hackers to infiltrate your web pages.

Cybersecurity as a top priority for businesses in 2024

  • Rising investment in security services: Gartner has forecasted that spending on security services, which encompasses consulting, IT outsourcing, implementation, and hardware support, is expected to reach a significant milestone of $90 billion in 2024. This marks an 11% increase from the previous year, underscoring the growing investment and importance placed on IT security by organizations globally
  • Proportion of total security spending: The same forecast indicates that the security services segment will account for a substantial 42% of the total security and risk management end-user spending in 2024, highlighting the sector's dominance in the overall security spending landscape
  • Businesses planning to increase security budgets: Reinforcing the trend, a separate Gartner survey has revealed that a robust 80% of organizations are planning to increase their spending on information security in 2024. This statistic is a clear indicator that IT security is not just a temporary focus but remains a critical, long-term priority for businesses aiming to protect their operations and data

These insights collectively demonstrate the heightened focus and commitment of businesses towards bolstering their IT security infrastructure as cybersecurity threats evolve and expand.

Investment trends to defend against security threats

Based on our first-party research into enterprise security, there's a clear trend of readiness among different tiers of company leadership to invest in security solutions:

  • A substantial 64% of managers indicate a willingness to allocate funds of up to $250,000 on security solutions
  • Around 40% of directors are inclined to earmark between $100,000 - $500,000 for security enhancements
  • A majority of 52% of C-Suites are prepared to approve spending in the range of $250,000 - $1,000,000 on cybersecurity measures

Investment trends to defend against cyberattacks

Cybersecurity priorities for IT decision-makers

In line with a strong commitment to investment, IT professionals are prioritizing a range of solutions to defend against the rising cybersecurity threats. Below are key IT security measures that businesses should prioritize to protect against various security threats:

Security solution Objective
Network security monitoring solutions Detect and analyze potentially malicious activities within networks
Encryption tools Secure sensitive data by encrypting files and transmissions
Antivirus software Prevent, detect, and eliminate malware across devices
Firewall software Control incoming and outgoing network traffic based on an applied rule set
Penetration testing tools Evaluate the security of IT infrastructures by safely trying to exploit vulnerabilities
Web vulnerability scanning tools Automatically scan web applications for security threats and vulnerabilities

Incorporating threat intelligence into cybersecurity strategy

Integrating threat intelligence as part of the security solutions portfolio is being increasingly recognized as a critical component by IT professionals. Here's why:

  • Proactive defense: Threat intelligence equips organizations with the ability to proactively anticipate and counteract threats before they materialize into attacks
  • Tailored security measures: It enables the creation of security strategies that are specifically designed to counteract the identified threats
  • Incident response enhancement: Threat intelligence provides actionable insights that can streamline and improve the efficiency of incident response
  • Risk management and compliance: Insights from threat intelligence assist in better risk management and compliance with industry standards
  • Strategic decision-making: Cyber threat intelligence plays a vital role in strategic decision-making by aligning security measures with organizational objectives

Challenges and solutions in implementing threat intelligence

Implementing threat intelligence isn't without its challenges, such as ensuring the accuracy of data and integrating it into current systems, but the advantages it offers make it an indispensable tool for modern cybersecurity efforts. To overcome these challenges, organizations are leveraging:

  • AI and Machine Learning: These technologies help in managing large datasets and providing predictive insights
  • Collaborative sharing: Sharing anonymized threat data within the cybersecurity community fosters a collective defense approach
  • Skilled analysts: Training and hiring skilled personnel is crucial for the effective interpretation and application of threat intelligence

The investment readiness in cybersecurity reflects the critical importance placed on robust security measures in today's digital landscape. IT professionals are expanding their toolkit to include advanced solutions like threat intelligence, which enables organizations to take a more informed and proactive approach to their cyber defenses. As the landscape evolves, continued investment in threat intelligence will be essential for staying ahead of potential threats and maintaining a secure digital environment.

Banner pointing to IFP research on the state of Enterprise Security, 2022

Further reading:


Tech Insights for Professionals

Insights for Professionals provide free access to the latest thought leadership from global brands. We deliver subscriber value by creating and gathering specialist content for senior professionals.


Join the conversation...

27/05/2020 Lola
In 2020, there has been a targeted increase in cyber attacks, which, of course, begins to scare all Internet users.
20/08/2021 Wayne walker
Thank you for enumerating the different kinds of attack and how to get secured and protect our system by it.