What are the most common cyberthreats to your data? How to recognize, prevent, and report them.

By VaultTek | June 29, 2023

Data breaches can cause significant financial losses and damage to an organization’s reputation. Today, the most common data threats that businesses face include ransomware attacks, malware, phishing emails, and data theft. There are several simple preventative measures such as implementing password best practices, encryption techniques, and authentication methods to secure access to consider. However, it’s not if an attack happens, but when. Immediate reporting and having resilient data backup can mitigate the damaging effects and aid in a quicker recovery.

What are the Most Common Data Threats?

The most common data threats are malware, phishing attacks and ransomware. Malware can harm your computer or steal sensitive info. Phishing attacks use fraudulent information and links to trick users into disclosing important details for access. While ransomware encrypts files and demands payment to reverse the damage.

What Are the Different Types of Malware Threats

Short for malicious software, malware disrupts or damages a device’s operation. Malware can gather sensitive or private information from your computer or other device. These nasty little programs can also gain access to private computer systems. There are three common types of malware. [1] 

  • Spyware: The terms “spyware” and “adware” apply to several different technologies. There are two important things to know about these programs. First, they can install themselves onto your device without your permission, typically when you visit an unsafe website or via an attachment.
  • Viruses: Viruses are harmful programs that can be transmitted to computers and other connected devices in several ways. They are typically a bit more targeted and aggressive than mere malware. Although there is a huge range of different computer viruses (just like real diseases), all are designed to spread themselves from one device to another, causing havoc in the process. Most commonly, viruses are designed to give their cybercriminal creators some sort of access to the infected devices.
  • Botnets: Botnets are networks of computers infected by malware (such as computer viruses, key loggers and other malicious software) and controlled remotely by criminals, usually for financial gain or to launch attacks on websites or networks.

Phishing Emails

Phishing techniques are easy to execute and can produce the results cybercriminals are looking for with very little effort, which is why researchers report that 1.5 million new phishing sites are created every month.  The goal is to trick the user into revealing sensitive information or taking an action that appears legitimate.  Criminals target victims by sending fake emails, text messages and advertisements disguised as trustworthy.  These are designed to attract a user’s attention with the goal of motivating that person to open a malicious file attachment or click on a hyperlink that will have devastating consequences.

More sophisticated methods of delivery target security weaknesses on computers, in operating systems, and across networks. Mobile computing in particular presents unique security concerns and is a vulnerability that is challenging to address, especially with a rapidly growing remote workforce.  The remote workforce has led to security breaches in 20% of organizations (https://malwarebytes.com), and is therefore an easy target for criminal offenders.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware developers and operators utilize many different methods and vectors for delivering the damaging malware to its victims.  However, cybercriminals will almost always pursue the weakest link for the greatest gain.  Social engineering tactics are employed to deceive and manipulate victims by attempting to influence online behavior.  The crooks know that 95% of security breaches are caused by human error (https://cybintsolutions.com), which is why phishing is the method most often used by cybercriminals to exploit a system. Ransomware is malicious software that locks your computer files and demands payment for a decryption key. It can enter your system through email attachments, links, or software vulnerabilities. Paying the ransom does not guarantee data retrieval and may invite further attacks. Regular backups, especially following the best practice 3-2-1 method, and updated security patches are essential prevention measures.

The 3-2-1 backup rule is a commonly used data protection strategy that multiplies the number of backups you keep and expands the number of locations where your digital record backups are stored. The rule states that you should have:

  • 3 – At least three copies of your data
  • 2 – Two of the backups should be stored on different types of media
  • 1 – And at least one backup should be stored offsite or in the cloud

When it comes to data storage there is an oft-quoted adage that “Any data not stored in at least three distinct locations ought to be considered temporary.”  Though the origin of the sentiment isn’t known, the spirit of it is the same premise as the 3-2-1 backup rule’s objective to have redundant backups in multiple places if any one backup fails or is compromised.

How Can Data Threats be Minimized?

There is no guarantee that even with the best precautions some of these things won’t happen to you, but there are steps you can take to minimize the chances and ways to protect your data should disaster strike.

To minimize the risks of data threats, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) suggests starting with these basic cybersecurity best practices:

  • Keep software up to date. Install software patches from verified publishers so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities.
  • Run up-to-date antivirus software. A reputable antivirus software application is an important protective measure against known malicious threats. It can automatically detect, quarantine, and remove various types of malware.
  • Use strong passwords. Select passwords that will be difficult for attackers to guess and use different passwords for different programs and devices. It is best to use long, strong passphrases or passwords that consist of at least 16 characters.
  • Change default usernames and passwords. Default usernames and passwords are readily available to malicious actors. Change default passwords, as soon as possible, to a sufficiently strong and unique password.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA). Authentication is a process used to validate a user’s identity. Attackers commonly exploit weak authentication processes. MFA uses at least two identity components to authenticate a user’s identity, minimizing the risk of a cyberattacker gaining access to an account if they know the username and password.
  • Install a firewall. Firewalls may be able to prevent some types of attack vectors by blocking malicious traffic before it can enter a computer system, and by restricting unnecessary outbound communications. Some device operating systems include a firewall. Enable and properly configure the firewall as specified in the device or system owner’s manual.
  • Be suspicious of unexpected emails. Phishing emails are currently one of the most prevalent risks to the average user. The goal of a phishing email is to gain information about you, steal money from you, or install malware on your device. Be suspicious of all unexpected emails.
  • Safe downloading practices. Employees should be educated about the dangers of downloading files from untrusted sources and should use antivirus software to scan downloaded files. Encourage secure file-sharing services and implement policies requiring employees to report suspicious activity or potential security breaches.

Backup and Recovery Solutions

Maintaining strong backup and recovery solutions is essential in protecting valuable data from cyber threats. Regularly backing up your data ensures that you won’t lose everything in case of an attack or mistake. This means choosing the right backup solution for you and testing it regularly to ensure quick data restoration. It’s also crucial to have a solid plan in place for disaster recovery. Building a proactive backup strategy sometimes requires adjustments to fit the needs of your organization and the records you want to protect. Strategic suggestions for a successful plan include:

  • Different Devices: If copies are kept on the same system or hardware device and there is damage or worse, both copies are at risk of data loss. For increased digital records protection, keep backup copies on separate devices that are not connected through a shared system.
  • Ease of Use: Data backup should be simple, secure, and efficient.
  • Offline Copy: One copy of your data backup should be secured offline as a protective measure against ransomware or other malware event.
  • Off-site/Geographic Locations: Should a disaster impact your on-site location or region, backups stored within or near the same locality increases the risk of all sets of digital records being compromised. Utilizing diverse geographic locations for off-site backups mitigates locality risks and provides even more layers of protection.
  • Proactive Planning: Having a crisis response plan in place empowers you to act decisively and recover quicker.
  • Security: Security should be embedded into your backup process, helping to ensure protection from attackers at every stage.
  • Speed to Recovery: To increase your data protection further, have an onsite backup system as your first layer of records protection and the quickest data recovery when needed.

Data Protection Planning for Business Continuity

Developing a preparedness plan with an incident response plan is a proactive measure to protect and ensure continued access to essential records. Committing dedicated time for planning is often the biggest barrier to protecting your records from unexpected events, but with the right tools, information, and advice, developing a useful plan is easier than you might think.

  • Strategic Planning: Take time to understand and map out the risks within your control. Know who provides mission-critical support to the operations of your organization. This could include documenting contact information for key personnel, service providers, and local agencies whose support may be critical in a recovery effort. Update this document on a regular basis.
  • Testing Procedures: Normally, a very low percentage of records are deemed essential in the beginning hours of a disaster. However, as the disruption time increases, so does the cost of losing other records and resources. Measure the potential impact of different levels of data loss events by testing your disaster planning procedures regularly.
  • When a Data Threat Occurs: After identifying a data threat, it is crucial to act immediately to contain it and prevent further harm. It’s vital to assess the type of attack and notify relevant parties such as IT personnel, management, and affected individuals or organizations without delay. These details should be part of incident reporting plan, and employees should be trained on proper chain of command and reporting procedures. Furthermore, evidence must be secured for investigation purposes in case of a future cyberattack or breach. Lastly, developing an incident response plan can minimize harm from a possible breach in the future.

Proactive Data Protection and Faster Recovery

It’s not if a data threat occurs, it’s when and being prepared to recognize and prevent them is essential. From ransomware to phishing emails, there are many ways criminals gain access to sensitive data and the list grows every day. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your organization. These include building awareness with your employees, using best practices to minimize access, and having triple-redundant backup and recovery solutions in place. It is also important to have clear protocols in place for reporting data threats when they occur as staff can easily be overwhelmed or daunted by the data attack.

The VaultTek data protection solution provides a multiple layers of data defense with our triple-redundant backup system: one on-site backup and two separate backups at remote U.S.-based data centers. When disaster strikes, recovery begins quickly with assistance from your dedicated expert to guide you through the process.  The convenience of having an on-premise backup with the added security of replication offsite means your recovery process can start immediately. Plus, our team of dedicated experts manage and monitor the process. Should disaster strike, you should have peace of mind that your data is protected, and assistance is just a phone call away. Our personalized approach to data protection means VaultTek partnerships are anchored in trust, enable resiliency, and make disaster recovery seamless.