Cyberattacks are a common threat today due to our newfound reliance on technology to store sensitive information. Before computers became regular additions to modern offices, important information was stored in hard copy form, usually locked in a filing cabinet in the most secure part of the building.
Nowadays, hard copies are used for legal purposes, while digital copies are the most commonly used for practical purposes. This is not to say that hard copies were immune to theft since there have been incidents where offices were broken into, and their files were stolen. Unfortunately, digital information opened the door for a new breed of theft that compromises the integrity of the information stored in a corporate database.
Many people believe that cyberattacks come out of nowhere and view them through the lens of movies where hackers remotely break into the network in a dramatized setting. This is not an accurate portrayal of how cyberattacks work.
Cyberattacks are not as simple as entering some coding strings into a program and getting into a remote network or database. Cybercriminals need a vector from which to launch their attack to access the necessary software to bypass the firewalls. Attack vectors are an extremely complicated issue and are one of the main concerns of cybersecurity professionals. When a vector becomes vulnerable, the odds of a cyberattack succeeding skyrocket, and the information you are trying to protect could fall into the wrong hands.
While there are several potential vectors a cybercriminal can exploit, some are more important than others.
#1: Compromised or Weak Credentials
Remotely accessing a database requires employees to maintain credentials that authorize them to access specific information. Typically, this involves employees creating user IDs and passwords that allow them to access the database and the associated data from their personal terminals. This helps minimize the cross-traffic within the network and inhibits outside access by unauthorized individuals.
These credentials are essential for corporate employees to do their jobs and ensure the sensitive information they handle is inaccessible to anyone outside the company. Unfortunately, these credentials are one of the primary targets for cybercriminals hoping to bypass the network’s security. Acquiring someone’s personal credentials is extremely challenging since most people know to keep that information confidential, but a cybercriminal can acquire it. The biggest issue is when an employee’s credentials are too weak to protect their account successfully.
Most websites require us to create a password composed of letters, symbols, and numbers to reduce the chances of a brute-force hack succeeding. These passwords should also be unique from any other password we use. Most companies enforce these policies to prevent their employee credentials from being exploited.
Unfortunately, hackers have developed other tools to acquire authorized login information by deceiving the employee into providing it. The most common method cybercriminals use is phishing, which involves sending an official-looking message to an authorized employee to direct them to a link the cybercriminal controls. Once there, they trick the user into providing their username and password so the cybercriminal can use it themselves to access sensitive information.
Counteracting unauthorized access via legitimate credentials requires the implementation of two-factor, multi-factor, or biometric authentication:
- Two-Factor Authentication: Two-factor authentication involves a 2-step process where the employee enters their credentials and confirms their identity with a temporary code number or something similar.
- Multi-Factor Authentication: Multi-factor authentication involves 3 or more steps to log in. Like two-factor authentication, the user enters their credentials and receives additional instructions to confirm they are who they claim to be.
- Biometric Authentication: Biometric authentication involves supplementing credentials with biometric markers. This could include fingerprint or face identification software.
A cyberattack is more likely to succeed if your employees’ credentials are too weak or there are not enough safeguards against phishing scams or other threats. Implementing countermeasures against these weaknesses is essential to success, but other potential attack vectors are equally dangerous.
#2: Inside Information
Most companies keep their employees loyal via a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to prevent them from revealing classified company information. These disclosures have advantages but are not always enough to prevent an employee from seeking revenge against an employer they believe has offended them. Disgruntled employees are becoming more common in this day and age since turnover is at an all-time high. While many employees are terminated for valid reasons, others lose their jobs for seemingly arbitrary causes.
The biggest surge in employee turnover began 3 years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the turnover has persisted, and there is a 3.8% rate, which is unchanged from last year. Some employees believe their termination was unfair or a personal affront and thus seek revenge on their employers. This often involves bashing them on social media or commenting on the company’s failings.
Unfortunately, the biggest threat of disgruntled employees is when they trade confidential data or login information for financial aid. Some cybercriminals seek these people out and pay them for information on vulnerabilities specific to your company’s network. When the cybercriminal has inside knowledge about your network and its weaknesses, it is easier for them to launch an attack from another vector.
In this sense, inside information is technically a sub-vector that cybercriminals use to launch an attack from another vector. Nevertheless, allowing disgruntled employees to leave without reinforcing your network against potential attacks is a bad idea. Depending on how poorly they react to the termination, they might trade what they know for money. Furthermore, you should ensure their credentials are removed from the system immediately after termination. Otherwise, they might hand off their credentials and give a cybercriminal direct access to sensitive information (if not use it themselves).
Inside information is one of the rarer attack vectors to succeed, but the risk is high enough to warrant special attention. That said, other attack vectors are equally important and potentially more dangerous than a disgruntled employee.
#3: Poor Encryption
Every network that contains sensitive data must have encryption; otherwise, anyone with a wireless router can access it. Proper encryption takes many forms, such as SSL certificates and DNSSEC, which can protect a network from having its data leaked by a hack. Each encryption method secures a website or network differently and ensures that the people accessing it are authorized users. Specifically, the functions of an SSL certificate and DNSSEC are as follows:
- SSL Certificate: A secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate is a protocol that allows websites to host their content on an HTTPS rather than an HTTP domain. The former is significantly safer and can reliably host sensitive data. The certificate established an encrypted connection between the website’s server and the client (i.e., Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome). This encryption prevents 3rd parties from intercepting the communication and accessing the information being shared between the 2 points. Without an SSL certificate system, a cybercriminal could remotely intercept the data exchanged between your employees or your business and customers.
- DNSSEC: The Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) is a security feature for the Domain Name System (DNS) that adds cryptographic signatures to existing DNS records. This system prevents cybercriminals from being able to spoof (falsely replicate) an official DNS and pass a phishing site off as a legitimate page. Without DNSSEC, a cybercriminal could replicate your corporate transaction page to trick customers into providing their payment information.
Proper encryption makes it harder for cybercriminals to breach your firewalls remotely and access highly sensitive data. It does not take much for an experienced cybercriminal to determine whether your domain is encrypted. It is especially easy to determine whether your domain uses SSL certificates since HTTPS is part of your domain name if you do.
If a cybercriminal determines that there is no encryption protecting your company’s data, they will almost certainly launch an attack on your network to intercept data or bypass whatever security protocols you have in place. Spoofing your domain is another major threat that many cybercriminals have attempted over the years. They use spoofed URLs and pages to try and deceive an existing customer base into believing their spoofed webpage is legitimate.
This creates a trap for your consumers that could jeopardize their personal information while making it seem like your website is insecure. Without a DNSSEC, cybercriminals can spoof your URL and create a passable fake. While the fake website was where their information was compromised, poor encryption on your part is what enables the scam.
#4: SQL Injection
One of the languages not commonly cited is Structured Query Language (SQL, also called sequel). SQL is a domain-specific programming language that has been in service for half a century and is designed to work within the confines of an existing application. Many companies use SQL software to manage transaction applications and other programs to offer customers and employees a more customizable experience. One of the main benefits of SQL-based databases is that it makes it easier to access information since SQL programs can do it rapidly.
SQL’s creation was initially to help International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) manage its databases. The public release of SQL was only 7 years ago, in 2016, but it has since become a highly effective syntax that companies and applications use to manage their internal databases. Unfortunately, SQL is not immune to cyberattacks launched against programming languages within the software.
One of the biggest concerns for SQL-based databases is an XOR-based SQL injection, in which a cybercriminal uses XOR programs to acquire the password and SQL to inject characters so they can access the database. The injections are usually limited to a certain number of characters depending on the cybercriminal’s resources. Nevertheless, injections of this nature can enable them to access highly sensitive information and abuse it for personal gain.
There are other potential risks with using an SQL-based database, but maintaining proper encryption and ensuring the credentials your employees use to log in are high-quality can circumvent them. That said, the best way to protect against an injection is to patrol your network’s firewalls for vulnerabilities where an injection might occur. Ideally, you will perform regular penetration tests to actively seek vulnerabilities as though you were the cybercriminal looking for whatever entrance exists.
These penetration tests are usually conducted by a cybersecurity team, either in-house or through contractors, depending on the type of penetration test you perform. Regardless, these tests can show you where the vulnerabilities are so you can patch them and prevent an injection from succeeding.
Attack vectors are one of the biggest concerns for any cybersecurity professional, especially if their client lacks certain resources. Remaining ignorant of the most common attack vectors leaves your system vulnerable. These attack vectors are some of the most common, but there are countless more that experienced cybercriminals will happily exploit to access your company’s information.
The biggest problem is that there is no single fix for every potential threat to your network. You must implement a compatible system of security measures that can account for multiple attack vectors and tools. Unfortunately, implementing a cybersecurity grid on that scale requires technical expertise you might not have.
We at U.S. Cybersecurity know that there is nothing more important to a network database than a well-implemented security system. That is why we have dedicated ourselves to offering cybersecurity services for companies that cannot afford to create an in-house department themselves. We offer full-service cybersecurity for companies that do not have the time, inclination, or resources to create an in-house department.
We also offer testing and can create protocols to reduce the risk of the attack vectors in this article. This way, you can rest assured that your company is protected from cyber threats that could compromise your data. We encourage you to visit our website and assess our services personally. We are standing by and ready to assist you.