Cybersecurity, also known as information technology security, is the practice of defending electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks, which usually focus on accessing, modifying, deleting, or stealing sensitive information. Protecting an entire system requires a multi-layered approach which includes network security, application security, information security, operational security, end-user training, disaster recovery, and business continuity.
While most organizations are now switching to the cloud and other new trend solutions, cyber security became the top priority for most organizations. We witnessed hundreds of organizations have to shut down completely after suffering from a ransomware attack or losing billions of dollars due to data breaches or other cyber attacks.
The history of cybersecurity
With the evolution of new methods, devices, and technologies, cybersecurity is constantly evolving to be able to protect systems against ever-evolving cyber attacks. The history of cybersecurity is almost as old as computers. The first known virus was the “Creeper“, which was developed for experimental purposes. In the early 1970s, Bob Thomas, an engineer from BBN Technologies had written a program that can move between computers and display the message “I’m the creeper: catch me if you can!” on the screen. In response, his coworker Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of email, created an antivirus called Reaper that not only travels between computers but can also duplicate itself and eliminate the Creeper.
In 1989, the tech industry experienced the first denial-of-service attack. It was caused by a worm called Morris, named after its creator Robert Morris and caused each computer it infected to significantly slow down. It was capable of infecting the same device over and over again causing it to crash. Some experts even suggested shutting down the internet as a solution. During the 1990s, as computers are getting more popular among end-users, hundreds of millions of users were affected by viruses. During this era, inexperienced users became the victim of viruses that are spread by websites or emails. These viruses caused email systems to crash and cost millions of dollars to organizations.
After these incidents, the tech industry understood the importance of cybersecurity better and started introducing solutions to protect both end-users and organizations. As the internet became more widespread, both sides, hackers and cyber security experts are introducing new methods and implementing new technologies, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning. Now, almost every service we use comes with built-in security measures. In the 2010s, cyber criminals also started to shift their focus to large organizations, which can be more lucrative than hacking random end-users. Hacker groups are targeting these organizations to extort huge amounts of money or to destroy their reputation completely.
Also, governments noticed the importance of cybersecurity. Now, most governments have their special cybersecurity teams to protect their system and target others for cyber intelligence, cyber terrorism, cyber espionage, etc. We also know that during a crisis, such as war, governments are also targeting the digital infrastructure and other systems. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can be considered the first hybrid war as the two countries are battling with each other in the cities and in the cyber world. Thus, state-sponsored cyber criminal activities are also becoming more important.
How does cybersecurity work?
Cybersecurity is designed the protect the entire system, which includes devices, networks, and software. Thus it requires a multi-layered approach to protect the whole system. All these layers should be able to work with each other seamlessly to create unified protection against possible cyber attacks. It also requires discovering the vulnerabilities in the system to be able to fix them before hackers discover these weak spots.
A popular approach is to hire white hat hackers or penetration testers to test the system to find out any weaknesses or flaws to be able to fix them. The top priority of cyber security is to reduce the attack surface and mitigate the attacks as soon as possible, restore the system if something unwanted occurs and investigate the issue to prevent similar issues in the future. It also requires training the employees to eliminate any human errors, that cause problems.
Types of cybersecurity
Since it requires focusing on different areas, there are several branches of cybersecurity that require specific expertise. While the internet and network technologies are constantly evolving, there are new ways to protect those elements are being introduced. While the approach is evolving to catch up with new attacks, new areas of expertise are emerging every day. Here are some of the most common branches of cybersecurity that are essential:
Application security: It includes security measures at the application level that focuses on preventing attacks. The process starts when the app development and design start but includes improving its security after the app gets deployed. Application security can benefit from hardware, software, and procedures to minimize security vulnerabilities. But most of the time application security measures are built into the software. Application security covers mobile apps, web applications, and native applications.
- Related: 7 best application security tools
Network security: It includes methods and technologies designed to protect the usability and integrity of the network infrastructure of a system. It is composed of various tools and applications running on the infrastructure. Protecting the network requires multiple defensive layers that enforce a set of security policies, which are determined by the administrator. Network security generally includes two categories; access control and threat control.
Cloud security: Cloud security is relatively a new term, which includes the technologies and practices to protect data within a cloud architecture, such as private, public, or hybrid clouds. Since most big organizations are switching to cloud solutions, it recently became a crucial part of cybersecurity. Cloud security focuses on data privacy and compliance with data storage. Due to its dynamic nature, cloud security comes with more complicated challenges.
Importance of cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is crucial for most organizations, unfortunately, some organizations need to experience something unexpected to understand its importance. Even an incident that can be considered insignificant, can dramatically affect a company’s future. For example, an employee’s stolen email account can cause unauthorized third parties to access all the internal communication. The effect can be devastating depending on the organization’s activities.
The worst-case scenario for an organization is to go bankrupt. We have seen it happen multiple times. A ransomware attack can easily make the whole organization inoperable, which causes it to go out of business if it can’t afford the ransom which is being demanded. Also, we have seen millions of users’ information, including credit card numbers, stolen from huge global organizations. It is one of the worst scenarios to ruin an organization’s reputation. Thus, no matter what size the organization is or what market they are a part of, a cyber attack can cause irreversible damage easily.
Common cyber threats
There are various cyber threats depending on the methods they use and their purpose. Some of the most common cyber threats are:
Malware: Malware is an umbrella term for all malicious code or malicious software such as spyware, ransomware, viruses, worms, trojans, keyloggers and more. Once it is installed or activated, they can install additional software, steal information, block access to data to ask for ransom, make the system inoperable, and affect the system in other ways. Malware can be installed into a breached system by the attacker, or an employee can be tricked with a phishing email to download and install the malware.
Phishing: Phishing is one of the most popular cyber threats recently. It mimics a legitimate email coming from an organization and tries to make an individual click a link that looks exactly like the real website. If the user can’t notice that it is a fake website and tries to log in, the credentials are sent to the attacker. Some phishing emails can also trick users to download software, which is malware, by disguising them as legitimate documents. Training employees about possible phishing attacks is crucial for organizations to stay safe.
DDoS: DDoS, which stands for Distributed Denial of Service, focuses on making a service completely unavailable by overwhelming it by sending high amounts of traffic from different sources. A DDoS attack slows down or prevents access to the target completely. Mostly, large networks of many infected devices with malware, which are called botnets, are used to launch the attack. Some advanced persistent threat groups are using DDoS attacks to create a distraction while attempting other types of attacks.
Man-in-the-Middle: In a man-in-the-middle attack, the attackers insert themselves into a two-party transaction without interrupting it. Then the attacker tries to filter and steal the data. MiTM attacks are especially common while using public Wi-Fi networks. The information obtained by the attacker can be used for identity theft, fund transfers, or illicit password change.
SQL injection: SQL injection aims to interfere with the queries to attack a website that uses SQL. The attacker uses input data to inject a query, which is also an SQL command, to read sensitive data from the database, modify, delete, insert, or change the database, and execute administration operations. It is very common with web applications, mostly developed without using a web framework or a security standard.
What is an attack vector?
An attack vector refers to the method that allows unauthorized third parties to gain access to launch a successful cyber attack. Investigating attack vectors is extremely important in digital forensics to be able to prevent the same attacks from happening again.
The most common attack vectors are malware, viruses, email attachments, web pages, pop-ups, instant messages, text messages, and social engineering. An attack surface refers to the total number of attack vectors that can enable an attacker to breach a system. Reducing the attack surface is one of the main priorities of cybersecurity.
Challenges of cybersecurity
There are various challenges that make it harder for organizations to protect themselves against cyber threats. Some of them are:
Managerial issues: In some organizations, information security is not represented enough on the board. Thus, decision-makers are lacking information about their current status or what they can do to improve their security posture. A board member or a C-level manager, such as CISO or CSO, can inform them about the situation. Also, some organizations are treating cybersecurity like a financial issue, instead of an IT issue. It can be expensive especially for larger organizations to implement all security measures needed. However, many examples showed that the lack of adequate measures can cause an organization to shut down, ruin its reputation, or cause them to spend larger amounts to recover the loss. Therefore, creating a corporate security policy & program is crucial for all organizations.
Human error: Eliminating human error completely seems impossible. However, the effect of human error can be reduced. The first step should be educating the employees about possible threats, common methods, and commonly made mistakes. Then, their privileges within the system can be limited to reduce the damage, thus even if their account is completely taken over, instead of accessing everything in the system, the attacker can only access a limited portion of it. Human errors became a bigger issue in the remote work culture, thus it is crucial for everyone to understand the basics. Also, employees can inform the IT team when they identify an attack, such as a phishing campaign, letting them take action and warn everybody else.
Bring your own device: BYOD, which stands for “bring your own device”, is a serious security issue and it became worse with the remote work culture. Many employees use their own devices for work, in the office or remotely. However, most of these devices aren’t checked before. A smartphone connecting to an organization’s Wi-Fi network or a laptop used to log in to the system can cause irreversible damage. Also, it is harder for the IT team to track these devices since they don’t belong to the organization and don’t have any direct access to them. These devices can cause cybersecurity issues as well as legal issues.
Patches: Organizations need third-party software and hardware. Even though most of this software is created by global tech giants, they are not flawless. When a vulnerability is found in these devices or software, most organizations can only rely on the developers to publish a fix. If an organization is lacking additional security measures, it could become an easy target for hackers. This dependence on the developers can only be eliminated by the multi-layered security approach. When a vulnerability is found in one layer, the other ones should be able to stop the incoming attacks.
AI and ML in cybersecurity
Artificial intelligence and machine learning became very important in recent years, due to the growing volume and complexity of data. These tools are also very important in cybersecurity. Although these solutions require high computing power, they are also very effective.
Cybersecurity experts are using these tools to recognize patterns to detect anything unusual better than humans and older software. This ability allows them to predict potential attacks and respond to them automatically by identifying trends and cycles. These systems can even categorize the incident and apply the fix. Some of the biggest tech companies and antivirus tools have already implemented machine learning for their solutions as a regression technique.
We should also keep in mind that advanced cyber threat groups are also using these tools to improve their attack methods. While defenders are trying to create new algorithms with these tools, hackers are also using them to fool these algorithms. Thus, machine learning still requires human supervision. Also, inaccurately calibrated models can cause false-positive results. Compared to other tools, AI and ML are still relatively new technologies, but their capabilities show that they will be crucial for improving the security posture in a near future.
Cybersecurity vendors and tools
There are various types of cybersecurity tools to help organizations, including network monitoring tools, encryption tools, vulnerability scanning tools, antivirus software, firewalls, and many more. While they are designed to meet different needs, it makes it harder for organizations to choose the cybersecurity tool ideal for them. There are a few features which should be considered before buying.
First of all, we should remind that most software, cloud service, and operating system comes with implemented security features. These security measures are created by the biggest global tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google, or Amazon, but we have already seen multiple times that in some situations they are not enough.
While considering the cybersecurity tool options, make sure that they are purpose-built to meet your needs. The tool should be tailored for your use case in your mind. Also, if it is not a standalone tool, which is rare, it should be easily integrated into the system that the organization prefers. Integrating and configuring the tool is also a tricky process and when it is handled poorly, it can cause more harm than good. Thus it should be easily integrated and compatible with the current and future technology investments.
Scalability is also an important feature. The ideal tool should be scalable for growth and the diversity of the environment being used. The ideal cybersecurity tool should keep up with the organizations while it is growing. And finally, an ideal cybersecurity tool should be well-supported. It is always nice to find an expert that can help you when things go wrong. But if you prefer an open-source tool, it mostly lacks professional support. The only solution might be hidden in a community forum but it can be very time-consuming to find it. The tools also should be updated regularly to be able to protect the system against the latest methods and malware.
With the pandemic, most organizations had to change their working habits and decided to switch to cloud services. This unexpected change attracted threat groups to target those companies. As a result, cybersecurity-related professionals became much more important recently. However, most organizations are having difficulties finding the ideal employees they need. Also, the demand is attracting hundreds of thousands of young professionals to improve themselves in this field.
Although it is not easy for new beginners to improve themselves in this constantly changing field, most cybersecurity experts are trying to prove their expertise with certifications. While some of these certifications are only entry-level, some of them can open the door to higher positions for professionals. The organizations are also improving their programs to stay up to date, they are also introducing new certifications which are needed in the professional field. Some of those organizations are The International Information System Security Certification Consortium, EC-Council, CompTIA, SANS Institute, Global Information Assurance Certification, and ISACA.
Unfortunately, most of these certifications are not cheap, and failing the test can cause your money to be wasted. Thus, it is crucial to be able to select the program that is ideal for the individual’s career goals. Also, most candidates are trying to test their abilities before paying for the programs to have a better understanding of the content, which mostly requires demonstrating their abilities and expertise with a hands-on approach. While there are thousands of free online courses, the certifications granted by these prestigious organizations’ are considered important milestones in cybersecurity experts’ careers.
- Related: Best cybersecurity certifications
Types of jobs and roles in cybersecurity
There are various cybersecurity roles depending on the responsibilities. Some of them are:
CISO: CISO stands for Chief Information Security Officer. It is the highest level and highest paying cybersecurity role and it is the only C-level position on our list. As a C-level manager, a CISO should be able to guide the organization’s cybersecurity processes and be aware of all the new threats. In most cases, it requires both decades of cybersecurity experience and good management skills.
Malware Analyst: Malware analysts mainly focus on identifying cyber threats including viruses, worms, ransomware, and trojans. Malware projection tools are developed according to their findings. It requires a deep understanding and experience in programming languages and operating systems. Malware analysts are getting important with the rise of ransomware and APT attacks.
Penetration Tester: Penetration testers, also known as ethical hackers, are security consultants responsible for finding any vulnerabilities or weak spots in an organization’s security posture. Instead of working for an organization, they either work independently or for a cybersecurity company. When they are hired, they test a company’s defenses and create a report letting them know the weak spots. Penetration testing requires experience in cybersecurity and knowledge of the latest threats.
Security Administrator: A security administrator’s duties and priorities may depend on the organization, but in general, security administrators are responsible for installing and controlling the entire security system. It is a very comprehensive role that includes security audits, training employees, protecting the system against attacks, supervising the system for anything unusual, and creating recovery plans recovery plans.
Digital Forensic Examiner: A digital forensic examiner focuses on investigating incidents. They try to find the intruder, the attack vector, the action taken by the actor, backdoors, and methods to prevent them. Similar to other forensic fields, it requires collecting and analyzing pieces of evidence. In the end, the digital forensic examiner creates a report and assists both the organization and law enforcement with the incident.
Biggest cyber threats
There are several notorious cyber threats in recent years depending on their extensity and the damage they can cause. For example, one of the most common threats, a ransomware attack can easily stop the operations of a company for a long time, cost millions of dollars, or even can cause a company to shut down completely. On the other hand, each day millions of phishing emails are sent online. These emails can cause an attacker to steal an online social media account, or breach into a system of an organization.
Another popular attack method is DDoS. It overloads the server with incoming requests. It can easily stop the operation of an eCommerce website for hours, causing it to have a financial loss. With cryptocurrencies becoming more valuable, hackers created a new type of malware recently, which is called crypto-mining malware. When it is installed in a system, it connects with the attacker’s steam and starts using resources to mine cryptocurrencies for the attacker. They can stay undetected for a very long time and can reduce the performance of a computer drastically.
How to improve your cybersecurity?
As we mentioned before, cybersecurity is a multi-layered approach. A flaw in a layer can cause devastating effects on the entire system. Thus, cybersecurity experts should consider all possible vulnerabilities and issues, instead of focusing on only one. Of course, the priorities may change depending on the structure of the system, but to improve the security posture, the main areas that should be prioritized are as follows:
Patches and updates: Each day, cybersecurity experts, hackers, and developers are looking for any kind of flaws, vulnerabilities, or bugs in their software. Software developers are patching these vulnerabilities as soon as possible, thus applying these patches is crucial to keep the system safe. In some cases, it even can’t be enough. If threat actors can discover a vulnerability in popular software, instead of alerting the developer, they start looking for a vulnerable system. These kinds of vulnerabilities are called zero-day. These actors can even share the method they use online to inform other threat actors. Thus applying patches and updates as soon as possible is very important, but it may not be enough.
Training: It would be unrealistic to expect everyone in an organization to be a cybersecurity expert, but there are some basic policies everyone should adopt. Most basically, cybersecurity experts should make sure that everyone in the organization is using a strong password, along with two-factor authentication if possible. Also, everyone in the organization should be able to identify a phishing attempt when they face with. Since threat actors are also aware of there are inexperienced employees in organizations, they are constantly trying to steal credentials or even worse. By continuously educating and testing employees’ abilities, an organization can reduce the human error risk to a minimum.
Software: There are hundreds of security software on the market and choosing the most effective one to suit the organization’s needs can be harder than it seems. Also, some of those services should be scaled accordingly. When the software is optimized, it is a huge boost to the organization’s security posture. If you are unsure about a feature or a setting in antivirus or similar software, make sure you contact the developer. They’ll be happy to help you.
Monitoring: Keeping a system safe requires continuous attention. Even after installing the best of the best security solutions, patching them regularly, and getting backups, the network should be monitored to prevent anything unwanted to occur. For example, noticing a DDoS attack the moment it started, can give you the extra few minutes, which are crucial, to mitigate the attack or warn the service provider you are working with.
Backup: Backups can be considered an organization’s safety net when it comes to cybersecurity. There are multiple different approaches to backups. The safest way is to get backups regularly, store a copy of the backup in an offline environment, and test them regularly to make sure that they are working. Backups are crucial for organizations because they can enable minimizing the disruption caused by ransomware or wiper malware.
Incident response: After following all these pieces of advice, no one can guarantee that you are 100% protected against cyber threats. Thus, in case the organization faces a cyber attack, it is crucial to have an incident response plan. By creating different hypothetical scenarios, a cybersecurity team can plan ahead and run training exercises to reduce the impact of an attack.