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Avast Academy Security Business What is cybersecurity?

What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybercriminals are continuously devising new ways to infiltrate our systems and exploit our digital vulnerabilities. Fortunately, a few simple steps can make a big difference in protecting yourself and your business. Learn more about cybersecurity, the most common types of cyber threats, and how you can strengthen your defenses against cyberattacks.

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What is cybersecurity, exactly?

Cybersecurity is the combination of tools, technologies, and practices used to protect computers, networks, devices, systems, and data from unauthorized access or attack. Cybercrime can include the use of malicious software, theft of sensitive information, extortion, and business disruption. You may also hear cybersecurity referred to as IT security.

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    Why is cybersecurity important?

    As cyberattacks become increasingly complex, threats can impact businesses, freelancers, and individuals alike. The number of attacks is also on the rise – in the last five years alone, cyberattacks have increased by 67%.

    The consequences of a successful cyberattack can be costly. For small businesses in the UK, the average financial cost of a security breach in the past 12 months was £3,110 (US $4,185), while for medium and large firms, the cost was significantly higher.

    Regulatory requirements are also evolving, with the aim of holding organizations more accountable for protecting the data in their care. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect in May 2018, gives regulators the power to fine organizations up to €20 million (US $24 million), or 4% of their annual global turnover, for violations.

    Beyond the direct cost of an attack, your business could experience reputational damage and a loss of credibility among current and potential customers.

    Altogether, these growing risks mean that when storing and sharing data and sensitive information online, it’s important to keep your cybersecurity knowledge up to date and make sure you maintain the right level of protection.

    Types of cybersecurity

    Let’s take a look at some of the key cybersecurity categories and how they work:

    Network security

    Network security safeguards your internal computer networks and includes the protection of both hardware and software. It prevents threats like intruders or malware from entering your network and spreading. Network security tools include antivirus and anti-malware software, firewalls, and virtual private networks (VPNs).

    Application security

    Application security aims to increase the security of your apps by removing vulnerabilities and enhancing security features. Although most of this will be done at the development stage, updates and patches will be released after an app has been launched.

    Common threats to applications include unauthorized access to sensitive information and modification. An SQL injection attack is one example. To ensure robust application security, consider using a patch management tool to regularly check for new patches and updates and install them as soon as possible.

    Endpoint security

    Endpoint security protects all devices connected to your network, such as desktops, laptops, servers, and mobile phones. They will be protected against cyber threats like unauthorized access, data breaches, malware, and ransomware. Common endpoint protection solutions include antivirus software, VPNs, and anti-phishing email scanners.

    Data security

    Data security refers to the policies, processes, and technologies you have in place to prevent data from being modified, destroyed, or disclosed, whether accidentally or maliciously. Examples of data protection practices include using strong passwords to avoid unauthorized access, running regular system backups to aid recovery, and using encryption to prevent data from being easily read.

    Types of cyberthreats

    There are many types of cyberthreats – malware, phishing, denial of service (DoS), and SQL injection, just to name a few. Below, we look at some of the most common and high-profile threats you might encounter:

    Malware

    Malware covers the full spectrum of malicious software – from viruses, worms, and trojans to spyware, ransomware, and rootkits. Users can accidentally install or download malware – usually in the form of email attachments – and it can then go about its sinister business, often undetected.

    WannaCry is a famous example of malware, or more specifically ransomware, causing havoc across the world. In 2017, WannaCry hijacked infected computers running Microsoft Windows and demanded a payment in Bitcoin for their return. More than 200,000 computers in over 150 countries were affected.

    SQL injection

    SQL injection is a common web hacking technique where cybercriminals insert malicious code into a website with the intention of accessing and manipulating private information stored in the website’s database. The target might include users’ login credentials that allow the hacker to impersonate the user or sell the information. Preventing an SQL injection attack requires advanced knowledge of website development.

    Denial of service (DoS)

    The aim of a denial of service or distributed denial-of-service attack is to cause a website, machine, or network to crash, making it unavailable to its intended users. Malicious actors achieve this by flooding the target with requests, often via a botnet, until it becomes overwhelmed and is unable to serve additional users, resulting in a denial of service.

    Man-in-the-middle attacks

    A man-in-the-middle attack takes place when two parties are trying to communicate, and a third party – the ‘man in the middle’ – intercepts the communication of either party with the intention of stealing data or impersonating them. The victim remains unaware that this is taking place.

    For example, cybercriminals may create a fake eCommerce website then persuade a user to log in by sending an email pretending to be the legitimate owner of the store. Once the user logs in to the nefarious website, they have unintentionally handed over their credentials to the cybercriminal.

    How to improve cybersecurity

    The keys to effective cybersecurity are a proactive approach and multiple layers of defense. To get you started, here are some simple steps you can take to instantly improve your cybersecurity posture:

    1. Install updates

    Software vendors release updates and patches to fix vulnerabilities when they discover them, but this also makes the vulnerability known to cybercriminals who begin working to exploit it. This race against the clock makes it critical to regularly check for updates for your operating systems and other trusted software and install them as soon as possible.

    2. Safeguard passwords and use multi-factor authentication

    Some hackers use a technique called brute-forcing, where they attempt to gain access to your accounts by rapidly trying thousands of possible passwords. The stronger your password, the less likely they are to succeed.

    To add an extra layer of security, you should use multi-factor authentication (MFA), which requires two or more factors of authentication to access a system. These might include passwords, PINs, facial or voice recognition, fingerprints, and phone notifications.

    You should use a different password for every account, website, or application you access. While this might not seem feasible, a password manager can help. This handy tool encrypts and stores each of your passwords, allowing you to easily access them across all of your devices. You can also use it to generate random, secure passwords.

    3. Invest in training and education

    Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, which means security cannot be a 'set and forget' solution. Educate yourself and your staff on the latest threats and security best practices, such as avoiding suspicious email attachments.

    Keep in mind that people are often the weakest link in successful cyberattacks – those with an understanding of the basics of cybersecurity will be better equipped to protect themselves and the company they work for.

    4. Use trusted antivirus software

    Antivirus software will protect you against a variety of threats. Its primary role is to proactively block, detect and remove cyber threats like viruses, malware, and ransomware before they can cause any harm. A comprehensive package should also include anti-spam and anti-phishing protection, a firewall, and browsing protection.

    Switch to a proactive cybersecurity solution

    Cyberthreats are continually evolving, so your defenses should too. Protect your business devices, data, and applications with advanced threat detection, proactive solutions, and automated patch management.

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