Cyber Attacks and Their Culprits

02.06.2016 |

Episode #3 of the course Cyber security basics by FutureLearn


Cybercrime is a big business around the world, affecting individuals, major corporations, and even government agencies. The statistics on cyber attacks are easy to find: in 2014 in the UK alone, online banking fraud rose by 48% and cost £60.4 million according to figures published by Financial Fraud Action UK. Another study by the UK government found that 90% of large and 74% of small organizations suffered a security breach in 2014. With cyber attacks on the increase, technology evolving every day, and each and every one of us a potential target, becoming wise to cyber security issues is more important than ever.

What are cyber attacks and where do they come from? A cyber attack is the deliberate exploitation of computer systems, infrastructures, computer networks, or personal computer devices in which attackers use malicious code to alter computer code, logic, or data. The ultimate aim is to either steal, alter, or destroy information. The people behind cyber attacks can have various motives, from cybercriminals interested in making money through fraud or from selling valuable information to “hacktivists” who attack companies for political or ideological reasons. There are even hackers who simply like the challenge of hacking into computer systems for fun.

Cyber attacks can be targeted or untargeted. In untargeted attacks, attackers indiscriminately target as many devices, services, or users as possible, exploiting the vulnerabilities in a system and taking advantage of the openness of the internet. “Phishing” is one such example; emails are sent to large numbers of people requesting sensitive information or encouraging users to visit a fake website. “Water holing” is another example, where cybercriminals set up a fake website or compromise a legitimate one to source personal information from unsuspecting users.

In a targeted attack, a deliberately chosen organization or individual is singled out for attack, and the results can be more damaging. “Spear-phishing” is an example—emails are sent to targeted individuals and contain an attachment or link holding malicious software. “Botnets” are another method. These are “zombie computers”—groups or network of machines secretly taken over by cybercriminals who are then able to silently harvest sensitive information from users.

Over the past decade, there have been some high-profile cases of cyber attacks affecting global corporations. Whether the target is global businesses or individuals, attackers always look for vulnerabilities in IT systems, so the same guidance applies to all: the more protected you are, the less likely you are to fall prey to a cyber attack.


Recommended free course

Introduction to Cyber Security


Recommended book

“Future Crimes: Inside the Digital Underground and the Battle for Our Connected World” by Marc Goodman


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