What is a Cyber Attack? What Does It Mean for Your Business Security?

What is a Cyber Attack? What Does It Mean for Your Business Security? | Cybersecurity | Emeritus

Cyber attacks, in their various forms, are extremely disruptive and cause organizational mayhem. In 2021, ransomware alone cost businesses a staggering $20 billion, a figure that’s projected to reach $265 billion by 2031. Other high-profile cybersecurity breaches, such as Solar Winds and Colonial Pipeline, were major blows to the economy, leading Allianz Risk Barometer to cite cyber peril as the biggest concern for organizations worldwide in 2022. While underlying motivations vary, an expanding digital ecosystem and the growth of a tech-centric culture heightens the risk of cyber attacks more than ever. But before we delve into its causes, types, and preventive measures, it’s crucial to understand the nature of cybercrime.

What is a cyber attack and who is at risk? Let’s find out!

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What is a Cyber Attack?

An attack carried out via cyberspace with the intention to disrupt, disable, destroy, exert malicious control, erode data integrity, or steal controlled information is called a cyber attack. It preys upon an organization’s use of its cyberspace and employs multiple techniques, depending on the nature of the attack. 

Cyber attacks are often associated with cyber warfare or cyberterrorism. Largely, however, the motivations fall under three categories: Criminal, personal, or political. The first type usually seeks financial gain by disrupting business, data theft, or money theft. Personal attacks, on the other hand, are more specific in purpose and often the doing of disgruntled employees, current or former, who target the company’s operational means for retribution. The last category is made up of socio-political attackers whose aim is to bring public attention towards a cause. This phenomenon is commonly called ‘hacktivism.’

Who is Behind a Cyber Attack?

A multitude of entities can launch a cyber attack against corporations and organizations. The broad classification here is external and internal threats, with the latter comprising users with authorized access to classified information and other organizational assets.

External Threats

What is a Cyber Attack

  • Criminal groups or large-scale criminal organizations 
  • Professional hackers, such as state-sponsored entities
  • Hacktivists or amateur hackers

Internal Threats

  • Careless employees unaware of company security policies and procedures
  • Resentful current or former employees
  • Clients, contractors, business partners, and other stakeholders with legitimate access

What is the Target of a Cyber Attack?

Cyber attackers target various organizations, state actors, and individuals; their demands vary from client lists and login credentials to IT infrastructure access and sensitive personal data. 

Most Targeted Industries in Cyber Attacks


  • As a broad category, the business represents the majority of cyber attacks. E-commerce and retail are often threatened via omnichannel access and supply chains which contain the bulk of financial and personal information. While large corporations have security measures in place to thwart such attacks, small- to medium-sized companies often face a lack of resources to prioritize cybersecurity.


  • Being an information-intensive industry, the medical sector is a frequent target. Health organizations are prone to cybersecurity attacks on a large scale, such as the WannaCry ransomware attack on England’s National Health Service (NHS). Despite the strict compliance standards, healthcare facilities remain vulnerable, with a growing need for increased HIPAA compliance and safeguarding electronically protected health information (ePHI).

Banking and Finance

  • Another prime target, the financial sector deals with some of the cyber attackers’ most coveted demands — personal information and money. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) of the United States emphasizes the need for penetration testing for financial institution compliance whereby such organizations can prevent illicit access and secure the personal data of users and clients.

Government and Military Institutions

  • According to Microsoft, almost 80% of nation-state attackers target think tanks, government agencies, and non-government organizations. In such cases, security breaches are high-profile and conducted by a variety of entities. By compromising government organizations, foreign powers carry out cyber attacks for espionage or to disable global competition, hacktivists attempt to establish a political statement, and cybercriminals seek to monetize personal information stored in federal databases.


  • Educational institutions store valuable intellectual properties, employee and student data, and tremendous computer processing power. However, they are susceptible to social engineering and have poor password protection measures. This industry sees a high number of cyber attacks each year. 

Types of Cyber AttacksWhat is a Cyber Attack

The tools and techniques of cybercrime have grown increasingly sophisticated owing to a hyperconnected digital economy. More importantly, they are more specific in intent and capable of penetrating the most powerful networks across industries.

Common Types of Cyber Attacks:

Backdoor Trojan

  • This creates a backdoor vulnerability in the target ecosystem, giving the hacker near-total virtual control.

Cross-site Scripting (XSS) Attack

  • XSS attacks compromise systems by inserting malicious code into a website or application script to obtain user information. Such attacks often use JavaScript, Adobe Flash, and Microsoft VCScript in addition to ActiveX and third-party web resources.

Denial-of-Service (DoS)

  • DoS attacks overwhelm the hacked system by flooding its resources and preventing response to service requests. This, in turn, compromises the system’s performance and paves the way for a subsequent attack.


  • Malicious software disables affected systems and destroys data by wiping critical files, thus affecting the system’s capacity to run smoothly.


  • One of the most common forms of cyber attacks, phishing refers to the attempt to steal sensitive information or users’ credentials via text messages and emails containing fake hyperlinks.


  • A sophisticated version of malware, ransomware probes into a system’s loopholes using encryption and holds functionality or information hostage. Typically, cybercriminals demand money in exchange for release. In 2021, a whopping 37% of organizations were targeted by ransomware.

Zero-day Exploits

  • These attacks target undetected hardware and software disadvantages which have often existed for long periods without the developers’ knowledge.

How can Cyber Attacks be Reduced or Eliminated?

Now that we’ve established what a cyber attack is, let’s look at some preventive measures. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent cybercrime, companies can take certain steps to mitigate the risk.

Ways to Reduce Cyber Attacks:

  • Implementing perimeter defenses like firewalls to block breach attempts 
  • Establishing zero-trust networks to verify attempts, internal or external, at accessing organizational systems
  • Anti-virus software and patch management programs to protect against malware and software vulnerabilities
  • Maintaining a monitoring and detection program, along with a threat-hunting program, to identify suspicious activity using automation and intelligent tools
  • Creating incident response plans as a guide to addressing security breaches

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Cyber Attack War?

Cyberwar broadly refers to acts of aggression conducted via digital networks to cause widespread damage.

What is the Most Common Cyber Attack?

According to CISCO, malware is the most common type of cyber attack.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Cyber Attack?

While the time depends on the severity and scale of the attack, it can take between a few weeks to months to recover from a cyber attack.

What are Some Signs of a Cyber Attack?

Locked accounts, inaccessible services, deleted information and files, suspicious pop-ups, and slow system speeds are common signs of cyber attacks.

What are Some Cybersecurity Threats for 2023?

Ransomware, Structured Query Language (SQL) injection, OTP bypass services, and DDoS attacks are some predicted cybersecurity threats for 2023.

You’ve understood the basics already – what is a cyberattack and how to prevent it. For more, explore Emeritus’ courses on cybersecurity and secure your business today.

By Deyasini Chatterjee

Write to us at content@emeritus.org

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About the Author

Content Contributor, Emeritus
Siddhesh is a skilled and versatile content professional with 4+ years of experience in writing for the digital space and the screen. As a polyglot with a flair for many different languages, he specializes in creating engaging narratives. With a passion for storytelling and an unwavering commitment to excellence, he writes thought-provoking and persuasive blogs about careers in different fields. Siddhesh is a doting cat parent and has also graduated to becoming a musician after releasing his debut single on Spotify recently.
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