10 Most Common Types of Cyber-Attacks and Tips to Prevent Them

10 Most Common Types of Cyber-Attacks and Tips to Prevent Them

Cybercriminals are lurking in the shadows and they're getting more sophisticated with each new day. Here are the 10 most popular types of cyber-attacks and helpful tips for how to protect your online business.

According to the Cisco Annual Cybersecurity Report, the number of cyber-attacks has increased by almost four times between January 2016 and October 2017. What's more, hackers are taking malware to unmatched levels of sophistication and impact.


Or as the former CEO of Cisco once said: 


There are two types of companies: those that have been hacked, and those who don't yet know they have been hacked.


So, how can you efficiently and effectively manage your cybersecurity risk? Can you prevent a cyber-attack before or while it happens? 


One of the surest ways to manage your cybersecurity risk is to equip yourself with all the knowledge you can get so that the hackers don't catch you off-guard. The first step on the checklist is knowing your ABCs of cyber-attack types. 


The logic is simple: to manage a business, you have to understand the business. To prevent a cyber-attack, you have to understand what a cyber-attack is.


In this post, we'll take a look at the top 10 most common types of cyber-attacks, analyze their negative effects, and offer a few tips for prevention.


Let's dive in!


Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attack

DDoS attack is a method where cyber criminals flood a network with more traffic than it can handle, leading to your website crashing. It's short for a distributed denial-of-service attacks. The "distributed" in its name indicates that the attack is launched from multiple devices aimed at a target.


There are several types of DDoS attacks, including:


  • UDP Flood: an attack where the attacker overwhelms ports with IP packets containing UDP datagrams. The system is overwhelmed and becomes unresponsive as more and more UDP packets are received and answered.
  • ICMP (Ping) Flood: a type of DDoS attack where the attacker crashes a victim’s computer by overwhelming it with pings (ICMP echo requests). As a result, the target will become inaccessible to normal traffic.
  • SYN Flood: a DDoS attack that aims to make a server unavailable for visitors by consuming all available server resources. The targeted device stops responding to legitimate traffic or responds slowly.
  • Ping of Death: an attack where the attacker tries to crash, destabilize, or freeze a targeted device or service by sending malformed or oversized packets using a ping command.
  • HTTP Flood: an attack designed to overwhelm a targeted server with HTTP requests.

Tip: The best thing to do to lessen the damage of a DDoS attack is to have a plan in place. As DDoS attacks have grown in frequency and intensity in recent years, it's always a good plan to have a plan. Setting up a plan means analyzing your website and detecting any vulnerabilities it may have. Also, it couldn't hurt to define clear steps for how your company should respond in the case of an attack. Make sure everyone in your company knows their role in case of an attack and who to talk to if the attack gets out of hand. Prepare a list of internal and external contacts who can help.


SQL Injection

SQL injection is a common attack that involves inserting arbitrary SQL into a web application database query. The malicious SQL code causes backend database manipulation to access private information that wasn't supposed to be visible. This private information includes many things, such as customer information, personal data, trade secrets, intellectual property, and more.


There are three main types of SQL injection, including In-band SQLi (Classic), Inferential SQLi (Blind), and Out-of-band SQLi.


  • In-band SQLi: this is the most common SQL Injection attack. In-band SQL Injection happens when a cybercriminal uses the same communication channel to launch the attack and gather results.
  • Inferential SQLi: this type of attack involves reconstructing the database structure by sending payloads, observing the web application's response, and the database server's resulting behavior.
  • Out-of-band SQLi: The attacker can only carry out this form of attack when certain features are enabled on the web application's database server.

Tip: Prevention techniques such as input validation, parameterized queries, stored procedures, and escaping work well with preventing SQL injection attacks.


Malware is a term that describes a few different types of malicious software, including ransomware, spyware, viruses, and worms. The most common way of a malware breaching a network is through a specific vulnerability, usually when a person clicks on a malicious link or email attachment that installs harmful software. 


When malware gets into a system, it can install additional harmful software and block access to important network components.


The most common form of malware is ransomware. Ransomware is a program that encrypts the victim’s files and asks them to pay a ransom to get the decryption key. On the other hand, spyware is software that installs itself on your device and secretly monitors your online behavior without your knowledge or permission.


Viruses are malicious computer code that spreads from device to device. They're designed to damage a device or steal data. Worms are different from viruses as they don't attach to a host file. They're self-contained programs that propagate across networks and computers. Worms are commonly spread through email attachments.

Tip: The best way to protect against malware is to install anti-virus software. Anti-virus software will scan your computer to detect and clean the malware. It will also provide automatic updates to offer enhanced protection against newly created viruses.


Phishing involves sending fraudulent communications that seem to come from a reliable source, most commonly through email. This cyber-attack aims to steal sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or login information, or sometimes install malware on the user's device. 


An attacker will create a reliably-looking email that looks legitimate but will contain malicious links and attachments. Phishers use emotions like urgency, fear, and curiosity to tempt recipients to click on links to open attachments. Even by clicking on one corrupted link, your network can become compromised, and the phisher may steal your private data. 


Phishing is one of the most common forms of cyber-attack, mainly because it's easy to carry out and surprisingly effective.


Some of the most dangerous phishing risks include:


  • Money being taken from your bank account.
  • Fraudulent charges on your credit cards.
  • The phisher gaining access to your media and files.
  • The phisher posting fake social media posts from your accounts.
  • The phisher impersonates you to a friend or family member, putting them at risk.

Tip: One of the best ways to recognize a phishing attack is to examine hypertext links. Check if the destination URL link equals what is said in the email. Also, avoid clicking on links that have strange characters in them or are abbreviated. HTTPS(SSL) also protects against phishing attacks.


Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attack

Cross-site scripting (XSS) attack is similar to SQL injection attacks. However, instead of targeting the application itself, they are typically used to infect users who visit the site. Depending on the severity of the attack, the user's accounts may be compromised, and the attackers may activate Trojan horse programs. Session cookies could be revealed, enabling the attacker to impersonate valid users and abuse their private accounts.

Tip: The best protection against cross-site scripting is scanning your website or web application regularly in the code. Although it's commonly believed, web application firewalls don't offer protection against cross-site scripting; they just make the attack more difficult.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attack

Man-in-the-middle attacks happen when an attacker intercepts the communication between two parties. The goal of the attacker is to spy on the victims and steal their personal information or credentials. For example, an attacker can insert themselves between a visitor's device and the network while the victim uses an insecure public Wi-Fi network. Once a device is hacked, an attacker can install software to process the victim's information.


The frequency of MitM attacks is decreasing as most email and chat systems use end-to-end encryption. This makes it harder for attackers to intercept the data that is transmitted across a network, regardless if it's secure or not. 

Tip: Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your web traffic. An encrypted VPN can make reading or modifying web traffic very difficult for the attacker.

Zero-Day Exploit

A zero-day exploit occurs when attackers learn of a software vulnerability unknown to the software vendor or anti-virus vendors. Once they find a vulnerability, they target organizations using that software or system to take advantage of the vulnerability before it gets fixed.


Typical targets for a zero-day exploit include government departments, large enterprises, and individuals with valuable business data access.

Tip: Firewall protection is the most crucial protection for your system against zero-day threats. You can ensure maximum protection by configuring it to allow only necessary transactions.

DNS Tunneling

DNS Tunneling involves abusing the Domain Name System (DNS) protocol to sneak malicious traffic past an organization's defenses. As many companies don't monitor DNS traffic for malicious activity, attackers can insert or "tunnel" malware into DNS queries. The malware creates a persistent communication channel that many firewalls can't detect. 


This type of cyber-attack is easy to perform, and even basic attackers can use the technique to sneak data past a company's network security solutions.

Tip: A DNS firewall should be configured to quickly identify any intrusion. A firewall will serve as a pathway for exfiltration.


Credential Reuse

A credential reuse attack involves an attacker obtaining valid credentials for one system and tries to use the stolen credentials to compromise other accounts/systems. The attackers generally use bots for automation and scale and operate on the assumption that the majority of users reuse their usernames and passwords across multiple services. According to statistics, around 0.1% of breached credentials attempted on another service will be successful.

Tip: Make sure you use different credentials across different accounts/systems. To help you manage the various credentials you use, password managers can be helpful.

Drive-by Attack

Many security companies now consider drive-by attacks to be a top method for criminals spreading malware online to unsuspecting users. This attack involves cybercriminals looking for insecure websites and planting a malicious script into HTTP or PHP code on one of the pages. This script may install malware directly onto the computer of someone who visits the site--it can be a virus, spyware, remote-access tool, keylogger, trojan, and more.

Tip: Install protective software and don’t click on suspicious links from people you don’t know. Also, educate your employees that they shouldn’t visit shady sites, download suspicious files, click on suspicious links.

Final Word

This article reviewed the top 10 most common types of cyberattacks hackers use to compromise information systems. As it's apparent from the list, hackers have plenty of powerful options for damaging your system, and with that, your business. Leaking sensitive information can significantly damage your company and the trust your loyal customers have in you. In some cases, a cyberattack can mean the death of your business. 


Although measures to mitigate these attacks vary, the security basics are the same. The most crucial steps you should take include:


  • Have a mitigation plan in place.
  • Install anti-virus software.
  • Don't click on suspicious links.
  • Educate and train your employees.
  • Keep your passwords strong.
  • Scan your website or web application regularly in the code.
  • Make regular backups.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your web traffic.