Top 10 Types of Network Security Threats: List and Defenses

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Cybersecurity doesn’t sit still. No matter what practices your organization has put into place, it’s imperative to stay on top of evolving threats and implement effective defenses to protect your networks.

This article will explore various network security threats and the potential consequences they can inflict. It will also address proactive defense strategies and best practices for mitigating them.

To successfully address network threats, organizations must learn how to secure a network properly and adopt a combination of network security practices. These practices are built to prevent and mitigate potential threats, safeguarding the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and resources.

However, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, as each threat may require a specific countermeasure. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of network threats and learning how to defend against them, you can strengthen our network security and safeguard data against risks.

1. Malware

Malware is a form of malicious software that poses a major threat to computer systems as it jeopardizes devices and causes extensive damage to data and systems. It spreads through various vectors, including emails, links, and websites.

This threat can manifest in different forms once inside a system, such as ransomware, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and spyware. Threat actors use malware to steal sensitive data, block file access, disrupt system operations, or render systems inoperable.

Defending against malware

  • Install reputable antivirus and anti-malware software and keep them updated to scan malicious software and prevent infections.
  • Be vigilant about email attachments, downloads from untrusted websites, and popup ads to reduce risks.
  • Enable automatic software updates for operating systems, applications, and security patches.

2. Phishing

Phishing attacks encompass different attempts to deceive individuals into opening suspicious links or downloading malicious programs through emails built for specific targets. Attackers impersonate reputable entities to distribute harmful attachments or links, which can extract confidential data like passwords, credit card information, or login credentials.

Defending against phishing attacks

  • Provide employee training on how to identify phishing and understand its risks.
  • Exercise caution when clicking on links or opening email attachments from unknown or suspicious sources.
  • Check emails and messages for signs of phishing, such as misspellings, grammatical errors, or requests for sensitive information.
  • Use email filters and spam detection mechanisms to identify and block phishing attempts.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts an organization’s data and blocks system access.  Attackers hold data hostage and promise to release it when the victim pays the ransom. Ransomware attacks are often financially motivated, and the criminals aim to extort money from individuals, businesses, or organizations.

Defending against ransomware

4. Distributed denial of service (DDoS)

DDoS is an advanced technique that disrupts the availability of targeted resources by overwhelming them with a flood of fake traffic. Usually, DDoS attacks are orchestrated through a botnet consisting of numerous compromised machines controlled by the attacker.

The goals of these attacks can be twofold: to distract IT and security teams while conducting a separate, more damaging attack, or simply to overload the targeted systems to make them unresponsive or shut down completely.

By overburdening servers with an excessive volume of information requests, DDoS attacks can effectively deny service to legitimate users.

Defending against DDoS

  • Use firewalls and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to filter and block suspicious traffic.
  • Configure network devices to limit incoming requests and traffic.
  • Employ load-balancing techniques to distribute traffic across multiple servers.
  • Apply a content delivery network (CDN) to handle traffic spikes and absorb attacks.
  • Utilize traffic monitoring and detection tools for real-time identification and mitigation.
  • Employ a DDoS protection service to monitor and protect your network.

5. Social engineering

Social engineering attacks are a type of network threat that relies on manipulating human emotions, such as curiosity, fear, or trust, to deceive individuals into taking actions that breach network security.

Attackers use several techniques, including phishing, baiting, tailgating, and pretexting, to trick users into divulging sensitive information or unwittingly deploying malware.

Defending against social engineering attacks

  • Train employees to be cautious when disclosing sensitive information, even from trusted sources.
  • Establish procedures to verify the identity of users requesting sensitive information or access.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Provide regular security awareness training to enhance employees’ understanding and ability to identify and report suspicious activities.

6. Insider threats

Insider threats are a serious concern in the cybersecurity realm since the attack stems from within an organization itself.

Insider threats materialize when individuals with legitimate access privileges to the network misuse them, resulting in detrimental consequences for the organization’s systems and data. They can manifest in both intentional and unintentional actions, resulting in breached confidentiality, availability, and integrity of enterprise resources.

Insider threats pose a distinct challenge because they blend in with regular user behavior, making it difficult for security professionals and systems to distinguish between harmless actions and malicious intent.

Defending against insider threats

  • Impose stringent access controls and user privileges.
  • Grant users only necessary access and permissions.
  • Regularly review and audit user accounts and permissions for unauthorized activities.
  • Monitor and log systems to track user activities and identify anomalies.
  • Establish clear security policies and procedures, emphasizing employee responsibilities and consequences for protocol violations.
  • Adopt a zero-trust security approach to validate all users and activities, regardless of their location or network.

7. Advanced Persistent Threats (APT)

APTs are well-coordinated and highly complex attacks conducted by organized hacker groups. Cybercriminals use different tactics — including social engineering, malware deployment, and exploiting vulnerabilities — to infiltrate targeted networks, evade security measures, and maintain a low profile.

The main objective of APT attacks is generally focused on data theft rather than causing immediate network disruption. APTs can persist for extended periods, ranging from months to even years, allowing the attackers to access valuable assets and exfiltrate data undetected. This network security threat predominantly targets high-value entities, such as large corporations and even sovereign nations.

Defending against APTs

  • Implement two-factor authentication (2FA) and strong passwords.
  • Regularly patch systems and monitor network activity.
  • Encrypt sensitive information, even in the cloud.
  • Carry out regular system audits and close vulnerabilities.
  • Use network segmentation and strong access controls.
  • Deploy robust endpoint protection.
  • Educate employees on APT recognition and reporting.

8. Network hacking

Network hacking involves various tactics by hackers to gain unauthorized access to network resources or devices. They typically target weaknesses in operating systems or applications. Password cracking, SQL injection, and cross-site scripting (XSS) are examples of methods hackers use to take advantage of security flaws and control systems.

Defending against network hacking

  • Guide users in creating strong and unique passwords for all network devices and accounts.
  • Enable 2FA for added security.
  • Regularly update and patch network devices, operating systems, and applications to address flaws.
  • Employ ethical hacking measures to combat illicit invaders.

9. SQL injection (SQLi) attacks

SQLi attacks specifically target databases, enabling the extraction of private information. By injecting malicious SQL code, attackers illegally access and compromise private data.

The consequences of a successful SQL injection attack can be severe, ranging from identity spoofing, data tampering, complete data disclosure, data destruction, and data unavailability, all the way up to the possibility of assuming total control over the database servers.

Defending against SQLi attacks

  • Implement 2FA and strong passwords.
  • Regularly patch systems and monitor network activity.
  • Encrypt sensitive information, even in the cloud.
  • Carry out regular system and network audits and close vulnerabilities.
  • Use network segmentation and strong access controls.
  • Deploy robust endpoint protection.
  • Educate employees on APT recognition and reporting.

10. Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks

An MitM attack is a type of network threat where an unauthorized individual intercepts and modifies communication between two parties without their knowledge, positioning themselves covertly between the sender and receiver.

Through techniques like ARP spoofing, DNS spoofing, or Wi-Fi eavesdropping, the attacker aims to access sensitive data, manipulate communication, or impersonate the parties involved.

These attacks mainly target users of financial applications, e-commerce sites, and platforms that require login credentials, aiming to steal personal information. Stolen data can then be used for identity theft, unauthorized fund transfers, or illicit password changes.

Defending against MitM attacks

  • Use secure protocols like HTTPS and VPNs to protect against interception.
  • Utilize certificates and digital signatures to verify the identity of communicating parties.
  • Regularly update and patch network devices and software to address known weaknesses.
  • Track network traffic for signs of tampering or unauthorized interception.
  • Educate users about the risks associated with public Wi-Fi networks and promote using secure connections to access sensitive information.

What is a network threat?

A network threat is any malicious act designed to corrupt or illegally obtain data or damage an organization’s digital systems. It can endanger networks by gaining unauthorized access to data and stealing sensitive information. Network security threats can negatively impact business operations and lead to productivity, financial, and data loss.

Network threats can be categorized into two types: active network attacks and passive network attacks.

Active network attacks

Active network attacks are deliberate attempts to gain unauthorized access to a network for the purpose of manipulating, encrypting, damaging, or deleting data. They involve direct interaction with the network and its resources, and their effect is often easy to detect due to noticeable unapproved changes and data loss.

The key objective of these attacks is to harm the targeted data and disrupt network operations. Active attacks can cause service interruptions, data corruption, and system crashes, making them a serious cybersecurity concern.

Passive network attacks

Passive network attacks aim to secretly infiltrate an organization’s network and steal or monitor its information. Unlike active attacks, passive attacks do not involve network or data alterations, making them harder to catch.

Instead, passive network attacks try to intercept sensitive data, such as usernames, passwords, and confidential information, without changing the transmitted data. Attackers may maintain access for extended periods, undetected.

Knowing the differences between passive and active attacks enable organizations to select appropriate defense strategies and administer security measures to protect against both types of threats.

What are the challenges of securing a network?

Securing a network presents numerous challenges that organizations must deal with to ensure comprehensive cybersecurity, including the inherent complexity of network structures and the changing nature of the cyberthreat landscape, the rise of remote work, and the ever-present risk of simple human error.

Network complexity

Networks have become increasingly complicated, comprising interconnected devices, systems, and protocols. Effectively managing and securing this complexity is daunting, particularly in large-scale environments. It requires expertise in diverse network technologies and a deep understanding of the infrastructure.

Cyberthreat evolution

As technology advances, attackers employ increasingly sophisticated tactics to breach corporate networks, compelling businesses to implement robust defenses.

Advanced cyberthreats like ransomware and DDoS exploit vulnerabilities within distributed networks, where visibility and control may be limited. Remote and roaming users are particularly susceptible, as the traditional centralized security model fails to offer adequate protection.

Remote work

With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has become the new norm. Consequently, the security scope extends beyond conventional office environments, now including the personal routers and Wi-Fi networks of each remote employee.

Ensuring the security of these individual connections is an immense challenge, as security teams lack control over how employees manage their networks. This presents a substantial risk, as every remote worker could potentially become an entry point for attacks.

Personal devices connecting to corporate networks

When the home network merges with the work network, every connected device, like tablets, gaming consoles, printers, or other IoT devices, becomes a possible gateway for attackers. Through these weak points, cybercriminals can illegally access corporate systems and valuable data.

Insufficient budget

Implementing effective network security measures requires allocating budget toward technology, skilled personnel, and ongoing maintenance. However, businesses sometimes face budget constraints and limited resources, posing challenges to achieving complete security measures.

Insufficient budget prevents cybersecurity teams from conducting regular audits, performing vulnerability assessments, and carrying out penetration testing, leaving impending threats unidentified and unmitigated.

Human error

Plain old human error continues to be perhaps the most significant weakness in network security, highlighting the need for ongoing education and awareness among users. It includes unintentional actions and inaction that can lead to data breaches, such as downloading infected software, using weak passwords, or neglecting software updates.

Bottom line: Protecting against network security threats

In the ever-evolving landscape of network security threats, corporations must prioritize a proactive and holistic defense approach to safeguard their systems and data. By addressing vulnerabilities, strengthening security measures, and fostering a culture of cyber vigilance, organizations can mitigate the risks posed by cyberattacks. Investing in prevention is of utmost importance, as the consequences of failure can be catastrophic.

With extensive network security strategies, ongoing monitoring, and continual adaptation, businesses can protect their networks and sensitive data, maintain the trust of stakeholders, and uphold their reputations. By staying one step ahead of threats, organizations can maneuver through the cyber realm with confidence and resilience.

We narrowed down the top enterprise security companies to help you build a complete overall security stack for your organization, as well as the best managed security service providers if you’re more inclined to outsource those concerns.

Liz Laurente-Ticong
Liz Laurente-Ticong
Liz Laurente-Ticong is a tech specialist and multi-niche writer with a decade of experience covering software and technology topics and news. Her work has appeared in as well as ghostwritten for a variety of international clients. When not writing, you can find Liz reading and watching historical and investigative documentaries. She is based in the Philippines.

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