Cyber Attacks – Definition, Types, Prevention

A Cyber Attack is an attack initiated from a computer against another computer or a website, with a view to compromising the integrity, confidentiality or availability of target and the information stored in it. This article explains what are Cyber Attacks, its definition, types and talks about how to prevent them and the course to take in the event of a cyber attack. Cyber Attacks, in a way, can be broadly considered to be a part of Cyber Crime. An attack to commit a Cyber Crime can be called as a Cyber Attack!

cyber attacks

Cyber Attacks Definition

According to the Practical Law Company, Whitepaper on Cyber Attacks, the definition of Cyber Attacks is as follows:

A Cyber Attack is an attack initiated from a computer against a website, computer system or individual computer (collectively, a computer) that compromises the confidentiality, integrity or availability of the computer or information stored on it.

The definition has three distinct factors: [1] Attack or an illegal attempt to [2] gain something from a [3] computer system. Generally speaking, a system is a collection of units that work collectively towards a common goal. Thus, whether it is a single or a collection of computers – offline or online (websites/intranets), it is a system as they work to facilitate something or the other.  Even a single computer has many components that work together for a common goal and hence is called a computer system.

The main factor is illegal access to such a system. The second factor is target system. The final factor is gains to the attacker. It should be noted that illegal access must have a motive to compromise the target system, in a way that the attacker gains something, such as information stored in the system, or the total control of the system.

Read: Why are websites hacked?

Types of Cyber Attacks

There are many methods of Cyber Attacks from malware injection to phishing to social engineering to the internal stealing of data. Other advanced but common forms are DDoS Attacks, Brute Force attacks, hacking, holding a computer system (or a website) for ransom using direct hack or Ransomware.

Some of them have been listed below:

  • Gaining, or attempting to gain, unauthorized access to a computer system or its data.
  • Disruption or denial of service attacks (DDoS)
  • Hacking a website or mal-facing the site
  • Virus or malware installation
  • Unauthorized use of a computer for processing of data
  • Inappropriate use of computers or applications by employees of a company, in a way that it harms the company.

The last one – the inappropriate use of computers or apps by employees – could be deliberate or due to lack of knowledge. One has to figure out the real reason why an employee, for example, tried to enter wrong data or accesses a particular data record which he or she was not authorized to change.

Social engineering could also be a cause whereby an employee deliberately tries to hack into the database – just to help a friend! That is, the employee was befriended by a criminal and is emotionally forced to obtain some innocent data for the new friend.

While we are here, it is also advisable to teach the employees about the dangers of public WiFi and why they should not use the public WiFi for office work.

Read: What are Honeypots and how can they secure computer systems.

Cyber Attacks Response

Prevention is always better than the cure. You must have heard this a number of times. The same applies to the field of IT when it comes to protection against Cyber Attacks. However, assuming that your computer(s) or website(s) were attacked, even after taking all the precautions, there are certain common general response steps laid down:

  1. Did the attack really happened or is someone calling in to play a prank;
  2. If you still have access to your data, back it up;
  3. If you cannot access your data, and the hacker is demanding ransom, you may want to consider approaching the legal authorities
  4. Negotiate with the hacker and regain the data
  5. In case of social engineering and employees misusing their privileges, checks should be conducted to determine if the employee was innocent or acted deliberately
  6. In the case of DDoS attacks, the load should be mitigated to other servers, so that the website comes back online as soon as possible. You may rent out servers for a while or use a cloud app so that costs are minimal.

For exact and detailed information on responding the legal way, please read the whitepaper mentioned under the References section.

Read: Why would someone want to hack my computer?

Prevention of Cyber Attacks

You might already know that there is no 100% foolproof method to counter cyber crime and cyber attacks, but still, you have to take as many precautions to protect your computers.

The primary things to be done are to use a good security software, that not only scans for virus, but also looks for different types of malware, including but not limited to ransomware, and stops it from entering the computer. Mostly these malicious codes are injected into your computers by visiting or downloading things from non-reputed websites, Drive-by downloads, compromised websites that display malicious advertisings also known as Malvertising.

Along with the antivirus, you should use a good firewall. While the built-in firewall in Windows 10/8/7 is good, you can use third party firewalls that you feel are stronger than the default Windows Firewall.

If it is a corporate computer network, make sure there is no Plug and Play support in any of the user computers. That is, employees should not be able to plug in Flash drives or their own Internet dongles into the USB. The IT department of the company should also keep a watch on all the network traffic. Using a good network traffic analyzer helps in prompt attendance to strange behaviors arising out of any terminal (employee computer).

For protection against DDoS attacks, the website is better mitigated to different servers, instead of being hosted simply on a single server. The best method would be to have a mirror constantly up using a cloud service. That will greatly reduce the chances of a DDoS being successful – not for a long time at least. Use a good firewall like Sucuri and take some basic steps to protect and secure your website.

Here are a few useful links that display real-time digital hack attack maps:

Have a look at them. They are pretty interesting!

If you have anything to add, please do share.

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.