Article Media

What is cybersecurity? Overview, best practices and resources

Additional resources:

Information security describes efforts to protect data from all forms of threats, including analog and digital. Cybersecurity is an umbrella term that encompasses the processes individuals or companies take to increase the safety of online data and activities. It can also refer to the state of affairs in which online security is achieved. Threats to cybersecurity come in various, often criminal, forms.

Threats to information security have been a concern since the widespread use of computers, but cybersecurity threats especially grew with the inception of the internet. Anything that is created — especially in the fast-moving tech world — holds the potential to be used in a nefarious way. The ubiquity of internet connectivity means that information security and cybersecurity are often used interchangeably. Mike Dover, the author of a book on the relationship between tech and evil acts, has the following to say:

“. . . some threats are easier to address than others. Certainly, people should realize that Wikileaks and its ilk can publish everything you type and criminals will become more sophisticated at stealing from you. You need to be more critical and more careful.”

The more advanced technology becomes, the harder cybercriminals will work to keep up and find new ways to access sensitive data. Mike Dover also emphasizes that technology inventors should address cybersecurity and information security issues, adding safeguards against attacks and working with authorities to prosecute any that slip through the cracks. Thankfully, next-gen tech is acknowledging cybersecurity threats and taking steps to protect consumers. This helps businesses and everyday users in their efforts to stay safe while using tech.

Basic principles and elements of cybersecurity

Effective cybersecurity operates under three basic principles: confidentiality, integrity and availability. This means that to be successful, cybersecurity efforts must keep information confidential, unaltered and available for authorized individuals to use. External attacks and internal mishandling can throw a wrench in this process at any point.

The areas affected by security threats include all devices connected within the Internet of Things (IoT), whether it be mobile devices, other hardware, or cloud-computing devices that store data and platform information. The security measures you take will highly depend on your level of data sensitivity and threat risk. For example, CEOs of large companies should have an in-depth cybersecurity strategy due to the volume of people that would be impacted by a data breach.

However, adequate preparation is essential for everyone. Both individual and company-wide prep is key to achieving cybersecurity. Regardless of the type of data you store or information you share, it’s imperative to learn more about the fundamental cybersecurity Framework and its primary functions:

  • Identify To regularly familiarize yourself with common cybersecurity threats that could affect your organization
  • Protect To install and practice cybersecurity measures that can prevent an attack from happening
  • Detect To identify any existing or currently occurring threats
  • Respond To react to any current threats to prevent further damage
  • Recover To re-obtain any information stolen and prevent a future attack from occurring

There is some overlap between business and individual information security measures. Both large organizations and everyday people have to choose third-party services wisely, investigating their data security practices before entrusting their sensitive information to them. A solid understanding of cybersecurity helps you keep your data safe at any level — from avoiding scam emails to preventing a global leak of consumers’ bank card information.

Common types of cybersecurity threats

To adequately prepare, you need to understand the various types of cyberattacks threatening internet safety. Many attackers have the intention of stealing sensitive data and using it for monetary gain, as the vast majority — nearly 96% — of data breaches since 2015 have been financially motivated, according to the 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report. Attackers sell this information to other cybercriminals, who may then use it for fraudulent transactions, identity theft, extortion or other unethical purposes. In addition, “hacktivism” or espionage leaks are the second most common motive for cybercriminals, which accounts for 25% of cybercrimes since 2015.

For either motive, stolen information is the main focus and there are several ways to go about obtaining that information. This guide walks you through some of the most common cybersecurity threats.

Phishing, smishing and spear phishing

Phishing is a common form of spam intended to create a sense of urgency or incite fear in the recipient of an email, phone call or text message. The scammer wants the recipient to feel compelled to hand over sensitive information, such as login credentials or bank account numbers. This is done through intimidation tactics, such as alerting the consumer that they have broken some sort of policy and need to update their account immediately.

The message sent is always intentionally deceptive, sometimes even impersonating popular brands — or even simply area codes — that customers typically trust. This identity masking is called spoofing. If the sender is clearly pretending to be a trusted company, they are likely targeting customers of that specific company. There is usually a link within the email or text that leads you to a fake website of said company. This is called spear phishing. 

Phishing efforts specifically done via spam texts are known as smishing. These messages are sent via Short Message Service (SMS), but they have the same basic makeup as phishing emails and phone calls. The scammers attempt to obtain sensitive information from you by pretending to be a legitimate company with an offer or “urgent” matter that needs your attention. If there is some sort of social engineering involved, scammers will use pretexting to communicate a bit and try to deceive you.

All of these phishing scams have some features that help make them easier to spot. Don’t click a link or divulge any sensitive info if you notice:

  • Fake-looking phone numbers or URLs
  • Misspellings and grammatical errors
  • Unsolicited “prizes”
  • Unusual urgency

If something seems off, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Legitimate companies typically don’t require immediate action or ask for sensitive information to be sent via insecure digital channels.


Malware is a type of software designed to harm your computer, thwart your ability to access your tech or gain access to your information. The prefix “mal” refers to “malicious” software, encompassing all types of computer viruses, bugs and software downloaded without your express permission or knowledge. 

Some of the more common forms of malware include:

  • Cryptojacking — Newer malware that allows hackers to mine cryptocurrency without the owner’s knowledge
  • Ransomware — Malware that effectively holds your system for ransom, disabling it until you pay a sum of money
  • Spyware — Malware that spies on your device’s activity without your knowledge
  • Trojans — Malware that is enacted unknowingly by victims when downloaded and used under false pretenses due to social engineering in emails or texts
  • Viruses — Forms of malware that attaches to a file on your device and then expands to other files to delete, corrupt or encrypt them
  • Worms — Similar to viruses, worms are invasive but work to find places to exploit your system instead of attacking files

Regardless of the type of malicious attack, malware needs to exploit some sort of vulnerability in your system. This allows hackers to gain access to your device or server without your permission, wreaking havoc in a variety of ways.

Distributed denial of service (DDoS)

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks inundate their target server, network, or website with a deluge of fake traffic, so it’s inaccessible to real users. The botnet — a network of devices used for a DDoS attack, including computers and IoT devices — may release several issues as a part of the attack, all to crash the web server. This may be done through overwhelming bot traffic or other scripts that flood the server with too many or conflicting requests. This increases your vulnerability and may be used to:

  • Extort money from the target
  • Make a political or socio-economic statement
  • Thwart other businesses from participating in a sales event
  • Serve as a smokescreen

With the smokescreen tactic, your systems will all be focused on getting the server back online. This distracts from possible exploitations that allow for other forms of cyberattacks. Regardless of the intent, DDoS attacks are a nuisance and can cost you or your business unnecessary time, resources and money. However, they can be easily addressed with a cloud-based mitigation service.

Conversely, a Telephony denial of service (TDoS) attack attempts to distract a phone service and prevent incoming and outgoing calls by overwhelming them with fake/scam calls. Luckily, this can be easily addressed with a layered approach to your voice security.

Man in the middle (MitM)

MitM attacks are also sometimes referred to as monster-in-the-middle, machine-in-the-middle, monkey-in-the-middle, meddler-in-the-middle or person-in-the-middle attacks. These all mean the same thing — that a cyber attacker is intercepting your communications. Typically, this happens when the intruder is trying to obtain sensitive information. At times, they can also alter the messages between two parties.

Advanced persistent threats (APTs)

If an organized group is particularly invested in hacking your company, they may use APTs. APTs are not one-and-done attacks — they are continuous efforts to compromise your systems over a period of time. Intruders who have long-term goals in mind typically implement these attacks, using various techniques to exploit your systems.

APTs can lead to:

Regardless of the goal, APTs are particularly insidious. Intruders may cause lasting, detrimental effects to you or your organization.

Impacts of cyberthreats

Cyberthreats, as well as full-on cyberattacks, can have harmful short- and long-term effects on their intended targets. While cyberattacks almost always have adverse consequences, they can impact consumers and businesses in slightly different ways.

Impacts on consumers

Consumers are frequently in the news, detailing their vulnerability to attacks and how new ways of scamming online are spreading like wildfire. By the time news circulates of a new cybersecurity threat to consumers, you may already have fallen victim. Some of the consumer-related issues that occur with cybercrimes include but are not limited to:

Although businesses have higher stakes, they may also be able to recover more easily from cyberattacks. Individuals don’t typically have IT experience or extra funds to tap into and remediate issues caused by scammers or hackers.

The vulnerability of individuals may also make employees in the transition to remote work harder to protect from cyberattacks. If employees aren’t trained in cybersecurity, their devices are more susceptible. This can impact the security of entire organizations.

Impacts on businesses

In the wake of a cyberattack, businesses can experience many of the same issues as individual consumers.

However, cyberattacks have visible and hidden costs for organizations of all sizes. Your company may face compromised employee and consumer data, disrupted services, monetary theft, legal consequences and vulnerability to future threats. These impacts can also be less tangible — but still serious — including damage to your reputation and loss of consumer trust in your brand. Depending on the nature and severity of the attack, you may deal with these impacts for years to come.

Small businesses experiencing cybersecurity issues may also feel the effects of a cyberattack more severely than their larger counterparts. Due to their size, they may not have access to as many resources available that will help with recovery, such as specialized IT support or additional funds. Without the necessary knowledge or financial support, some companies may find themselves unable to recover at all.

Cybersecurity best practices

Ultimately, the impacts of a cyberattack can be devastating and recovery can be difficult. Prevention is by far the best way to avoid these consequences and protect your information online.

Cybersecurity best practices are largely the same for both consumers and businesses. However, you’ll have to make some unique considerations, taking your personal circumstances into account, to ensure you’re properly protected.

Best practices for consumers

You don’t have to be an IT expert to protect yourself and others from cyberattacks. Some of the simplest ways to stay safe online include: 

  • Using strong, unique passwords or a password manager app and multi-factor authentication
  • Never giving out passwords or personal information to an unsolicited caller, email or text
  • Reporting or deleting any suspicious emails, messages, texts or attachments; don’t click or interact with any links contained within these messages
  • Keeping PC and mobile device software up to date
  • Installing antivirus, anti-malware or firewall programs
  • Uninstalling old apps you no longer use
  • Being cautious with your use of online banking options and/or online payment methods and enable security notifications on your banking accounts if available
  • Vetting privacy settings and updating/changing them when applicable
  • Backing up your data regularly
  • Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities in public areas
  • Vetting all third-party transactions, including reviewing privacy policies
  • Being “overly” suspicious in all of your online activities

The best way to fight against cyberattacks is to educate yourself on cybersecurity. This not only protects you personally, but it may prevent your business and customers from enduring the negative effects of cybercrimes. You may also choose to consult professionals who will help protect your devices.

Best practices for businesses

Whether you’re reacting to a recent attack or being as proactive as possible, there are several cybersecurity best practices that your business can benefit from, including:

  • Educating yourself, employees and consumers on cyber safety
  • Limiting employee access to sensitive information
  • Identifying and securing information most likely to be a target of an attack
  • Specifying a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy or providing devices that have appropriate MDM and MTD software installed
  • Protecting company hardware and software
  • Utiliizing a layered approach for voice anti-fraud and authentication for telephone security
  • Backing up important information and data
  • Using a virtual private network (VPN) and other protective tools
  • Testing and auditing the effectiveness of your cybersecurity efforts periodically
  • Enlisting the help of professionals for IT support
  • Creating a plan to respond to and recover from cyberattacks

Because the digital landscape changes constantly, you need to continually re-evaluate your cybersecurity efforts to ensure your employees, your customers and your entire organization are properly safeguarded from evolving threats.

Cybersecurity resources

There are a variety of resources online that exist to both educate and provide services for businesses and consumers on cybersecurity. Use guides like this and other business cybersecurity resources to better your understanding and protect yourself against cyberattacks before they even begin.

Remember that organizations such as these exist to protect you and your business online. Technological advancements will undoubtedly bring about more ways in which hackers and scammers can exploit tech for personal gain. Staying on top of these advancements will allow you to protect yourself as best as possible — and mitigate any unintended consequences along the way.