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Understanding Cyber Attack Vectors

understanding cyber attack vectors guide

Even many who haven’t read Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War are familiar with three of its most famous words: “Know thy enemy.” The message? When you understand your enemies’ tactics and motivations, you put yourself in a better position to mount a defense.

It’s the same with cyber warfare. Once you “know thy enemy,” you can mitigate and prevent their attacks. Despite the shroud of mystery cloaking many cybercriminals, all their attack vectors do the same thing: exploit vulnerabilities. Here’s a breakdown of the 10 most common attack vectors and how to defend against them.

The Difference Between Attack Vectors and Attack Surface

An attack vector in cybersecurity is what a cybercriminal uses to penetrate your infrastructure. While attack surface relates to attack vectors, it is very different. An attack surface is the aggregation of any potential vulnerability within your IT infrastructure. In this context your attack surface will always differ from your peers – even if your networks and defense measures appear to be similar at first glance.

For example, suppose you have a regional business with five locations across the state. You likely have an intricate network of computers, phones, servers, hard drives, and likely even some cloud-based technology. This all makes up your attack surface. But say you have a competitor that looks identical to you in every way but your employees all work within the office whereas your competitor offers remote work opportunities. The addition of remote work increases the competitor’s attack surface as users would need to remotely access the network.

What Companies Need to Know About Cyber Attack Vectors

To defend against cyberattacks, you need to be familiar with the tactics criminals may use against your digital infrastructure. It’s important to keep in mind that the attack vectors you have to prioritize depend on your assets and network.

For instance, those with more travelling employees may be more likely to face man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. If employees are connecting to free or hotel Wi-Fi, the hacker could intercept transmission by creating a fraudulent Wi-Fi name and spooking IP addresses.

If your employees are working within email throughout the day, they could be more susceptible to phishing attack vectors. This is because hackers are creating more sophisticated phishing emails that can easily trick users into thinking they are legitimate. Unless businesses have security training programs in place, employees could fall victim to these phishing attack vectors. 

But by understanding the 10 most common attack vectors outlined below, you can prepare your organization to mount a strong defense.

10 Most Common Attack Vectors

To block cyber attackers like a Sun Tzu garrison, here are the 10 attack vector examples you need to prepare for.

1. Phishing

Phishing involves an attacker pretending to be a legitimate business person, typically using email to fool people into divulging sensitive information. This often includes trying to steal credit card information, personal data, or login credentials.

2. Cloud Attack

Cloud attack vectors focus on resources in the cloud, which include both services and data. Attackers seek to exploit vulnerabilities, such as misconfigured cloud network elements or weak access controls. After gaining access, thieves look to steal data or disrupt a company’s cloud-based services.

3. Malware

Malware, which is a combination of the words “malicious” and “software,” includes any software engineered to infect or compromise your systems. For example, worms, viruses, spyware, and ransomware are all different kinds of malware attack vectors.

4. Spear Phishing

Spear phishing attack vectors refer to specific types of phishing that involve targeting certain people inside an organization. The attack often begins by gathering information about the person the hacker is targeting, using sources like business websites and social media. The attacker then crafts messages designed to trick the person into giving away sensitive information or downloading malware.

5. Brute Force Attacks

During a brute force attack, a cybercriminal systematically tries many combinations of encryption keys or passwords until they find one that works. They often use automated software that can rapidly try many different combinations. This is especially effective against weak passwords.

6. Ransomware

The goal of any ransomware attack is for criminals to encrypt their target’s data, making it inaccessible to anyone without the decryption key. They then send the victim a message regarding how to make a payment to regain control of their system. Unless the payment is made, the hacker will typically either sell or publish the data they’ve stolen. Ransomware is very lucrative for cyber criminals, which is why it is constantly in the news.

7. DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service)

The DDoS vector involves hackers flooding a server or network with enormous volumes of data or requests. The network’s resources can’t handle all the information coming in, which results in the services they provide not being available. This often ends up disrupting business operations or even forcing companies to restart their servers altogether.

8. SQL Injection

SQL injections specifically target the database of a website or application. The attack uses malicious code that the attacker enters into one or more input fields. The code can then control the database’s behavior, enabling the attacker to change, delete, or steal sensitive information.

9. Trojan Horse

A Trojan horse is a kind of malware that pretends to be benevolent software. It can also pose as an innocent file. Once the victim installs or downloads the Trojan, it can set up a backdoor or steal data for the attacker.

10. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM)

A man-in-the-middle attack is when a hacker puts themselves in between two parties so they can intercept data as it goes from one party to another. Once the attacker intercepts the data, they can steal or change it. The hacker can also pretend to be one party or the other and steal information or money in the process.

How to Defend Against Cyber Attack Vectors

It’s best to protect yourself from as many attack vectors as possible. Even if one or more tactics may seem unlikely for your company, if hackers are successful, they can still disrupt important business functions. It’s important to have a defense in depth strategy to address various cyber attack vectors.

Endpoint Security

Endpoint security involves protecting specific devices, also known as “endpoints,” that connect to your network. These may include laptops, desktops, smart mobile devices, and services. Endpoint security often uses a suite of cybersecurity tools, such as anti-malware and intrusion detection systems, to identify and mitigate attacks.

DNS Security

Domain name system (DNS) security aims to protect the process a domain name server undergoes as it resolves domain names. The DNS process involves making sure that what a user enters in their browser, such as “TPx.com,” actually produces the website the user wants to access. This way, DNS security prevents hackers from impersonating your website and presenting a fake one to visitors.

Security Awareness Training

With security awareness training, you can transform your employees from vulnerabilities to cybersecurity soldiers. Making your workforce security-aware typically involves helping them make the right decisions when they suspect malware, phishing, social engineering, ransomware, or other types of attack vectors. By empowering your employees with this knowledge, they each contribute to a more secure digital ecosystem.


Firewalls inspect and control the traffic moving in and out of your network. They can block websites, suspicious traffic, and traffic that violates prescribed rules. For instance, a firewall can both stop malware from entering your network and detect a data exfiltration attack based on the amount of data leaving your network over a given time.


Backups are a powerful weapon against a range of attacks, especially ransomware and other kinds of malware. If, for example, an attacker were to encrypt the data on your server, you could wipe the server and restore your information from a recent backup. Frequent backups are, therefore, more effective than those you only run once in a while.

Managed Detection and Response (MDR)

MDR refers to a cybersecurity service that monitors your network and its endpoints for you. As your MDR provider monitors your network, they use advanced technologies, such as machine learning, to detect and mitigate attacks.

Next-Generation Antivirus

Next-generation antiviruses leverage behavioral analysis and artificial intelligence to identify and prevent sophisticated attacks. A traditional antivirus solution may depend on threat signatures to prevent attacks, while next-generation software can detect zero-day attacks.

Patch Management

Patch management focuses on updating the software you have so you always get the latest security patches provided by the manufacturer. Patch management also applies to protecting operating systems and hardware by installing patches meant to eliminate vulnerabilities attackers may target.

Multifactor Authentication (MFA)

Multifactor authentication centers around making it harder to steal access credentials by adding extra layers of verification. For example, instead of merely having to provide a username and password, your employees may have to scan their fingerprints, insert a USB stick, scan a smart card, or provide a temporary code before being granted access.

Email Security

Email security protects emails from phishing, spam, and a variety of different kinds of malware. To do this, standard email security systems may use content filtering, link analysis, or attachment scans so malicious material can’t get into your employees’ inboxes. To enhance your standard email security, invest in email security tools like Managed Inbox Detection and Response that allows users to submit suspicious emails to analysis and review. Not every malicious email will be caught by content filtering and basic email security, which is why it’s critical to layer your email security. With a tool like Managed Inbox Detection and Response, employees don’t have to second guess if an email or link is malicious.

Reduce Your Attack Surface with the Help of an MSP

You can use a managed services provider to effectively reduce attack surface issues by minimizing the chances of successful assaults. This is where TPx comes in. TPx specializes in a wide range of managed services, including cybersecurity, networking, internet, cloud communications, and more.

By working with a services provider like TPx, that offers comprehensive security services, you can better minimize your attack surface and keep your business protected. Connect with TPx today to learn more.

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