To some extent, every website on the Internet is vulnerable to security attacks. The threat range includes human errors and even sophisticated attacks launched by gangs of cybercriminals.
The primary motivation of cyber attackers is to seek money. Whether you run an e-commerce project or a simple small business website, the risk of a potential attack is there.
It is more important than ever to know what threats you are facing in today’s cyber age. Each malicious attack has its characteristics, and with so many different types of attacks, it may seem impossible to defend against them all from all angles. But there is still much we can do to protect websites and mitigate the risks posed to them by malicious hackers.
Why not start by taking a closer look at the 10 most common types of cyberattacks on the Internet and see what can be done to protect your website.
1. Cross-site scripting (XSS)
A recent study by Precise Security shows that cross-site scripting attacks account for roughly 40 percent of all attacks, making them the most common type of cyberattack. But despite being the most common, most cross-site scripting attacks are not particularly high-end and are launched by amateur cybercriminals using scripts written by others.
Cross-site scripting targets the users of a website, not the Web application itself. A malicious hacker injects a piece of code into a vulnerable website, which is then executed by the website visitor. Such code can compromise a user’s account, activate a Trojan horse, or change website content to trick the user into giving private information.
Defense Methods: setting up a Web Application Firewall (WAF) can protect a website from cross-site scripting attacks, and the WAF acts as a filter to identify and block malicious requests to the website. When you buy a web hosting service, the web hosting company usually has already deployed a WAF for your website, but you can still set up another one yourself.
2. SQL Injection
Injection vulnerabilities were ranked as the highest risk factor for websites in a new study of the top 10 application security risks from the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). SQL injection methods are the most common injection technique used by cybercriminals.
Injection attack methods target the database of websites and servers. When executed, the attacker injects a piece of code that reveals hidden data and user input, gaining access to change the data and capturing the application.
Defense Methods: protecting websites from injection attacks is implemented in codebase construction. For example, the preferred way to mitigate the risk of SQL injection is to always try to use parameterized statements. Going a step further, consider using a third-party authentication workflow to outsource your database protection.
3. Fuzz Testing
Developers use fuzz testing to find programming errors and security vulnerabilities in software, operating systems, or networks. But, an attacker can use the same technique to find vulnerabilities on your website or server.
With the fuzzy testing approach, an attacker first feeds a lot of random data (fuzzy) into the application to make it crash. The next step is to discover the application's weaknesses using fuzz testing tools. If there is a vulnerability in the target application, the attacker can launch further exploits.
Defense Methods: the best way to combat fuzzing attacks is to keep security settings and other applications updated, especially if security patches are released without updates that could be exploited by malicious hackers.
A zero-day attack is an extension of an obfuscation attack but does not require the identification of the vulnerability itself. The most recent case of this type of attack was discovered by Google, who found potential zero-day attacks in Windows and Chrome software.
There are two scenarios in which malicious hackers can profit from a zero-day attack. The first scenario is that with access to information about upcoming security updates, an attacker can analyze the location of the vulnerability before the update goes live. In the second scenario, cybercriminals get patch information and then attack users who have not yet updated their systems. In both cases, system security is compromised, and the extent of the later impact depends on the skill of the hacker.
Defense Methods: the easiest way to protect yourself and your website from a zero-day attack are to update your software as new versions are released.
5. Path (Directory) traversal
Path traversal attacks are not as common as several of the attack methods mentioned above but are still a major threat to any Web application.
Path traversal attacks target web root folders and access unauthorized files or directories outside the target folder. The attacker attempts to inject movement patterns into the server directory to move up the hierarchy. A successful path traversal attack can gain access to a Web site, compromising configuration files, databases, and other sites and files on the same physical server.
Defense Methods: the ability of a website to resist path traversal attacks depends on how well your input is sanitized. This means that user input is secure and cannot be recovered from your server. The most intuitive advice is to build your codebase so that no user information is transferred to the file system API, and even if this path does not work, there are other technical solutions available.
DDoS attacks by themselves do not enable malicious hackers to break through security measures, but they can cause websites to go offline temporarily or permanently. Kaspersky Lab's 2017 IT Security Risk Survey states that a single DDoS attack can cost small businesses an average of $123,000, with large enterprises experiencing loss levels in the range of $2.3 million.
DDoS is designed to overwhelm a targeted Web server with a flood of requests, making it impossible for other visitors to access the site. Botnets are often able to use before infected computers to send large numbers of requests in concert from around the globe. Moreover, DDoS attacks are often used in conjunction with other attack methods; attackers use DDoS attacks to draw fire from security systems so that they can exploit vulnerabilities to compromise them.
Defense Methods: protecting websites from DDoS attacks generally requires several approaches. First, peak traffic needs to be mitigated by content delivery networks (CDNs), load balancers, and scalable resources. Second, a Web Application Firewall (WAF) needs to be deployed to prevent DDoS attacks from covert injection attacks or other network attack methods such as cross-site scripting.
7. Man-in-the-middle attack (MITM)
Man-in-the-middle attacks are common on websites that do not encrypt the data transmitted between the user and the server. As a user, you can find this potential risk by looking at the URL of a website that starts with HTTPS, because the "S" in HTTPS means that the data is encrypted, and the missing "S" is unencrypted.
Attackers use a man-in-the-middle type of attack to gather information, usually sensitive information. Data can be intercepted by malicious hackers while in transit between parties, and if the data is not encrypted, attackers can easily read personal information, login information, or other sensitive information.
Defense Methods: the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks can be mitigated by installing Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) on your website. SSL certificates encrypt the information transmitted between parties so that an attacker cannot easily crack it even if it is intercepted. Modern hosting providers typically have SSL certificates already configured in the hosting package.
8. Brute-force attack
Brute force attacks are a fairly straightforward way to get login information for web applications. But, it is also one of the attacks that are very easy to mitigate, especially from the user side.
In a brute force cracking attack, the attacker tries to guess the username and password pair to log into the user account. Of course, even with many computers, unless the password is fairly simple and obvious, the cracking process can take years.
Defense Methods: the best way to protect login information is to create strong passwords or to use two-factor authentication (2FA). As the site owner, you can must users to set both strong passwords and 2FA to mitigate the risk of cybercriminals guessing passwords.
9. Use Unverified or Third-party code
Although not a direct attack on a website, the use of unverified code created by a third party can lead to serious security vulnerabilities.
The original creator of the code or application may hide malicious strings in the code or inadvertently leave a backdoor. Once "infected" code is introduced into a website, you run the risk of malicious string execution or backdoor exploitation. The consequences can range from a simple transfer of data to the loss of administrative privileges on your website.
Defense Methods: to avoid the risks surrounding a potential data breach, have your developers analyze and audit the validity of the code. In addition, ensure that the plugins used (especially WordPress plugins) are up to date and receive regular security patches: the study showed that more than 17,000 WordPress plugins (about 47% of the number sampled at the time of the study) had not been updated in two years.
Phishing is another method of attack that doesn't directly target a website, but we can't exclude it from the list because phishing can also compromise the integrity of your system. The reason for this, according to the FBI's Internet Crime Report, is that phishing is the most common socially engineered cybercrime.
The standard tool used in phishing attacks is email. Attackers usually disguise themselves as other people and trick victims into giving sensitive information or performing bank transfers. Such attacks can be wacky 419 scams (which fall into the category of prepaid fraud scams) or high-end attacks involving fake email addresses, seemingly real websites, and highly persuasive phrases. The latter is widely known under the name spear phishing.
Defense Methods: the most effective way to mitigate the risk of phishing scams is to train employees and yourself to be more aware of such scams. Stay vigilant and always check that the sender's email address is legitimate, the content of the email is not odd, and the request is not out of the ordinary.
Attacks against websites can take many forms, and the attackers can be either amateur hackers or a coordinated group of professional hackers.
One of the most critical pieces of advice is not to skip security features when creating or operating a website, as skipping security settings can have serious consequences.
While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of a website attack, you can at least mitigate the likelihood of an attack and the severity of its consequences.