What is a cyberattack? A guide to the different methods cybercriminals use to harm computers and steal data

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We live in an age in which every major government, military organization, corporation, and medical institution relies on computer technology for nearly every aspect of its operation, and those systems are always at risk of being attacked. 

A cyberattack is just that: an assault on a computer, computer network, or the data stored within that network. The intent of the attack can vary — some attacks are intended to disable the computer system while others intend to gain control over it. Still others intend to infiltrate the system to steal or destroy data. While cyberattacks are often aimed at organizations, individuals are not immune from cyberattack either. 

It’s important to understand that cyberattacks can be launched by any kind of malicious actor, including criminals whose primary goal is monetary gain, state actors trying to gain leverage through intelligence gathering, corporate espionage or other spycraft, and terrorists attempting to damage, destroy, or gain access to computer systems. The tools and methods used by all these malicious actors may be largely the same. 

How to prevent a cyberattack

There is an entire industry focused on preventing cyberattacks, staffed with IT and cybersecurity professionals. 

To prevent attacks, teams of cybersecurity personnel typically develop detailed protection plans that include operational security procedures designed to protect physical systems and the data stored within those networks. This includes data access procedures, identity and credential verification, user training and education, and more.

IT professionals also install and manage anti-malware software and train users to recognize and deal with spam, phishing attacks, and malware that slips through the filters and protective software. Organizations also invest in firewalls along with other security tools and processes. 

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