3.6.1 Cyber Security Threats

Table of Contents

Fork me on GitHub

1 Cyber Security Threats


Learn It: What is Cyber Security?

Cyber Security – The use of technology, working practices, processes and precautions
designed to protect networks, computers, programs and data from attack, damage or
unauthorised access.
  • Cyber Security is defined as the protection of computer systems, networks and data from criminal activity.
  • Cybercrime can take many forms, including planting viruses, acquiring and using personal or confidential data and disrupting a website or service.
  • Vulnerability of a computer network is often due to a flawed system which is open to attack. An attacker or hacker can then exploit this weakness.
  • Human error is one of the biggest issues in security breaches. For example, in 2010 GCHQ lost 35 laptops with all the security data stored on these devices; there are numerous other cases of where government officials have left USB Memory sticks and other electronic devices on public transport.

Learn It: Cyber Security Threats

usb_stick.png Removable Media

  • Removable media such as memory sticks, memory cards and removable hard drives, can present two major threats: Data Theft and Virus Infection.
  • Any storage device that is highly portable can easily be used to steal, corrupt, destroy, delete, hack or steal data or introduce malware onto a computer/network system.
  • An example of an issue that could occur when using removable media, is when students has a copy of their school work on a memory stick which they take home to use in their own computer. If their computer does not have adequate virus protection then their memory stick could become infected, and if used at school could infect the whole school network.

Try It: Removable Media

  • Q1: Suppose that you found an USB Memory stick, what would be the risks of using this unidentified memory stick in your computer?

Learn It: Weak and Default Passwords

Weak_Pass.png Weak and Default Passwords

  • Password strength is a measure of the effectiveness of a password against guessing or brute-force attacks.
  • In its usual form, it estimates how many tries an attacker who does not have direct access to the password would need on average to guess it correctly. The strength of a password is a function of length, complexity, and unpredictability.
  • Using strong passwords lowers overall risk of a security breach, but strong passwords do not replace the need for other effective security controls.
  • Passwords should contain a combination of upper and lower-case letters as well as numbers and symbols. (E.G. $tROng [email protected]$worDs).
  • Simarly, default passwords can be a problem. For example, a router's new owner might not change the default password from admin or password when they buy it. The default password is usually found in the instruction manual or on the device itself.
  • Leaving a default password is one of the major factors in compromising the security of a system.

Learn It: Misconfigured Access Rights


  • Access Rights are the rules that tell a computer system which user should have access to which files and other resources.
  • When user accounts have incorrect permissions, this can cause big problems as people who are lower down the chain of command could have access to private information that managers could have. They could wrongly have access to employee records or customer data.
  • In a school or business, usernames are used to identify the access rights of each user.
  • Each user is assigned individual access rights, according to their role, and it is important that these should be correctly set.
  • For example, most network users should not have access to the setup and configuration, as a hacker who gains access to the user's computer could then cause damage.
  • Access rights can also be applied to indiviual files. This means that specific files stored in an area to which full access is normally allowed, can still be given restrictions such as being made read-only.

Learn It: Unpatched or Outdated Software

Unpatched or Outdated Software Unpatched.png

  • Unpatched Software - When a security risk is identified in a program, the developer will release a patch, which is an add-on program that fixes the security risk. If a user does not install the patch, their computer is not secure.
  • Based on a sample size of 163 million computers, 55% of all programs installed on personal computers running Windows are outdated according to a recent report, exposing their users to security risks because of unpatched vulnerabilities.
  • The top most out-of-date Windows programs installed on PCs around the world shows that in more than 94% of cases, users who have installed Adobe Shockwave, VLC Media Player, and Skype on their computers haven't updated them to the latest versions.
  • Out-of-date Microsoft Office programs are another category of applications which put their users at risk, especially given that 15% of all Office installations are Enterprise 2007, an Office version Microsoft has stopped supporting since 2017 which means that it hasn't received any bug fixes or security patches for almost two years.
  • Threats will often exist in combination. A username acquired via phishing could be used in collaboration with a weak, easy-to-guess password to introduce a virus that specifically seeks out unpatched software.
  • Other cyber security threats including Social Engineering and Malicious Code and will be covered in detail with the next topic.

Learn It: Social Engineering

Identity_Theft.png Social Engineering - Summary (This is covered in detail in 3.6.2 - Social Engineering & Malicious Code)

  • People are often the weakest point in security systems, social engineering focuses on people rather than on technology, as the weak point in any security system. There are many different ways to manipulate people to surrender their confidential information or data.

Social Engineering includes the following techniques:

  • Blagging.
  • Phishing.
  • Pharming.
  • Shouldering (Shoulder Surfing).

Learn It: Malicious Code

Malicious_Code.png Malicious Code - Summary (This is covered in detail in 3.6.2 - Social Enginnering & Malicious Code)

  • Malicious code is the term used to describe any code in any part of a software system or script that is intended to cause undesired effects, security breaches or damage to a system.
  • Malicious code is an application security threat that cannot be efficiently controlled by conventional antivirus software alone.
Malware - Is a term used to describe a variety of hostile or instrusive programs or
software. Viruses, Spyware, Adware and Trojans are all types of malware, although
there are others.

Malware includes the following:

  • Viruses.
  • Spyware.
  • Adware.
  • Trojans.

Try It: Malware

  • Q2: Can a CD or DVD containing games software, bought new from a reputable retailer, contain a virus? Why is this unlikely?

Learn It: Penetration Testing

Penetration_Testing.png What is penetration testing?

  • Penetration Testing is used to find any security weaknesses in a system. It is the process of attempting to gain access to resources without knowledge of usernames, passwords and other normal means of access.
  • Penetration testing is also called pen testing or ethical hacking, is the practice of testing a computer system, network or web application to find security vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit.
  • Penetration testing can be automated with software applications or performed manually.

  • The strategy is to:
    • Gather information about the target of possible attacks.
    • Identify possible entry points.
    • Attempt to break in.
    • Report back the findings.

Black-box Penetration Test

  • The aim of black-box pentration testing is to simulate an external hacking or cyber warfare attack.
  • Testers are given very little or no information about the network prior to the test. The test could target email servers, web servers or firewalls.
  • The objective is to find out:
    • Whether a hacker can get in.
    • How far they can get.
    • What they can do on the system.

White-box Penetration Test

  • The aim of white-box penetration testing is to simulate a malicious insider who has knowledge of and possibly basic credentials for the target system.
  • Testers are given basic information about the network in advance of the testing. This could include IP addresses, network protocols and even passwords.
  • It puts the tester in the position of an insider, to determine how much damage a disgruntled or dishonest employee could cause.

Try It: Penetration Testing

  • Q3: Name some possible weaknesses or vulnerablities that (A) a black-box penetration test and (B) a white-box penetration test might identify?

Badge It: Exam Questions

Silver - Answer the following questions:

  1. Define the term Cyber Security? (2 Marks)
  2. Explain why removable media can be a threat to the security of a network? (2 Marks)

Upload to 3.6 Fundamentals of Cyber Security - 3.6.1 Cyber Security Threats: Silver on BourneToLearn

Badge It: Exam Questions

Gold - Answer the following questions:

  1. The school network adminstrator notices that a lot of network user's haven't changed their default password or have chosen a weak password.
    • a) Explain why this is a problem? (2 Marks)
    • b) Suggest two requirements that could be imposed on passwords to ensure that they are strong? (2 Marks)

Upload to 3.6 Fundamentals of Cyber Security - 3.6.1 Cyber Security Threats: Gold on BourneToLearn

Badge It: Exam Questions

Platinum - Answer the following questions:

  1. A mail-order company stores thousands of customers' details, including debit and credit card details, on its computer network. The company is concerned about the security of this information.
    • a) Explain three measures that the company could take to prevent unauthorised access to their computer system? (3 Marks)
    • b) Describe a measure that the company could take to prevent employees from accessing information that they are not permitted to view? (2 Marks)
    • c) Explain how penetration testing can assist the company in improving its security? (3 Marks)

Upload to 3.6 Fundamentals of Cyber Security - 3.6.1 Cyber Security Threats: Platinum on BourneToLearn