What are Attack Vectors?
Individuals and organizations face a wide range of potential cyber threats. Cyber threat actors can use various different means to attack an organization. These different potential avenues of attack are known as attack vectors.
What are Attack Vectors?
In a nutshell, an attack vector is a way that a cybercriminal can attack an organization or individual. For example, phishing is a common attack vector. By creating and sending a carefully-crafted email or other message, the attacker may be able to trick the recipient into clicking on a link, opening a malicious attachment, or taking some other action that benefits the attacker.
Cyber threat actors can use various attack vectors to achieve their goals. Some of the most common include:
- Phishing: Phishing attacks involve sending an email designed to induce the recipient to take some action. Phishing is commonly used to steal sensitive data or deliver malware to a target system.
- Malware: Malware can be delivered to a system in various ways — phishing, vulnerability exploits, trojans, etc. — and can be used to provide an attacker with remote control over the infected system.
- Insider Threats: A trusted insider may either take malicious actions to expose the organization to attack or may inadvertently leak sensitive data or insecurely configure settings, creating an opening.
- Compromised Credentials: Weak, breached, or reused credentials are a common attack vector. With access to a user’s credentials, the attacker can log into the system as the user and take advantage of the victim’s access and privileges.
- Unencrypted Data: Data that is not properly encrypted can be read by anyone as part of an AitM attack or if it is publicly exposed in the cloud.
- Vulnerabilities: A vulnerability is a flaw in software that makes it vulnerable to exploitation. Unpatched vulnerabilities in an organization’s systems can be vectors that an attacker can use to gain access.
- Open Ports: If an organization leaves unnecessary ports open to the public Internet, an attacker may be able to use them to gain access. For example, a publicly-accessible FTP server could be used to upload malware or steal sensitive documents from an organization.
This is not an exhaustive list of all potential attack vectors, and multiple attack vectors may apply to the same systems. For example, an attacker may be able to gain access to an application and the sensitive data that it holds either by using compromised credentials or exploiting a vulnerability in the application’s code.
Managing Potential Attack Vectors
Identifying and addressing potential attack vectors is an essential part of any cybersecurity strategy. The first step in doing so is performing an attack surface analysis. This involves exhaustively seeking and mapping out all of the potential attack vectors within an organization and its systems. The sum of all potential attack vectors is referred to as the organization’s attack surface.
With a clear understanding of its attack surface, the organization can then take steps to eliminate or mitigate the potential threat of various attack vectors. For example, employee training can help to reduce the threat of phishing attacks, while installing a corporate antivirus on all computers may help with blocking malware infections. An organization could address the risks of compromised credentials by implementing multifactor authentication (MFA) or — ideally — switching over to a passwordless authentication scheme that doesn’t rely on passwords for user authentication.
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to completely eliminate potential cybersecurity risk to the organization. However, by identifying, managing, and monitoring potential attack vectors, an organization can reduce that risk and also gain valuable visibility into the ways that an attacker might be able to gain access to an organization’s systems.