Cyberattacks can devastate your company. No matter how strong your defenses may be, hackers and cyber thieves are working hard to outsmart your security systems and gain access to the confidential data of your customers and staff. 

So far in 2021 alone, organizations such as Facebook, T-Mobile, and even the California Department of Motor Vehicles have fallen victim to data breaches. If global corporations and government agencies are at risk for cybercrime, rest assured that your company needs to increase its focus on security, too. 

Traditional defenses like firewalls and antivirus software are insufficient in the face of today’s advanced security threats. Let’s look at some of these threats in detail, along with warning signs of a breach and best practices for a strong defense against them. 

Common Advanced Security Threats

Trojan Malware

Trojan malware is sometimes referred to as a virus, which is a bit of a misnomer. Viruses are able to spread on their own, whereas the execution of a Trojan requires the recipient to open or click on the seemingly innocuous link, allowing the malware to wreak havoc on his or her system. There are many different kinds of Trojan malware tailored to a variety of different end goals. They can create a backdoor into your system, steal email addresses, install ransomware, and more. 


Rootkits are similar to Trojans in execution, but are specifically designed to remain on your computer in secret. Once in place, rootkits operate in the background, allowing hackers to disable security measures, install key trackers, steal sensitive information, and control your computer remotely. 

Spear Phishing

Most people are familiar with phishing, but spear phishing is a more advanced and dangerous phishing technique you may not have heard about. Traditional phishing scams send malicious emails to a large number of people; spear phishing pursues a specific target. These criminals research the structure of your company on social media sites to pose as a specific member of your team, thus gaining the trust of the target and enabling them to request login credentials, credit card numbers, and even wire transfers. 

Malicious Email Attachments

For this tactic hackers send emails to their targets with malware disguised as PDFs, Excel tables, voice memos, or other ordinary business documents. The body of the email is crafted to entice the reader to open the attachment (“read this latest memo from the boss”), which will then unleash the malware on your system. 

Drive-By Downloads

These are code hidden in websites — sometimes perfectly benign websites — that cause a virus or malware to attach itself to your computer. This kind of attack can gain access to your system without any further action from its target, making it one of the more dangerous and unpredictable threats. 

Signs of an Advanced Cyber Attack

An IBM report from 2020 found that on average  it can take 228 days for a breach to be detected. The amount of damage that can be done in those 228 days is astronomical, and added recovery time means it could be a year or more until you are back to business as usual. 

Clearly if your network is breached, you may not notice right away. Cyber attackers are clever, and they know how to hide in plain sight to avoid detection. The best defense against these attacks is awareness and vigilance; here are some warning signs to watch out for: 

Slow Network Connection

A change in connection speed can often indicate that a breach has occurred and that malicious programs are working in the background without your knowledge. It could also be the result of a hacker controlling your computer remotely.

Unfamiliar Programs Running in Task Manager

If you have noticed unusually slow connection speeds, Task Manager is the first place to check. Mysterious programs running without your knowledge will overtax your CPU and cause your computer to overheat. An increase in activity is also a common symptom of a denial-of-service attack, where hackers flood your system with illegitimate requests to keep actual work from being done. 

Unusual Transactions

Have you noticed suspicious behavior on your accounts? Even seemingly innocuous payments or messages can indicate that someone has accessed your computer from the outside. Hackers often make small changes to see if you’re paying attention and then move on to larger attacks in the future. 

Unusual Password Behavior

Similarly, pay attention if passwords seem to have been changed without your knowledge or you are getting requests for password resets that you did not initiate. This could be a sign that your system has been infiltrated and that hackers are working towards gaining further access. 

Large Amounts of Data Ready for Export

Once hackers have gained access, they will gather and compress stolen data in order to export it more efficiently. If you find data grouped or in a format that is unfamiliar, then a breach has likely occurred. 

Targeted Phishing Emails 

Once hackers have access to internal documents, spear phishing campaigns become a lot easier. If you’ve seen an increased number of these kinds of emails you may have already been breached without your knowledge. 

Increased Outgoing Emails

Hackers frequently use computers that they have infiltrated to phish and access other computers in your network. People are more likely to open otherwise suspicious attachments if they are coming from a trusted source within the company. 

How to Protect Against Cyberattacks

Your computer systems will be constantly under threat from these cyber risks. To evade them, you’ll need to promote awareness throughout your organization and use the many security tools that are available to you. 

Employee Training

Early detection is the best defense against advanced persistent threats, and it’s imperative to make sure your staff is informed about the warning signs of security breaches. Inform your employees about the benefits of strong passwords and two-factor authentication. Regular company training on advanced cyber threats can teach your employees what to look for, as well as assure that they know who needs to be informed of any potential breaches. 

Update Your Systems Regularly

These updates are created with the explicit purpose of combating new cyberthreats as they arise. When you receive a notification for an update, don’t ignore it. Your operating system needs to be updated regularly to correct vulnerabilities and continue running smoothly. 

Use Technology to Your Advantage 

Just as hackers are constantly finding ways to subvert your defenses, security technology is constantly evolving to combat new threats. It may seem like a never-ending race to get ahead of potential breaches, but using new technology can be incredibly beneficial to your company. Encouraging your staff to use password vaults and installing malware detection can be great first steps that are fairly easy and inexpensive to execute. VPN firewalls are also more beneficial than their earlier counterparts as it includes encryption as part of its defense. Always make sure to prioritize the data that would be the most valuable to hackers, as this will be the first area targeted during an attack. 

Technology can also be a valuable asset to your overall risk management program. If you don’t know where to begin, ZenGRC can help. Our software allows your team to track cybersecurity risk across your entire company with ease, providing a streamlined, integrated experience. ZenGRC is compliant across a number of frameworks, which will allow you to use it regardless of your field. Schedule a demo today to learn more about how ZenGRC can help your company prepare for any threat that may come your way.