The modern enterprise network is a complex, highly connected ecosystem of hardware, software, services, communication protocols, virtual resources, and people; who all work together to support business operations. IT networks are now the backbones of organizations everywhere, so cyberattacks aimed at breaking down network security are a huge threat for companies and stakeholders.

Unfortunately, network security attacks (or simply network attacks) are increasingly common, allowing malicious actors to damage enterprise systems and compromise sensitive information.
Other cybercrimes then follow after attackers infiltrate the computer network perimeter, such as launching malicious software (malware attacks), ransomware attacks, or endpoint attacks. Skilled cybercriminals can quickly expand the attack’s scope and scale by exploiting all system vulnerabilities.

A network attack can disrupt operations and cause business downtime. This is what happened with the DDoS attack (distributed denial-of-service) against AWS in early 2020, which was one of the most noteworthy DDoS attacks the world has ever seen.

The number of DDoS weapons available on the Internet increased by 12 percent in 2020 and led to some significant DDoS attacks. The coming years will be worse, with experts predicting that by 2023 there will be more than 15 million DDoS attacks around the world.

A network attack can cause huge financial losses. A data breach can be particularly devastating, with research suggesting that a single incident can cost a company $4.24 million. Compliance violations and reputational damage are other possible consequences of a network attack.

As organizations increasingly adopt remote work business models, internet-based communications and cloud computing make it even more challenging to mitigate cyber risks. These realities highlight the need for organizations to do better at recognizing network security attacks and at implementing robust security solutions to address cyber threats and prevent attacks.

Types of Network Security Attacks

In a network attack, a cybercriminal attempts to gain unauthorized access to an enterprise network. The goal is usually to compromise or steal data or to perform some other malicious activity.

In some cases, the attacker maintains long-term access to systems so that he or she can confiscate sensitive data over time. The goal may be corporate espionage and acquiring confidential information. Such complex, long-term threats are known as advanced persistent threats (APT).

Network attacks can be:

  • Active: Attackers gain unauthorized access to the network and then modify data (say, via encryption) to compromise it and affect its usability and value.
  • Passive: Cybercriminals attack networks to monitor or steal data without making any changes to it.

The most common types of network attacks are:

Distributed Denial-of-Service Attack

A malicious actor deploys networks of botnets (large networks of malware-compromised devices) to direct high volumes of false traffic at an enterprise network. This fraudulent traffic overwhelms servers, prevents legitimate users from accessing a website, and may cause website crashes. A DDoS attack can cripple an organization’s entire IT infrastructure.

Man-in-the-Middle Attack

In MITM attacks, attackers intercept legitimate traffic between networks and external data sources (such as websites) or internally within the network. These eavesdropping attacks usually happen due to weak security protocols that allow bad actors to obtain user credentials, hijack user sessions, and steal data (credit card numbers, for example) in real-time transactions.

Unauthorized Access

Unauthorized network access is one of the most common types of cyberattacks aimed at enterprise networks. Weak passwords are a common cause of unauthorized access attacks; an attacker guesses the password to a legitimate user’s account, and then logs into the network under false pretenses.

Other causes are unencrypted networks or data, previously compromised accounts, insider threats where privileges are abused, the misuse of inactive accounts with administrator rights, social engineering, and phishing or spear-phishing attacks.

Social engineering attacks are difficult to prevent since they rely on human weaknesses. Technical vulnerabilities can be addressed more systematically with stronger cybersecurity protections.

Insider Threats

Insider threats are also a growing problem. The number of insider threat-related incidents increased by 47 percent from 2018 to 2020. The total average cost of insider threats in 2020 increased to $11.45 million.

Insider threats can come from anywhere, including current or former employees, vendors, contractors, partners, and so forth. Any “insider” with access to the organization’s computer systems and data increases the risk of a network attack. Such attacks are difficult to detect and prevent because the attacker already has access to the systems and data inside the network.

Privilege Escalation

Clever attackers use privilege escalation to expand their reach within the target system or network. In horizontal attacks, they gain access to adjacent systems; in vertical attacks, they gain higher privileges within the same system.

To prevent privilege escalation and protect high-value data from unauthorized access, organizations must employ strict adherence to the “principle of least privilege” (PoLP). In PoLP, all users — employees, third parties, applications, systems, and connected IoT devices — are given only the minimum levels of access needed to perform their job functions.

SQL Injection Attacks

Some less mature websites accept user inputs but don’t validate or moderate those inputs. That leaves the networks at risk of SQL injection attacks.

In such attacks, attackers might fill out a support request form, leave a comment, or make an API call. The attacker leverages user input fields to submit malicious code instead of the expected data values. Once this code is executed on the server, the hacker can compromise the network and access sensitive data.

SQL injection attacks are common on poorly designed websites and web applications, especially websites using SQL-based databases.

How Can I Protect My Business From Network Security Attacks?

Network attacks are a serious, persistent, and growing problem for organizations everywhere. Cybersecurity teams can, however, prevent such attacks (or at least mitigate their impact) by adopting several best practices.

Implement a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) to Monitor Network Traffic

Unlike traditional firewalls, an NGFW can detect and respond to even the most insidious threats to and within a network. It can identify evasive network attacks that bypass conventional firewalls, prioritize the protection of business-critical devices, and spot potentially stolen or compromised data within network traffic.

It also provides real-time monitoring capabilities that detect even the slightest traffic or behavioral anomalies on the network, so that security teams can react quickly with protective actions. Conventional firewalls are still vital for network security, but it’s essential to place them at every junction of network zones and not just at the network edge.

Leverage Network Analytics

An integrated security solution with advanced network analytics can also continuously monitor network traffic. Unlike conventional security tools, these solutions provide better visibility into network traffic, behaviors, and potentially malicious activity with timely, contextual information. These insights enable security personnel to respond to threats more precisely and skillfully.

Deploy Network ‘Decoys’ to Beat Attackers at Their Own Game

Security solutions with in-built deception technology can help observe attacker tactics, understand their motivations, and predict their actions. These solutions create “decoys” across the network, luring malicious actors to launch an attack. Such decoys allow security teams to detect threats in all stages of the attack lifecycle, and to address the threats before they cause severe damage.

Leverage Network Segmentation

Network segmentation (also known as network segregation) divides the network into smaller segments that behave like separate networks. Segmentation limits the inter-connectivity among segments. That lets network administrators monitor and control network traffic to contain unauthorized users or malicious actors within one segment.

Even if attackers do manage to breach the network, segmentation assures that these “breached zones” are isolated to restrict attackers’ lateral movement, protecting other segments of the network from further damage.

Use Network Address Translation (NAT)

NAT maps multiple internal (local) IP addresses into public addresses before transferring information over the Internet. Since it allows a unique IP address to represent multiple computers, NAT connects these devices to the Internet with a single IP address.

This allows one device to act as an intermediary between the local, private network and the Internet’s public network. Any inbound or outbound traffic must go through this “NAT device.” Plus, there are fewer IP addresses, so attackers have a harder time understanding which host they’re connecting to or should attack.

ZenGRC Can Help You Mitigate Security Threats

The Reciprocity® ZenGRC® platform provides a comprehensive solution to identify and address network security threats in a timely, reliable manner.

Performing a network security audit is a breeze with ZenGRC’s advanced features for document storage, automated workflows, and insightful reporting. Evidence and audit management activities are streamlined for all of your compliance frameworks.

The intuitive platform exposes existing threats and evolving risks, allowing organizations to find vulnerable spots, detect suspicious behaviors and lateral movements, and take quick action to minimize their attack surface.

With ZenGRC, security teams can also plan for business continuity and disaster recovery to safeguard the business and maintain operational continuity. Schedule a demo to see ZenGRC in action.