cyberattack types

There are various cyberattack types that have become an omnipresent threat looming over individuals, businesses, and governments. These attacks are orchestrated by malicious actors with diverse motives, ranging from financial gain to espionage and sabotage. Understanding the various cyberattack types is crucial for implementing effective cybersecurity measures and safeguarding sensitive information.

Let’s dive into some of the most common cyberattacks.

Cyberattack Types

Cyberattacks come in different variants, and each presents different levels of modality and criticality. These are just some of the most prevalent types.

Here we break them down into categories:

User-based Cyberattacks

Certain attacks are either targeted at or performed by users. They are designed to capitalize on human error and lapses in judgment in order to gain a foothold toward compromising accounts and network infrastructure.


Phishing involves trying to scam people through fraudulent emails, messages, and websites to trick users into giving away personal information. This includes items like login credentials, financial details, or sensitive data related to their professional or personal life. Phishing emails can appear very legitimate, mimicking trusted entities like banks, social media platforms, employers, even government agencies.

Unsuspecting recipients of phishing may intentionally or accidentally click on malicious links. By clicking, the user opens potentially multiple areas of compromise. This enables attackers to exploit their accounts or networks. A lot of phishing attacks imply a sense of urgency in the message.

For example, you might receive an email from a supervisor that asks you to send sensitive information as soon as possible, like your mobile phone number or the password to an application your organization uses.

The best defense against becoming a victim of phishing is for users to have cybersecurity awareness.

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks

In this type of attack, a bad actor positions themselves between two parties, such as users and websites, to intercept information without their knowledge. Attackers are trying to capture sensitive data, login credentials, financial information, private messages, or change passwords.

Man-in-the-middle attacks can occur through various means, including compromised Wi-Fi networks, malicious software, or DNS spoofing. Threat actors also use this technique to gain access to the perimeter of a secured network. This type of attack is also a part of the infiltration stage of an advanced persistent threat assault.

Don’t access sensitive information like this on public/dirty WiFi like you find in airports, coffee shops, or networks that don’t require a password to access. Remember, even on a secured network information can be compromised.

Social Engineering

Almost all cyberattacks are about technology, but social engineering is mostly about psychology. There is still a technological component, but threat actors accomplish their malicious activities via human interaction. The goal is to trick users into revealing confidential or sensitive information or making security mistakes.

Insider Threat

Just like it sounds, insider threats are malicious actions or security breaches performed by individuals within an organization that have approved access to critical information and systems like employees, contractors, or partners. They abuse access privileges in order to steal data or compromise systems and network infrastructure.

Software and Application Cyberattacks

This category of cyberattack focuses on using or exploiting software and applications.


Malware is a type of software designed to infiltrate and damage computer systems. Common forms of malware include viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, and spyware. This type of attack often exploits vulnerabilities in software, tricks users into downloading infected files, or deceives them into clicking on malicious links.

Once inside a system, malware can disrupt operations, steal sensitive data, or extort victims for financial gain. Antivirus applications are a great first line of defense against malware, and combined with a good EDR solution the chances of becoming a victim of malware significantly decreases.


With how much this type of attack gets covered in the news everyone has likely heard about it by now. Ransomware is an offshoot of malware that holds data and devices hostage under threat of keeping it locked or destroying it altogether unless the victim pays the ransom.

Ransomware hackers commonly target educational, financial, and government institutions but everyday users become victim to it as well.

SQL Injection

SQL injections target databases that use Structured Query Language (SQL) to interact with web applications. Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in the application’s input fields to inject malicious SQL code, enabling them to manipulate or extract data stored in the database.

SQL injection attacks can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information, and pose significant risks to organizations that rely on web-based applications.

Rogue Software

Installing malicious software disguised as legitimate applications, often leading to unauthorized access or data theft. Many of these types of applications trick users into believing their device is infected and prompts them to pay for a fake malware removal service.

Consider it fake antivirus. But it provides no protection because it’s a type of malware.

Credential Stuffing

This type of attack uses previously stolen login information from a data breach on a service and uses it to try to gain access to another, unrelated service. Considering the amount of login combinations needed to perform this cyberattack effectively bad actors use bots and other automated tools.

The best defense against credential stuffing is additional security measures like two-factor and multi-factor authentication. Using strong, alphanumeric passwords and changing them frequently is also critical.

Zero-Day Exploits

Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities in software or hardware unknown to the vendor and have no existing available patches or fixes. Attackers leverage these vulnerabilities to launch targeted attacks before security experts can develop countermeasures. Zero-day exploits pose a serious threat to cybersecurity and allow attackers to infiltrate systems undetected.

The implications of zero-day exploits extend much farther than financial losses and operational disruptions. They can erode trust in digital systems, compromise individual privacy, even undermine national security.

Website Cyberattacks

This category of attacks targets websites and web applications.

Denial-of-Service Attacks

Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks aim to disrupt the normal functioning of a computer network, website, or online service by overwhelming it with a flood of traffic or requests. Attackers often use botnets – networks of compromised devices – to create massive volumes of traffic, rendering the target inaccessible to legitimate users.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks, a variant of DoS attacks, amplify the impact on the target by coordinating attacks from multiple sources simultaneously. By observing data packets these types of denial-of-service attacks can be detected and mitigated. Continuous monitoring through IDS and IPS solutions is a great way to secure against them.

Cross-site Scripting (XSS)

XSS is when a threat actor injects malicious, executable scripts into the code on a website or application. Like phishing, it often starts by a user clicking on a link. It comes in different types and can come from a HTTP request, a website database, or client-side code.


Another type of cyber threat that’s based on deception, clickjacking tricks users into clicking on a webpage element that seems legitimate, but they are clicking on something invisible or disguised as something else. By clicking, the user unknowingly downloads malware, is redirected to a malicious web page, provides credentials or other types of information.

Watering Hole Attack

This novel type of attack compromises a website that’s frequently accessed by users in an organization or economic sector like healthcare, governmental and defense agencies. The point of compromise is to distribute malware to users who access the website.

Drive-by Download

A drive-by download typically refers to a download that was initiated by a user without their full understanding of what the file contains. These dummy files harbor malicious software like trojans and malware. Drive-by download incidents can happen when users traffic a compromised or malicious website unknowingly.

Network and Hardware Cyberattacks

These are some methods hackers use to compromise network infrastructure and hardware.

Brute Force Attack

Using a trial-and-error method to crack assets like login credentials, passwords, and encryption keys brute force attacks constantly spam input fields with the objective of eventually gaining access. It’s an uncomplicated but surprisingly effective type of cyberattack. This is why strong passwords are so critical.

IoT Exploitation

This rise in popularity of smart devices from industry to the average home opens up cybersecurity risks in ways many fail to realize and are often ignored. By exploiting vulnerabilities in IoT devices such as medical devices and industrial control assets to things like smart TVs, thermostats, and home security systems hackers gain unauthorized access or launch attacks.

When compromised, IoT devices can be used as part of a botnet, be subject to ransomware, for illegal surveillance and more. One of the best ways organizations can protect themselves against IoT compromise is to use an asset/inventory management tool.


Also known as “sniffing” or “snooping”, this attack is when hackers monitor, intercept, modify, or delete data being transmitted between devices. It hinges on unsecured network communication to access data between devices while in transit.

The best ways to protect against eavesdropping are to encrypt data that’s in transmission, providing cybersecurity awareness training to users, segment the network, and have up-to-date patching.


A type of cybercrime, cryptojacking is the unauthorized use of devices to mine for cryptocurrency. Since the user is not giving consent or authorization, it’s illegal. Bad actors use financial profit as a motive, and it can go undetected as it’s designed to remain hidden from the victim.


Keyloggers capture input strokes on a keyboard. Users are unaware that what they type is monitored, and the data collected can be retrieved by the operator(s) of the logging program. Sometimes they’re used for innocuous reasons like employee monitoring or development feedback, but in this context, we’re talking about the kind used for data theft and spying.

DNS Spoofing

Also known as DNS cache poisoning, this attack manipulates DNS records. It redirects users to malicious or fraudulent websites that resemble the user’s web destination. A hacker intercepts DNS requests and returns false information.

One of the most popular use cases for DNS spoofing is to steal login or sensitive information entered by users because they believe they’re accessing the real site. These fake sites can install viruses and other types of malware that gives threat actors sustained access to the user’s computer and data.


These are a basic overview of some of the most common cyberattack types. Always remember, the threat landscape is constantly evolving. Proactive, defense in depth cybersecurity measures are the best way to protect yourself in today’s digital landscape.

By understanding the types, tactics, and implications of cyberattacks, individuals and organizations can better fortify their defenses and mitigate the omnipresent threat of cybercrime.

The amount of existing cyberattack types is extensive. While many of them are highly technical, it doesn’t take much technical knowledge to get a baseline understanding. And more importantly, how to identify and avoid them. Categories and definitions presented here are a very base-level overview, and we will dive into them more in depth in future posts.