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Protecting against cybersecurity threats

Within today’s hyperconnected digital landscape, cybersecurity threats have evolved to become a complex and ever-present challenge for individuals, businesses and governments. While the rapid advancement of technology has opened up unprecedented opportunities, it has also created a playground for malicious actors and cyber criminals who aim to exploit security vulnerabilities for financial gain, ill-gotten confidential information, or simply to inflict damage.

These cybercrime threats can compromise sensitive information – such as credit card details or passwords for email or social media accounts – cripple computer systems, and even jeopardise national security, so it’s essential to have robust security solutions in place and to stay vigilant against emerging threats.

Common cybersecurity threats

To proactively protect against cyberattacks , it’s helpful to understand the different types of cybersecurity threats – particularly the ones most likely to strike.


Malware is a blanket term for various types of malicious software, including computer viruses and worms, that infiltrate systems with the intent of causing harm. This may be done via malicious links in emails, hacked websites, infected files or programmes, and so on.


Phishing attacks involve cybercriminals masquerading as legitimate entities to trick users into revealing sensitive data. While phishing scams will target a huge number of people, there are also attacks known as spear phishing, which target a specific individual. Phishing is a threat to organisational information security, but it can also lead to more personal consequences such as identity theft.


Ransomware attacks involve accessing, extracting, and encrypting a victim’s data in order to demand a ransom for its release. These attacks can target both individuals and high-profile organisations.


As its name suggests, spyware infiltrates systems to gather information without the user’s consent. A type of malware, spyware can record keystrokes, capture screenshots and even access webcams.


Trojan horse attacks disguise malicious code as legitimate software. Once installed, Trojans provide unauthorised access to the attacker through a system’s backdoor, and can lead to large-scale data breaches.

Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks

Denial of service attacks work to overload a target system or network with a flood of traffic, rendering it unavailable to legitimate users. DDoS attacks amplify this effect by using multiple sources, often malware-compromised machines known as bots or a botnet.

Man-in-the-middle attack (MitM attack)

During a MitM attack, an attacker aims to intercept communications between two other parties without their knowledge. This allows the attacker to eavesdrop within the conversation, alter messages or even inject malicious code into the communications.

Structured query language (SQL) injections

SQL injection attacks manipulate a database query through malicious code. If successful, attackers can gain unauthorised access to a target system’s database and critical infrastructure and potentially even destroy it.

Understanding the difference between a cyber attack and a cyber threat

A cyber threat is a potential danger. It’s a threat that could exploit a vulnerability in a system or network, but may not come to pass.

A cyberattack , meanwhile, is a threat brought to life – a vulnerability exploited in order to compromise a system, steal data, disrupt services or carry out other malicious activities.

The best protections against cyber threats

There are a number of safeguards available to both individuals and organisations that want to bolster their digital defences against cybersecurity risks. Many of these have become increasingly important in the era of remote working, where people are working away from the office and therefore away from their employer-protected IP address and internet or Wi-Fi services.

  • Patch and update regularly. Keeping hardware – including laptops and mobile devices – as well as operating systems, software apps, and Internet of Things devices (IoT devices) up to date is essential. Software updates in particular often include patches that address known vulnerabilities – known as attack vectors – and prevent attackers from exploiting them.
  • Require additional user authentication. Implementing stronger-than-average authentication measures adds extra layers of digital security and makes it more difficult for unauthorised parties to gain access to data and wider systems. Examples of additional user authentication include two-factor authentication, multi-factor authentication and biometric verification. 
  • Invest in endpoint security. Endpoint security solutions protect individual devices from a wide array of threats, such as malware. They provide real-time monitoring, threat detection and immediate response capabilities.
  • Bolster network security. Using security measures such as firewalls plays an important role in safeguarding computer networks. Firewalls act as a barrier between a trusted internal network and untrusted external networks, scrutinising incoming and outgoing traffic while filtering out malicious content and potential threats as needed.
  • Apply encryption measures. Encrypting sensitive data for transmission and storage ensures that even if data falls into the wrong hands, it remains unreadable.
  • Complete regular backups. Regularly backing up data and other critical information to secure locations, such as in the cloud, ensures that it is always accessible and can help mitigate the impact of ransomware attacks and data breaches. Regular backups also protect against events such as system crashes or human error. 

According to Microsoft, an effective cybersecurity programme “includes people, processes, and technology solutions that together reduce the risk of business disruption, financial loss, and reputational damage from an attack.”

So in addition to technical safeguards, it’s also important that individual people have a firm understanding of cyber threats and cybersecurity education more generally. Within organisations, this includes:

  • Comprehensive cybersecurity training for employees to ensure they can recognise phishing attempts, social engineering tactics and other deceptive methods used by cybercriminals and hackers.
  • Staying informed about the latest threats and safety measures.
  • Having a well-defined incident response plan in place to ensure that the business can respond swiftly and effectively to cyber threats, and minimise potential damage.

Stay ahead of cybersecurity threats

Explore the fundamentals of cybersecurity – including typical threats and a range of technologies that can help to reduce risk, increase protection and remain compliant – with the 100% online MSc Computer Science with Cyber Security from the University of York. This flexible Masters degree is aimed at working professionals and graduates from disciplines outside computer science, and it’s studied entirely online, so you can complete your degree from anywhere around your existing personal and professional commitments. 

You will explore a range of cyber concepts and solutions such as cryptography and memory and resource management. Alongside the specialism in cybersecurity, you’ll also explore computational thinking and problem-solving across software, hardware and artificial intelligence.