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Why is cybersecurity important?

Our modern, interconnected lives rely on technological advances and capabilities – from the way we bank and communicate with friends, to how we buy groceries and manage our homes.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has made this revolution of convenience, speed, access and application possible. With approximately 15.14 billion IoT-connected devices as of 2023, these technologies –such as our smartphones, tablets and laptops – are present in just about every aspect of our lives.

While this brings with it great benefits, such proliferation of tech – and our increasing reliance on it – also creates irresistible attack surfaces for hackers, threat actors and cybercriminals. Between 2022 and 2023, 32% of small businesses, 59% of medium businesses, and 69% of large businesses in the UK reported an attack or breach. With cybercrime on the rise, cybersecurity – and its role in preserving our data, infrastructure and privacy – is critical.

Why is cybersecurity important?

Cyberattacks and cyberthreats can have devastating, far-reaching consequences for businesses, individuals and wider society. Not only can attacks prove expensive, they also threaten information security, destabilise livelihoods and cause widespread disruption.

The importance of cybersecurity lies in its ability to protect against theft, loss and damage. Where it fails, cybercrime can have a number of outcomes:

  • Economic implications – As well as the theft of corporate information and intellectual property, cyberthreats can disrupt trading and damage systems. There can also be national security threats, where criminals target critical infrastructure such as payment systems, power grids and water supply systems in an attempt to sow chaos, or cause disruption by acts such as vandalising government websites.
  • Regulatory issues – Cybercrime targets all types of sensitive and private data, including personally identifiable information (PII), intellectual property, financial details and protected health information (PHI). This is not only risky from an identity theft and data theft perspective, but also breaches general data protection regulations (GDPR).
  • Reputational damage – Customers want to know their personal customer data is in safe hands. Breaches can lead to loss of current and future business, reduced competitive advantage, unfavourable media coverage and loss of trust in a brand.

Without a robust, considered cybersecurity programme, businesses of all sizes – and across all industries – are less able to defend themselves against data breaches.

What are the main threats to cybersecurity?

Hackers continually develop the methods used to breach network security and gain access our systems, devices and sensitive data – meaning cybersecurity professionals have the ongoing task of remaining one step ahead of them.

There are numerous common cybersecurity threats:

  • Malware. Malicious software – including spyware, ransomware, Trojans, viruses and worms – is used to infect computer systems, steal personal data or disrupt operations.
  • Phishing. In phishing attacks, individuals are tricked into revealing or sharing sensitive information. The attacks mimic legitimate entities – such as an email from a bank, an ad on social media or a text message from a relative – but are, in fact, social engineering scams designed to expose details such as login credentials or financial information.
  • Zero-day exploits. Vulnerabilities in software or hardware not known to the manufacturer or developer are targeted, leaving ‘zero days’ of defence until a solution or patch is developed.
  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. During a DDoS attack, a provider’s website or network is flooded with traffic in a bid to render it slow or unavailable.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. Also known as an ‘eavesdropping’ attack, criminals interrupt communications or data transfers and pretend to be the participants. From here, they can intercept data and information and also infect systems with malware.
  • Insider threats. Insider threats are not always malicious; often, issues of data security result from accidental employee actions. This can include data leaks, allowing unauthorised access or password sharing.

Other common threats include supply chain attacks, cryptojacking, misconfigured cloud services and cloud security settings and advanced persistent threats (APTs).

Identifying and understanding the type and nature of these threats is the key to mitigating them, which isexactly why talented cybersecurity experts are in such high demand across all global industries.

What can be done to protect against security breaches and attacks?

Effective cybersecurity measures help to defend our data, infrastructure, assets and livelihoods against a host of threats. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways in which organisations can minimise system breaches and protect against future attacks.

Safeguard against unauthorised access and other security risks by:

  • enabling multi-factor authentication
  • performing penetration testing to assess and identify vulnerabilities
  • developing regular updates and patches
  • using strong passwords
  • limiting and monitoring access
  • monitoring all devices connected to networks
  • installing firewalls and anti-virus software
  • using a virtual private network (VPN) and never connecting to unsecured or unknown Wi-Fi networks
  • encrypting data
  • configuring cloud systems and other key infrastructure correctly
  • training employees and other users on security practices such as avoiding phishing scams
  • making regular back-ups of data and ensuring its secure storage
  • establishing a disaster recovery/incident response plan
  • conducting employee screening
  • utilising automation tools for threat detection and monitoring.

As threats evolve, so too should cybersecurity practices, defenses and expertise. Security controls must be in place across every aspect of an organisation’s network and monitored proactively to stay ahead of malicious threats.

Increase cybersecurity resilience to protect your organisation’s assets

Want to learn how to handle different types of cyberattacks and get the most out of security systems?

Develop expertise across a wide range of core cybersecurity topics – as well as in-depth understanding of the wider computer science field – with the University of York’s online MSc Computer Science with Cybersecurity programme.

Our course has been developed for career-changers who are thinking about moving into the exciting computer science industry – no prior knowledge of computing is required. You’ll explore topics such as database management, network infrastructure, data science, programming, software engineering, artificial intelligence and computer architecture, together with specialist subjects in the cybersecurity and information security space. Gain key skills and knowledge to safeguard against cyberthreats including cryptography, threat intelligence, risk management, application security and network security.