Cyber security

What is Cyber Security?

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Cyber-attacks are a modern day threat, so what do people need to know in order to protect themselves?

What is cyber security?

Cyber security is a broad term for the measures you might have in place to combat cyber-attacks – attacks on a computer system that can range from data theft to system damage.

Whether you’re an individual or a large company, the chances are that at least some of your work, personal information, and/or private data is stored either on a computer or in a data cloud. This means it can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, which can come in different forms. This makes it crucial to not only understand cyber security and what it does, but also why you need it and how it could protect you.

What are the most common types of cyber threats?

There are quite a few avenues a cyber-attacker could go down to access your information and data, but they can be categorised into the following:


Malware, or malicious software, refers to different types of programmes or files that are designed to sabotage a computer user. These can include:

  • Viruses – viruses are malicious programmes that are capable of launching and replicating themselves, but that need to be interacted with in order for them to be spread – for example, by someone opening an email or file containing the virus.
  • Trojans – Trojans, or Trojan horses, are programmes that look safe or innocent but are actually hiding malicious software. Trojans themselves are classed as malware, but attackers generally must trick people into activating them using social engineering methods such as fake emails or software.
  • Worms – worms are similar to viruses in that they are malicious pieces of software that can launch and replicate themselves, but they can also spread without being interacted with.
  • Spyware – spyware is software that can spy on you – i.e. it can collect information and data from whatever device it is installed on without you being aware. Software that can do this but makes you aware of its presence is generally not referred to as spyware, such as advertising cookies or tracking software on kids’ or corporate computers.
  • Ransomware – ransomware is a type of malware that causes a computer’s files to become locked, so the user cannot access them without paying a ransom to have them decrypted.
  • Rootkits – rootkits refer to one or more pieces of software used by attackers to gain access to your computer system remotely. With remote access, attackers can implement other forms of malware to take control of or damage your computer. Rootkits can include RATs (remote access Trojans) and backdoor viruses.

Social engineering

Social engineering is an interactive tactic used by cyber attackers to steal information or data. For example:

  • Baiting – baiting is when an infected piece of hardware, such as a hard drive or USB device, is intentionally left where someone is likely to find and use it, therefore installing the malicious software contained on it.
  • Phishing – phishing refers to when attackers sent out emails pretending to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or telephone company. They generally intend to lure you in so you share financial or personal information like your bank account details or answers to private security questions. When emails like this are designed for a specific target, this is known as spear phishing, while when it is done over the phone it is called vishing.
  • Scareware – scareware is software that scares victims into purchasing malicious software. They often do this by pretending to be an anti-malware programme that ‘finds’ threats on your computer system, before telling you to purchase the actual malware as the only solution to the ‘problem.
  • Water-holing – water-holing means when an attacker targets a specific website that a certain person or group of people trust and use frequently.

These attacks aren’t entirely rare either – out of all businesses that identified a breach or attack on their system, around a quarter had been victim to viruses, spyware, or malware. 28% of businesses had seen others impersonating their organisation online and through emails, and three quarters of these companies had received fraudulent emails or links to fraudulent websites

However, sometimes computer systems can find themselves vulnerable to software that is intrusive and in some cases unwanted, yet that isn’t intended to do malicious harm to the computer system or the user. This can include things like adware and other potentially unwanted programmes (PUPs), and while they may not be malicious they can still affect your computer by:

  • Disturbing users with unwanted ads
  • Reducing the performance of the computer system

However, adware and PUPs still have the potential to be malicious – for example, software might be vulnerable to attackers who can turn advertising into malvertising by giving the adware malicious features. Different ads and other PUPs might also contain hidden spyware that can collect your data and information without you knowing. 

Which of the following happened to your organisation in the last 12 months?

Source: Ipsos MORI & Department of Culture, Media, and Sport.

What consequences can cyber-attacks have?

A cyber-attack can potentially have big consequences for affected businesses, as heavy reliance on the internet and computer systems often means that a company’s data security plays a big part in its infrastructure. When a business falls victim to a cyber-attack, it has to consider consequence relating to:

Reputation and trust

Being the victim of a cyber-attack can bring up questions about a company’s reputation and trustworthiness, as customers, employees, and partners could all be affected by a potential security breach:

  • Customers relationships – if a cyber-attack results in large amounts of private customer data being accessed or stolen, people may lose trust in the company’s ability to protect their information. Around 34% of companies in the UK said the main reason for investing in cyber security was to protect the information of their customers in 2015.
  • Employees – employees may also feel they can’t trust the company, and therefore be tempted to find a new role where their information is secure.
  • Partners and investors – other businesses and potential future investors and shareholders could also be put off by fears over security, and therefore might want to take their business elsewhere.
  • Unwanted attention – when a company is hit by a cyber-attack, they may also find themselves subject to heavy scrutiny as well as investigations and audits, all of which can cause further damage to their reputation.

Drivers of information security expenditure

Source: PwC


As a result of cyber-attacks and the related reputational damage, companies can also incur financial losses, such as:

  • Theft – cyber criminals may be able to access and therefore steal money from business bank accounts.
  • Fines – when companies don’t comply with the rules surrounding data protection, particularly since the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that arrive in May 2018, they can be subject to huge fines.
  • Legal fees – Loss of data can also lead to a lot of legal action by customers and business partners, which can be a burden on a company’s books.
  • Investigations – A company may also have to conduct an investigation into its own cyber security framework and what went wrong that allowed the attack to happen, and these aren’t necessarily easy or cheap, even if done internally.
  • Insurance premiums – as a result of the cyber-attack, a company might find that taking out cyber insurance could become more costly as they are seen as a potentially higher risk.
  • Cyber improvements – when flaws in cyber security are exposed they need to be fixed, and this could range from new software and hardware to employee education and a complete rebuild in the company’s cyber infrastructure.
  • Staff turnover – while it can be unfortunate, sometimes these attacks come down to a human mistake or error, in which case many companies may be forced to terminate contracts of employees responsible for the lapse in security, and spend time and money training new starters.
  • PR – with a damaged reputation, a company might have to allocate more funds to repairing their public image through extensive PR work, which can be especially expensive to smaller businesses.

Business operations

Cyber-attacks can ultimately have a big impact on the day-to-day operations of a business.

  • Financial damage – financial damage might be a minor issue to major companies who can afford to spend big, but for smaller businesses that fall victim the financial blow can cause a huge disruption to the company’s ability to function.
  • Reputational damage – Major companies might be able to withstand financial damage, but word of mouth can still ruin reputations no matter how big they are – sometimes even more so for global brands. As a result companies could lose huge portions of customers and investors, severely impacting their operations. This was recognised by over a fifth of UK businesses, who said that protecting their organisation’s reputation was the key driving factor in their cyber security investment.
  • Operational disruptions – For businesses that rely heavily on their computer system to function, a cyber-attack could actually stop the business from functioning by attacking core parts of its functionality. For example, an e-commerce website won’t be able to process transactions if its website has fallen victim to a DDOS, while technology companies might find their business plan damaged if secret intellectual property is hacked and stolen.

Out of the businesses that had experienced a cyber-attack in the last year, over a quarter said their staff had to stop carrying out daily tasks as a result. Staff were required to work added time in 32% of businesses, which can add to the financial cost of a cyber-attack, while a fifth of companies had to shell out for other repair or recovery costs.

In fact it took larger businesses over three days to deal with the most disruptive breach of their cyber system, which can translate into a lot of lost business. This highlights the importance of a good cyber security system, as without adequate protection you can leave your business vulnerable and potentially risk a large disruption in your day to day activity.

How the breaches or attacks affected businesses

Source: Ipsos MORI & Department of Culture, Media, and Sport.

What can you do to protect yourself from cyber attacks?

The landscape of cybercrime and security is constantly changing due to the ever-evolving nature of technology. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult for businesses to stay completely up to date with the latest information – particularly small to medium enterprises who cannot afford to allocate a lot of funds towards cyber protection.

For example last year, large businesses spent an average of £149,000 on cyber security, while medium spent just over forty thousand pounds, and micro and small businesses £2,200.

However protection from cyber-attacks can be essential due to the possible disastrous consequences that can be incurred as a result. It’s therefore a good idea to consider the following ways to keep yourself protected against future cyber criminals and their methods:


Keeping your business’s IT security software and hardware up to date is a good way to ensure you’re protected against the latest cyber threats. This includes keeping your anti-virus software up to date as well as the security features on any applications your company uses, devices such as phones and computers, your network and internet connection, and your data stores.

Detection and response

If you do come under attack from cyber criminals, it’s important to have a sure fire system in place to detect and minimise the immediate threat and protect anything that has yet to be attacked.

Recovery and reparation

When you’ve been the victim of a cyber-attack, your business can benefit from a solid recovery plan that lets your business operations continue without too big an interruption in services. This can be particularly important for businesses that rely on online transactions if their e-commerce website comes under attack.


To prevent future attacks from happening, or from having a big impact, it can help to make sure your staff are informed and educated about any possible risks associated with cyber security. This can include even simple things such as choosing a secure password and being responsible about company hardware.

This way they can take steps to ensure they’re using the best practices they can, giving your company a higher chance of protecting itself against the world of cybercrime. This should be an ongoing process, due to the nature of cyber security risks being constantly changing.

Average investment in security, UK, by business size

Source: Ipsos MORI & Department of Culture, Media, and Sport.

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