What Is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity refers to the measures taken to keep electronic information private and safe from damage or theft. It is also used to make sure electronic devices and data are not misused. Cybersecurity applies to both software and hardware, as well as information on the internet, and can be used to protect everything from personal information to complex government systems.

Key Takeaways

  • Cybersecurity refers to the measures taken to protect electronic information in online settings.
  • Cybersecurity can span a variety of protection measures, including helping to keep cybercriminals from hacking into computers or electronic devices and stealing sensitive information.
  • Password protection and encryption are types of cybersecurity measures.
  • Commons types of cyberattacks include phishing, malware, eavesdropping attacks, and denial-of-service attacks.

Understanding Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity measures include preventing, detecting, and responding to cyberattacks. They are put in place because any information stored on a computer, an electronic device, or on the internet can be hacked. With the proper measures in place, this can be prevented. Given that the world is more reliant on computers than ever before, cybersecurity has become essential.

Cybersecurity ranges from simple to complex. As a basic preventative measure, most devices come equipped with password protection to prevent hacking. Updating software is another straightforward way to prevent cyberattacks.

If a system is attacked or at risk of an attack, specific measures might be taken depending on the type of attack. Encryption, for example, is one way to prevent attacks, and certain antivirus software can detect suspicious activity online and block most software attacks.

In order to ensure that a system is secure, it's essential to understand the risks and vulnerabilities inherent to that specific device or network and whether or not hackers can exploit those vulnerabilities.

Cybersecurity measures must constantly adjust to new technologies and developments to stay one step ahead, as hackers adapt their methods to new forms of cybersecurity and render it ineffective.

Types of Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks can have wide-ranging effects on individuals, businesses, and government organizations, including monetary loss, identity theft, and reputational damage. They are classified by the method used to attack. While there are many types of cyberattacks, some of the most common include: 

Phishing

Phishing occurs when an email or text appears to be sent from a reputable source but is actually designed by cybercriminals to trick the recipient into sharing sensitive information, such as passwords. Phishing is one of the most common attacks on consumers.

Malware

Malware is malicious software intended to cause damage to a computer or network. Types of malware include viruses, worms, spyware, and ransomware. Malware can find its way onto computers when a user clicks a link or email attachment that installs malicious software.

Eavesdropping attacks

An eavesdropping attack is a theft of information as it is transmitted over a network by a computer, smartphone, or another connected device. Cybercriminals take advantage of unsecured network communications to access data as it is being sent or received by its user.

Denial-of-service attacks

Denial-of-service attacks prevent the rightful user from accessing a system. A common method used in this type of cyberattack is entering an incorrect password enough times that the account is locked.

114,700

The number of people who fell victim to phishing scams in 2019, according to the FBI. Collectively, they lost $57.8 million—about $500 each.

Common Targets of Cyberattacks

While any individual system is at some level of cyberattack risk, larger entities such as businesses and government systems are often the targets of these attacks since they store a lot of valuable information. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, uses high-tech cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive government information from other countries, nation-states, and individual hackers.

Any financial system that stores credit card information from its users is at a high risk since hackers can directly steal money from people by accessing these accounts. Large businesses are often attacked, as they store personal information about their extensive network of employees. The industries with the most cyberattacks over the past five years are healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, government, and transportation. Other targets include systems that control infrastructure, such as telecommunications and energy networks, as attackers seek to control this equipment.