There are no ifs, ands, or buts: If you want to know about tech, you have to know about security. Unfortunately, in recent years, cybersecurity has exploded in complexity, and even the basics can be difficult for the layperson to grasp. Fortunately, we’ve boiled down the basics for you here, with this guide to your most pressing cybersecurity concerns.
What’s the Difference Between Threat, Vulnerability, and Risk?
In blogs about cybersecurity, it seems that the terms threat, vulnerability, and risk are used nearly interchangeably, but if you pay close attention, you’ll likely notice a pattern. Here are the strict definitions of each:
- Threat: An attacker or an attempted attack intended to disrupt or damage a computer network or system.
- Vulnerability: A weakness in a network or system that allows attackers greater access.
- Risk: The potential for a network or system (or the network or system’s owners) to experience harm. Sometimes, risk is also defined as the costs of cybersecurity; in these cases, risk is often represented as a formula: threat x vulnerabilities x consequences.
Here’s an easy way to remember the differences between these three: A threat is from an attacker who will use a vulnerability that someone failed to identify as a risk.
What Is an Endpoint? What’s the Goal of Endpoint Security?
Simply put, an endpoint is one of the ends of a network – namely, the devices. In a vast business network, endpoints could consist of smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, servers, routers, copiers, scanners, printers, and more. In a home network, endpoints are fewer and less diverse, but it is still vital that they remain secure.
Also, simply put, the goal of endpoint security is mitigating vulnerabilities to avoid physical and electronic threats. For a network to be secure, every device connected to its network must boast comprehensive security, which typically means businesses must use endpoint protection, especially if they allow BYOD. A strong endpoint security strategy ensures that all sensitive data is safe from malware, burglars, and more.
What Are Different Types of Cyberattack?
Long ago, computers could only be attacked via corrupt floppy discs. Today, cyberattacks can take so many forms – and result in such vastly different types of damage – that it behooves anyone online to understand the possibilities.
- Malware. Perhaps the most recognizable type, this attack is simply executable code that typically steals information or destroys data. Malware evolves rapidly; recently, the most common variety has been ransomware, which holds devices’ data hostage in expectation of payment.
- Phishing. Through email, social media messaging, and other communication methods, phishing attackers request personal information from unsuspecting victims to then try and hack an account. Recognizing the signs of phishing is the best way to prevent a successful attack.
- Password attacks. As it sounds, this attack consists of attackers trying to crack a password. Often, attackers buy or develop software to try thousands of password possibilities at once – which is why it is vital to use unpredictable passwords.
- DoS. Denial-of-service attacks attempt to disrupt and crash the service to a network, usually by sending high volumes of data or traffic. This has serious consequences for businesses, which usually need service to function.
- MITM. A man in the middle impersonates an accepted endpoint to gain access to valuable information. Attackers position themselves in non-encrypted, wireless access points, so using encrypted wireless access with WPA security or greater is ideal.
There are a dozen or more other types of cyberattacks – including drive-by downloads, malvertising, rogue software, and brute force attacks – but you can learn about those less-common attack methods another time.
What’s the Difference Between Encoding, Encrypting, and Hashing?
By now, it’s been well-established that you need encryption to keep your data safe – but what if you encode it or hash it instead? If you opt for one of the latter two, you might not be as secure as you hope. Here’s why:
- Encryption is the process of transforming data so that it can only be consumed by its intended audience. Encryption isn’t new; in fact, it’s been used for millennia to send secrets around the world. Computers use unique keys (typically strings of random characters) to encrypt and decrypt data.
- Encoding is the process of transforming data so that it can be consumed by different systems. For example, special characters like ~, #, and | must be encoded before they can be used in URLs; typically, you’ll see the character % to mark URL encoding. However, encoding systems are publicly available, meaning they aren’t necessarily secure.
- Hashing is the process of ensuring integrity in data. This means that hashed data will tell you what (if anything) has been changed since the data was created. Usually, this is used to authenticate messages, and does nothing to hide or obscure the information contained therein.
Cybersecurity is a dense field, and as the cyber arms race intensifies, security will only become more complicated. Understanding the basics of today will help you learn the complexities of tomorrow.