Cyber attack: What is a cyber attack?

A cyber attack is a deliberate attempt to gain unauthorised access to computer information systems, networks or personal databases. These attacks use digital technologies to cause damage or to manipulate or steal unauthorised data.

What is a cyber attack? Definition and more

Cyber attacks can take different forms, such as

  • Malware, which contains malicious software that is downloaded onto a victim’s computer
  • Phishing attacks that use fraudulent emails to steal sensitive information and
  • Ransomware that encrypts files or systems until a ransom is paid.

They can also involve more complex methods such as exploiting network vulnerabilities. These attacks can target individual users, organisations or even governments.

To strengthen the resilience of critical infrastructure companies, the NIS 2 Directive came into force in the EU in January 2023. This is primarily intended to help systemically important organisations and companies to better protect themselves against cyber threats. The directive must be transformed into national laws in the EU countries by October 2024. You can find out more in the article on the NIS 2 Directive linked here.

Why and by whom are cyber attacks carried out?

Cyber attacks are carried out for a variety of reasons, and the perpetrators are just as diverse. Some attackers seek financial gain by stealing and selling data or extorting ransom through ransomware. Others may have political or ideological motives, such as hacker groups targeting specific governments or organisations.

State-sponsored actors carry out cyber attacks to obtain secret information, destabilise their opponents or promote their geopolitical interests. There are also “hacktivists” who use digital tools to draw attention to social or political issues. These perpetrators use their technical skills to bypass security systems and cause damage.

Aims of cyber attacks

The targets of cyber attacks are diverse and depend on the motivations of the attackers. While some aim for direct financial gain, others try to gather secret information for espionage purposes or to sabotage critical infrastructure.

Cyber attacks can also aim to cause unrest, undermine trust in digital systems or be used as a means of warfare. For companies and organisations, such attacks can mean serious financial losses and reputational damage, as well as jeopardising the security of customer data. Companies are often manoeuvred into corporate crises from which they can only recover after several weeks or months.

The consequences of cyber attacks on companies

The consequences of cyber attacks on companies can be serious. Financial losses can be made up of theft, business interruption and recovery costs. Theft of intellectual property can result in a long-term competitive disadvantage.

Business interruptions can lead to services being temporarily unavailable, which can affect customer confidence. In addition, legal consequences can arise from data breaches. In the long term, companies may face a loss of customer trust and damage to their brand.

In February 2024, battery manufacturer VARTA was the victim of a cyberattack and was still suffering the consequences of the attack weeks later. Production could only be restarted slowly, which also had far-reaching financial consequences.

The best way to quickly raise the alarm in the event of a cyber threat is to use the alerting software from safeREACH. This makes it possible to notify the right people with just a few clicks, who can then initiate initial countermeasures.

What are the most common types of cyberattacks on businesses?

The most common cyberattacks on businesses include

  • Phishing, where perpetrators use fake emails to steal sensitive information
  • Ransomware attacks, which encrypt data and demand a ransom to release it
  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which aim to paralyse a company’s services by flooding them with requests
  • Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), in which attackers can infiltrate networks undetected and cause damage over a long period of time.

Equally important are insider threats, where employees intentionally or unintentionally jeopardise security. Recently, targeted attacks on the supply chain have also increased, with hackers infiltrating company networks via third-party providers. Cyberattacks are therefore also an important topic in supply chain continuity management.