The Anatomy of a Cyber Attack: Examining Malware, Ransomware, and Other Techniques

Cyber attacks pose a constant threat to any individual or business with online connections. In other words, everyone. It’s easy to forget that as you browse the web, or decline a firewall update because it’s been suggested at an inconvenient time. 

Online mistakes can be costly. Data breaches frequently result in significant losses for businesses, while private individuals experience identity theft and other crimes that can have a debilitating impact on their lives. 

While there is no cure for cybercrime, awareness can go a long way toward helping you stay secure. In this article, we take a look at the anatomy of cybercrime, and how you can protect yourself from it. 

Different Types of Cybercrime

There are many different methods that criminals use to access private digital data. Below, we highlight some of the most common examples of cyber attacks


Ransomware programs infiltrate computers and essentially hold networks hostage until the victim pays a fee to the criminal. A very famous example of ransomware happened several years ago in Ireland. A terrorist group by the name of “Wizard Spider,”— they were better at hacking than they were at choosing names— managed to infiltrate the nation’s online healthcare network.

The hackers demanded many millions of dollars to turn over the data. Ireland assumed a “won’t negotiate with terrorists,” response, and declined that invitation. For weeks, they struggled to bring their system back to full health.

During that time, hundreds of private citizens had their healthcare information published online. Retaliation for the government’s non-compliance. 

Of course, that’s a very extreme example of what can happen with a ransomware attack. However, it does illustrate how vulnerable everyday citizens are. Wizard Spider got in through a phishing email. If it’s that easy for them to hack a government network, imagine how simple it can be to obtain sensitive information from private individuals. 


Malware is the general term for software that is designed to disrupt or otherwise jeopardize the performance of your computer. It’s a blanket term for all of the many viruses that a person can encounter online. 

The firewall software that you (hopefully) have installed is designed to protect against malware. However, threats can still slip through the cracks, either through gaps in the programming, or— even more often— through negligence. 

Phishing Emails

Most people are aware of the threats that unsolicited emails can contain. The problem is that hackers are a clever bunch. Today’s phishing emails are designed to be as compelling as possible. Often, they will contain an urgent call-to-action, and they will appear to be from somewhere that you already do business with. 

For example, you might receive an email from a software company that you use, thanking you for renewing your subscription. Then, at the bottom there will be a receipt for an enormous sum of money, and— here’s where they get you— a link to communicate with customer service. 

The link itself could contain malware. Or, it will direct you to a “customer service,” agent whose goal is to collect private information from you. 

In a sober moment, you’re probably going to be incredulous enough to think twice about hitting that link. But because you’ve just seen this enormous unexpected bill, you’re experiencing a panic response that may cloud your judgment to the extent that you make a bad call. 

Cybercriminals are counting on that momentary lack of judgment, and they need only the smallest opening to get in. 

These emails can be difficult to protect against. If you receive a message that seems suspect, always reach out to the business directly to investigate. 

Denial of Service

Denial of service viruses renders your computer useless by overloading it with fake requests. Usually, this cyber attack is implemented not to extract money or information, but to cause chaos. While the damage a denial of service attack does to the computer system isn’t permanent, it can be deeply frustrating and difficult to recover from. 

Consequently, it’s a common tool used by cyber terrorists. 

Protecting Against Cybercrime

Cybercrime can feel like an insurmountable hurdle. If it can happen to Yahoo and Marriott, or, for that matter, the entire nation of Ireland, can’t it happen to anyone? 

There’s certainly logic to this reason. But do you know what all of these breeches had in common?

Tears, regret, heartache?

Negligence. They were almost without fail, the result of a simple mistake. Someone opened the wrong email. Clicked a dicey link. Logged into the wrong wifi hotspot. Cyber security is only as strong as its weakest link. 

To that end, larger systems may actually be more vulnerable than smaller ones. As an individual, you can monitor your behavior, and avoid cyber situations that could jeopardize your cyberhealth. 

That’s much harder to do for a large organization. In fact, many of the breaches described above happened as the result of mistakes made by low to mid-level employees. Hackers are like mice. They need very small openings to get in. 

Vigilance is key. Update your firewalls, avoid dicey links, and regard emails with a healthy degree of scrutiny. 

On the Business End

None of what was said above is to imply that businesses can’t also protect themselves. If you are hoping to better secure your business’s digital infrastructure, it’s important to take it seriously at an executive level. 

Mandate training. Keep your protective software up to date. If you think your system needs an upgrade, consider the services of a cybersecurity consultant. While they can be expensive, they are cheaper than a breach, and they will provide your business with a bespoke solution to its security needs. 

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