Warning signs that could indicate a cyber breach

June 15, 2022

Advances in technology have brought about the ever-increasing risk of cyber attacks on businesses around the world. With financial information, login details and customer data becoming precious commodities, it’s essential that companies recognise the ongoing risks posed by cyber attacks. Hackers and organised criminals are continuously developing new methods and technologies to exploit online vulnerabilities. 

According to global technology giant IBM, it takes businesses an average of 228 days to identify a cyber breach and around 80 days to contain it. The costs – financial, operational and reputational – can be devastating.

So, knowing what to look for and ensuring everyone in your business remains vigilant with its cyber security is crucial. Here are some of the warning signs that could indicate a cyber breach.  

The different types of cyber attack

The cyber threat is constantly evolving, with hackers and cyber criminals developing increasingly sophisticated ways to exploit weaknesses in many businesses’ defences to steal data, information and sometimes, even money.

While cyber attacks take many forms, there are some common scams to look out for.

Malware is malicious software that infiltrates IT networks through email scams or unsecured weblinks. Once in a system, malware infects devices, software, user accounts and critical infrastructure in several ways.

Ransomware prevents users from accessing your IT systems until you pay the hackers a ‘release fee’. Spyware secretly watches your network and your employees’ online activity, gathering sensitive information and data such as login details and personal or financial records.

Viruses corrupt your network, making it unusable, behave abnormally or send data to the hackers. And worms replicate the malware quickly to spread it across your devices and networks.

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack will overload your computer systems and swamp them with traffic to prevent them from providing the service they’re supposed to.

And hackers often scan for insecure data entry forms on a website before inserting a specially crafted string of code to gain access to its back-end database. This is known as an SQL injection.

Your employees can also fall victim to cyber attack if they’re not on their guard.

Phishing is a common scam that uses unsolicited but genuine-looking emails to ask your staff to send information, such as personal data, logins and passwords or payment card details. And some cyber criminals set up fake bank or service provider websites to steal personal information from the people using them.

Hackers then use this information to access bank accounts or other online platforms, commit identity fraud, or sell it to other cyber criminals.

How to detect a cyber breach

Detecting a cyber attack remains a challenge, even for cyber security experts. However, while cyber attacks differ from business to business, depending on their type and severity, there are some common signs that could indicate a breach to look out for, including:

  • Suspicious network activity, such as login attempts or file transfers
  • Sudden – or unexpected – changes to passwords, user accounts, software or critical infrastructure
  • Suspicious system files
  • Leaked customer details, client lists or sensitive information appearing on the internet or ‘Dark Web’
  • Loss of access to your network, email, software or social media platforms
  • Unexplained or unusual website traffic or user behaviour
  • Suspicious or unexplained financial activities and transactions
  • Website speed or performance issues
  • Unusually slow network access, internet connectivity or software applications
  • Error signs in browsers, software or email accounts
  • Anti-virus or anti-malware alerts

Hackers are constantly finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and weaknesses in cyber defences, so it’s essential to be aware of current and emerging threats.

How to prevent a cyber attack

No matter how big – or small – your business is, cyber security is everyone’s responsibility.

While choosing the right managed IT services partner, like Quintech, will help you strengthen your defences, mitigate the risks and ensure business continuity, your employees also have a part to play.

Your users can often be the weakest link in the chain, so keeping them up to date with regular cyber awareness training, and ensuring they understand their roles and responsibilities and remain constantly vigilant, is vital. Some of the things your employees must look out for and report include:

Suspicious emails

As mentioned above, phishing is a common form of email scam. Cyber criminals send genuine-looking emails in the hope that people will respond with sensitive information or click on links that download malware or take the user to malicious or harmful websites. Phishing emails can be difficult to spot, so your employees should look for the tell-tale signs. Unknown senders or email addresses and online links to suspicious URLs are all red flags. Users should report any suspicious emails to your IT team straight away and not click on or reply to them, as any response can validate the email address and leave it vulnerable to future attacks.

Unusual password activity

If a user can’t gain access to their email account or software, or receives an alert saying their password has been changed when they haven’t done so, it can indicate their password or user account has been compromised. Good password discipline is vital here, and any suspicious activity should be reported immediately.

Suspicious pop-ups

While many businesses and their employees rely on the internet to carry out their everyday roles, it’s important to remain vigilant against harmful websites and content. Any suspicious pop-ups prompting your users to visit an unknown source or download some unidentified software should serve as a warning sign. Using effective web filtering software and having a robust internet use policy governing acceptable or appropriate online activity are essential and will help prevent your users from inadvertently downloading malware or viruses into your network.

Slower than usual networks or software  

While all digital technology suffers from the odd go-slow every now and then, if it happens more often than not, it could indicate a cyber breach or malware/virus infection in your network. Things your staff should look out for include slow internet connectivity or speed, and software applications taking longer than usual to load or freezing while in use. Again, reporting any suspicions to your IT department immediately can help them identify and resolve any problems.

Unpatched software

Keeping your company’s software and applications up to date with the latest versions is essential. If your software security patches aren’t up to date, it can create vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Staff disabling security features can also put your cyber security at risk, as can downloading unauthorised software to their devices. Microsoft 365 allows IT administrators to automatically send updates to user devices and control what security features they can access. It can also prevent employees from visiting unauthorised websites or trying to use unauthorised software or applications. Again, basic cyber security awareness and a robust policy covering acceptable software and internet use will help resolve many of these issues and ensure your staff are aware of their obligations.

Why choose Quintech?

Building and implementing an effective cyber security strategy is easier with the right technology partner, and that’s where Quintech can help. We’ll work with your business to understand your needs and develop the right solutions to help keep your systems, data and users safe.

From our central base, we can install, update and proactively monitor all computer systems on your network. We can also provide the latest cyber protection tools suitable for different industries at different stages of evolution and scale.

Drop us an email today at advice@quintech.co.uk or call us on 01684 882700 to find out more.