Common cyber-security attacks, how to spot them and preventative measures

Cyber attacks appear in many guises and recognising the most common malware can help you to ensure that you are taking the correct precautions to safeguard your business from costly downtime. Here’s our guide to some of the most common attacks, their symptoms and preventative measures.


A virus might corrupt, steal or delete data – including passwords; wipe an entire hard drive, hijack your browser or disable security settings. Symptoms of a virus include slow computer boot-up, independent restarts, or repetitive crashes. Disappearing data, files or programmes are a red flag, as is an unexpected change to your internet browser’s homepage.

Often highly infectious, this type of attack spreads through your network and connected computers. Downloaded unwittingly via a malicious website or online advertising banner and carried via emails to other networks; this type of attack can blight your entire supply chain.

Anti-Virus programmes will protect you from the majority of virus dangers but, just like the common cold, they quickly evolve so you can never be 100% safe. Larger enterprises can install a second security layer to mitigate risks by spotting and blocking malicious servers and web traffic. These systems can also be programmed to automatically respond to breaches; for example, by shutting down network segments or disconnecting individual computers and devices.


Ransomware restricts access to files and displays a message that demands payment in return for their release; the threat being permanent deletion of the files if the payment is not made. Often this message indicates that the action has been taken by an official body, such as the police, and that failure to pay the fine will result in prosecution. The WannaCry attack on the NHS in 2017 is a high-profile example.

Never pay the ransom (it is unlikely that files will ever be released). This threat is likely to require support from an IT engineer and, in some rare cases, the ransomware can be removed, data recovered, and the machine repaired. The more likely scenario will rely on back-ups; so, it’s important to have a recovery plan in place, back-up your files regularly and routinely test your back-ups.


Phishing scams attempt to trick a victim into giving out personal information such as bank details; often via phone, email or text and with a message that appears to be from a legitimate source. Successful attacks can lead to significant financial loses. There are various, more sinister forms of phishing, and scammers are getting ever-more imaginative – a few examples;

• Spear Phishing: the perpetrator poses as colleague, customer or another trusted person, usually guiding the victim to a malicious website where they will download malware onto their computer.

• CEO Fraud (sometimes called ‘Whaling’): the attacker poses as a CEO or senior manager to target an individual in the business with an urgent request to transfer funds or confidential information.

The best protection against phishing is to educate your employees to spot and respond appropriately to suspicious activity. There are also programmes available on the market that can support prevention, such as by flagging suspicious-looking email addresses and messages sent from external sources, quarantining suspicious URLs and filtering attachments.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

This is far from an exhaustive list of malware; scammers are increasingly imaginative and therefore it’s vital to have anti-virus programmes installed, and a robust recovery plan in place should the worst happen. Best practice dictates that regular scanning of your infrastructure for malware is a must, as is maintaining back-up processes whilst keeping on top of security patches and software updates.

Get in touch

The Systems Assurance team is on-hand when you need to review and update your malware security systems and ensure that your business and data are as safe as they can be. Give us a call on 0114 292 2911.