You may have heard the terms “Attack Vector” or “Attack Surface.” The difference between them is that Attack Surface is the total number of attack vectors that an attacker can use to compromise a network or computer system or extract data. There are several well-known vectors that you, the user, can use to effectively manage your attack surface. In this article, I will go over some of the vectors and some mitigation in hopes it will help you stay safe.
Compromised credentials. Usernames and passwords are still the most used access method. There are some easy-to-use methods to protect yourself from this, such as using a password manager, turning on two factor authentication, using biometrics. Most new phones and tablets come with some of these features. You just need to configure them.
Weak passwords. According to NordPass 1, the weakest passwords are variations of “123456” which they report take less than 1 second to compromise. You should also stay away from nicknames, your pet’s name, and anything that someone can find out by eavesdropping or from your social media account.
Ransomware / Malware. Invest in antiviral software and keep it up to date. Also keep your device software and firmware up to date, as there are new exploits being found daily.
Phishing. This is a technique that attempts to trick you into revealing sensitive data, credentials, or personally identifiable information (PII). The bottom line is if you don’t recognize the sender, don’t respond and the attack will fail.
Downloading Apps. If you need or want to download an application for your device, use a branded “App Store” like the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. While they are not 100% malware free, they do try and find the bad stuff before it gets to you.
Unused Services and Apps. You should make it a practice to audit your device periodically for unused/unneeded apps or services. If you find some, then delete or turn them off as needed. Some applications may turn on services like tracking that you may not be aware of or have forgotten about.
VPN. Virtual Private Networks use software to encrypt your traffic so unauthorized people can’t read it. There are a lot of vendors out there who offer this service. Some anti-virus products include VPN as part of their offering.
Public Wi-Fi. This is something that just about every hotel, restaurant, store, hospital, and some public buildings offer. In most cases it is free of charge and very convenient to use. It is also dangerous. If you choose to use public Wi-Fi, consider using a VPN. Without a VPN, it’s a very easy process to intercept your traffic and steal anything of importance, with the victim being none the wiser.
While all the actions above won’t guarantee you won’t fall victim to a cyber-criminal, they will make you a harder target and the attacker may bypass you for a softer target.
By John McGaha, Enterprise Security Systems Engineer, AFSOC C2MS