Understanding the five key phases of a hacking attack to fortify your business IT

The term ‘Hacking’ has been in the public consciousness for decades and the activities of the nefarious individuals or groups that use it are synonymous with cybercrime. Although the term is very familiar to most people, what does it mean for a modern business, how can you recognise the signs, and what are the best ways to defend your business?

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Put simply, a hacking attack is a cyberattack which targets computer information systems, computer networks, infrastructures, personal computer devices, smartphones, and/or the people using them, to gain unauthorised access to the systems and data they contain. Typically, these criminals are looking to exploit an attack for financial gain, but in other cases the aim is to disrupt operations by disabling access to IT systems.

Threat actors can be anyone, ranging from a single person attempting to obtain stolen credentials and hold them for ransom, or organised criminal gangs looking to steal money, assets or data, through to a state-sponsored contingent looking to disrupt operations on foreign soil.  

Whatever the motivations of the parties involved, to effectively prevent a hacking attack, you need to understand the stages involved and how a hacker operates to undermine your systems. Unfortunately detection isn’t always easy, as many attacks rely on stealth tactics that enable actions to be carried out covertly without any disruption or obvious red flags. However, the earlier you can detect a potential attack and put measures in place to defend your systems, the harder it is for a hacker to be successful.

Understanding the most common types of attack

When considering your cyber defences, it is important to understand your enemy and the common types of cyber-attack. According to the Council of the European Union the Top Cyber Threats in the EU include:

Malware – Malicious software which is designed to damage, disrupt, or gain unauthorised access to a device (often downloaded unwittingly by an unsuspecting person).
Ransomware Attacks – Where cybercriminals take control of the target’s IT and data assets and demand a ransom for its release.
Social Engineering threats – Whereby human error or human behaviour is exploited (such as unwittingly giving passwords or other sensitive information/details) to gain access to information or services.
Distributed Denial-of-Service – Where attacks prevent users of a system or network from accessing relevant information, services, or other resources.

Click here if you want to learn more about the biggest cyber threats

The typical pattern of a hacking attack 

To protect your organisation effectively, you also need to understand the typical pattern of attack. Whilst the specifics can vary, a hacker’s attack will typically follow a set overall pattern as it infiltrates and ultimately compromises your organisation’s IT systems.  

The most likely chain of events is:

  1. Gather information,  
  2. Prepare the attack,  
  3. Penetrate for the first time,  
  4. Gain control,  
  5. Complete the mission.  

Countermeasures to help prevent or disrupt a hacking attack 

To successfully repulse a hacking attack, it is important that your business’ security regime operates to block most, if not all these key stages. There are fundamental steps you can take at each stage to frustrate a potential cyber-attack to either neutralise or manage the threat. 

How a hacker will attack your organisation: 

Phase 1:

Gathering Information: Hackers will collect any available information that is publicly available about your organisation and its systems (potentially displayed online or which could be seen in publicly accessible areas of your organisation’s premises, such as a reception area etc).  

Defence: It is important that you limit this information from public view – obviously including passwords, login, and personal details, but also server details and even email addresses which could be used for intelligence gathering. Sensitive details should never be written down and available for unauthorised people to see them.  

Phase 2:

Preparing to Attack: Hackers will look for vulnerabilities, such as backdoor access, software that is not updated, or unwary people giving away details.  

Defence: Closing these security gaps, with regular software updates and restriction of user access, along with ensuring team members don’t unwittingly divulge sensitive information, will significantly help to frustrate hackers’ attempts. 

Phase 3:

Penetrate for the First Time: This is a crucial point for the hackers, they will look to exploit any previous inroads (phishing emails, Trojans etc) and will aim to quietly consolidate their attack.  

Defence: Even if your organisation has an expensive firewall in place, if other vulnerabilities are left open this can be taken advantage of. It is still important to make any possible attack vectors as difficult as possible, to make the process less attractive to hackers.

Phase 4:

Gain Control: The hackers will now look to gain the highest levels of access to your systems.  

Defence: At this stage your counter-offensive needs to be based upon organisational processes and the education of your team on not sharing or giving permission for access to others. This can be frustrating for some of your team during normal operations, but it will also frustrate hackers when they are unable to simply gain access to critical systems. 

Phase 5:

Complete the Mission: Once the hackers have successfully infiltrated your systems and begun stealing/leaking data, and/or looking to blackmail you through the use of Denial of Service/ransomware, it is too late to reverse the damage.  

Defence: All you can do now is contain the problem and have an effective incident response plan in place which details the steps to take (usually with the assistance of an expert IT security provider at hand). 

How Konica Minolta can help

Instigating these hacking defence measures can be somewhat daunting, which is where the assistance of an expert security partner is invaluable. Konica Minolta provides Enterprise-grade IT security support for SMBs and understands your IT security requirements, your pain-points, and your operational needs. 

Martin Mølvig, Head of Security Services at Konica Minolta Europe commented, “We believe that comprehensive information security is only possible if areas such as IT security, data security, the protection of multifunctional print systems, and the security of any video security systems, as well as building and perimeter protection, are considered together.” This is important for tackling cyberthreats and can also help your organisation to meet its compliance obligations too, such as the new NIS2 regulations for example.” 

Konica Minolta's experts first analyse the current security status of your business IT systems, analysing the effectiveness of firewalls and antivirus solutions, along with network access, mobile systems, encryption concepts, the access and data security of MFPs (multi-functional print devices), the protection of building access and security in relevant areas, organisational principles, and the level of awareness of employees. From this, the expert team will develop a full cybersecurity concept that eliminates any current weak points and ensures protections are in place to meet your future security threat requirements. 

Help with your cybersecurity requirements

For further information and insights into protecting your business' cybersecurity please download your free cybersecurity guide.
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