5 Common Cybersecurity Threats and How to Prevent Them

In our new hybrid world, users work from anywhere – with many new ways that applications and devices are connected. This puts a lot of responsibility on end users, as many of the most common and pervasive cybersecurity threats, like phishing, start with them. This often makes people, not technology, the first line of defense in an organization's efforts to fend off bad actors.

Throughout this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month, we focused on our vision of a world where each day is safer and more secure than the one before, in which everyone plays a part in protecting our digital way of life. We’ve provided tips to help identify and minimize risk, from simple but effective phishing tactics that can lead to malware, to more evasive attacks like zero day exploits. To best protect your organization, you need to know what to protect against, and how to keep everyone informed of and educated on the latest cybersecurity threats. Here are five common threats and how you can prevent them.

DNS Attacks

The Domain Name System (DNS) – which translates website domains to IP addresses – carries an enormous amount of data, making it one of a threat actor’s greatest tool to carry out attacks. However, many organizations view DNS as a simple protocol that cannot be used for harm, and therefore, don’t see the need for a DNS security solution.

Unfortunately, 85% of modern threats today abuse DNS for malicious activity, according to the Unit 42 threat research team. Without a proper security solution in place to defend against DNS traffic, organizations are at risk for data theft, phishing or other malicious attacks. So, what do you need to secure against these modern day DNS attacks? A complete DNS Security solution needs complete visibility into DNS traffic, Cloud-Based Protection, category-based actions and other essentials to fully protect against DNS attacks. In order to protect your organization against modern-day threats utilizing DNS, check out our ebook, “Protecting Your Network From Evolving DNS-Layer Threats.”


Malware, short for malicious software, is an umbrella term for viruses, trojans or other destructive computer programs that threat actors use to infect systems with the purpose of gaining access to sensitive information. Malware can be used to describe many different types of attacks, but usually has one of the following objectives:

  • Providing remote control access for an attacker.
  • Sending spam from the infected machine to unsuspecting targets.
  • Investigating the local network.
  • Stealing sensitive data.

Though malware is dangerous, there are options to protect against malware, including Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs), network intrusion prevention systems (IPS), deep packet inspection (DPI) capabilities, unified threat management systems, antivirus and anti-spam gateways, virtual private networks (VPN), content filtering and data leak prevention systems.

Ultimately, a multi-technique approach is needed, as well as real-time analysis to prevent the most evasive threats. Though a lot of organizations turn to network sandboxing solutions for malware analysis, these traditional solutions affect user productivity and are slow to predict verdicts. With our Wildfire malware prevention service, you can eliminate the need to compromise security for performance by adopting a prevention-first posture.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is the most common and pervasive threat that organizations deal with today. Phishing is a form of social engineering where attackers attempt to trick a user into clicking a malicious link or downloading an attachment containing malware. Due to the hybrid work environment, users have even more opportunity of falling victim to a phishing attack, which can lead to other more serious attacks, like malware.

As phishing attacks increase in volume, due to the ease of deployment and availability of low-cost phishing kits, it’s more imperative than ever to prevent phishing through user education, in addition to deploying a URL filtering solution which can analyze the unknown link or file and implement policies to prevent access if it is determined to be malicious.

However, traditional URL filtering lacks the capabilities to prevent new and evasive web-based threats. Any solution needs to be able to analyze live customer traffic as it enters their network, with the ability to prevent threats in real time. Our Advanced URL Filtering subscription is the only web security solution in the industry that uses inline deep learning capabilities to enforce real-time protection against evasive threats, like phishing.

Zero Day Exploits

Every year, thousands of vulnerabilities are discovered, and trends like remote work and cloud computing are increasing the risk of exploitation. In addition, threat actors have accelerated their vulnerability response times; they begin scanning for exposures within 15 minutes of a zero-day disclosure, forcing security teams to respond quickly to prevent successful attacks.

In 2021, the Apache Log4j vulnerability overshadowed all other vulnerabilities, with over 11 million attack sessions observed in less than one month after its disclosure. While attackers continue to target older vulnerabilities, zero-days pose an enormous risk due to both the volume of attacks and the challenge organizations face mitigating them before a patch is released.

Whether the ultimate objective is data theft, ransomware deployment, cryptocurrency mining, or another nefarious scheme, successful zero-day attacks can cost organizations millions of dollars. Responding to zero-day threats requires a Zero Trust strategy to help protect organizations from breaches, including ones originating from zero-day exploits.

Rooted in the principle of “never trust, always verify,” Zero Trust relies on multiple layers of security, including network segmentation, strong authentication, threat prevention and inline deep learning, to protect users and applications. All of these layers help limit the blast radius of a zero-day attack, but inline deep learning combats threats in real time, empowering multiple teams to mitigate zero-day threats quickly. Learn how your organization can leverage inline deep learning to stop today’s most sophisticated attacks as they happen by downloading our white paper, “Requirements for Preventing Evasive Threats.”

Unsecured Devices (IoT Devices)

An IoT device is essentially any network-connected physical asset that isn't a computer. While enterprise IT teams protect standard IT devices with traditional network security technology and protocols, securing IoT is an unaddressed challenge in many organizations. Standard cybersecurity systems are incapable of recognizing and identifying either the specific types of IoT devices or the unique risk profiles and expected behaviors associated with them.

In addition, IoT devices can be deployed by any business center, thereby bypassing typical network security controls and processes. All of these network-connected IoT devices – printers, cameras, sensors, projectors, IP phones, HVAC, smart appliances, infusion pumps, handheld scanners, literally thousands of different devices – are using different hardware, chipsets, operating systems and firmware that introduce vulnerabilities and risk. Without robust IoT security, any connected device is vulnerable to breach, compromise and control by a bad actor to ultimately infiltrate the network, steal enterprise data and bring down systems.

The overarching challenge for security in IoT is that as large volumes of managed and unmanaged IoT devices continue to connect to the network, a dramatic expansion of the attack surface is happening in parallel. Ultimately, the entire network security posture is diminished to the level of integrity and protection offered to the least secure device. In addition to these challenges, 98% of all IoT device traffic is unencrypted, putting personal and confidential data at severe risk.

An effective security strategy must protect all devices and the networks they are connected to throughout the IoT security lifecycle. Palo Alto Networks IoT Security works with NGFWs to dynamically discover devices, assess and reduce risk, prevent threats, and monitor device behavior. To learn more about a lifecycle approach to IoT Security, check out this guide to the 5 Must Haves in a Best-in-Class IoT Security Solution.

Since 2004, the President of the United States and Congress has declared October to be Cybersecurity Awareness Month, to help individuals and organizations protect themselves online as threats to technology and confidential data become more commonplace. Learn more about the latest threats and how you can strengthen your cybersecurity posture by reading our 2022 Unit 42 Network Threat Trends Research Report.