What is Attack Vectors in Cyber Security & Top Ways to Secure 

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On November 3rd, 2023
Reading Time 12 Minutes Reading

An attack path through which cybercriminals achieve unauthorized network access to carry out different cyber attacks is referred to as attack vectors in cyber security. Cybercriminals can acquire sensitive data, personally identifiable information (PII), and other valuable information available after a data breach by using attack vectors to take advantage of system flaws.

The average cost of a data breach is noted to be $4.35 million approx. Therefore, it’s crucial to prepare in advance to reduce attack points and avoid data breaches. For that, having a deep understanding of what an attack vector is, is important! 

Without further ado, let’s start our discussion.

Attack Vector Definition

Attack vectors in cyber security are techniques or entry points that hackers use to obtain unauthorized access to a computer, system, or network and take advantage of security flaws. Attackers use present vulnerabilities in the system to initiate attacks, steal login information, lead to data breaches, and commit other grave offenses. Examples of common attack vectors include social engineering attacks, malicious web links, email attachments, pop-up windows, sharing malware, and imposter personas in instant messages.

Let’s explore different types of entry points through which hackers sneak in.

Most Common Cyber Attack Vectors

Here are some of the most common attack vectors listed below.

  • Phishing:  It is a powerful and well-liked assault method that falls under the category of social engineering. It often aims to steal user data from victims, including login information and credit card details. Most phishing attacks aim to breach networks in order to get usernames, passwords, and other financial and account information.
  • Malware: Malware is any harmful program, such as worms, viruses, and trojans, that infects IT infrastructure with malicious code. It is difficult to completely prevent the launch of these zero-day attacks against known or discovered vulnerabilities, but organizations can significantly lower the risk by monitoring and maintaining up-to-date antivirus and firewall security. Malware infestations affect the availability of services while jeopardizing important data.
  • Ransomware: A form of virus called ransomware, encrypts files on a system or device to render them useless while aiding criminals in cyber-extortion. In exchange for a decryption key, victims are required to pay the ransom demanded by hackers. They risk having their information stolen, sold, or deleted if the ransom is not paid. (The decryption key could or might not actually exist; some victims lose their data even after paying the ransom.) Malicious links on emails and insecure remote desktop protocol connections are common ransomware attack methods.
  • SQL Injection: Servers are also posing as attack vectors in cyber security. A lot of servers that keep private information communicate using SQL, or structured query language. A malicious SQL injection forces the server to reveal information.
  • Unpatched Security Flaws: When software engineers find significant security flaws in their applications, they produce fixes and make them available for download by users. Regular patch installation can prevent hackers from taking advantage of known vulnerabilities.
  • Credential Stuffing: Weak and compromised credentials are among the most frequently used attack methods. Credentials can be compromised when user names, passwords, or other information is made available to a third party, such as through a website or mobile app. This frequently occurs when victims divulge their login information during a fraudulent phone call or on a fake website. Lost or stolen credentials give attackers the ability to gain unauthorized access to user accounts and corporate systems before escalating their level of access. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be used by users and organizations to reduce the danger of credentials being stolen. They ought to think about using a password manager if they utilize passwords. Employee education on potential cyberattack warning signs and security threats is also essential. However, relying solely on passwords and identity verification puts organizations at risk.

common attack vectors in cyber security

[Image Source: Tech Target]

  • Insider Threats:
    It is defined by the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) as the danger of harm that an insider may do to organizational equipment, facilities, information, mission, networks, personnel, resources, or systems, whether intentionally or unintentionally, using his or her authorized access. Whether on purpose or accidentally, employees risk putting the entire company at risk when they reveal sensitive information to attackers. Because they originate from people who have legitimate access to systems and sensitive information but are angry or unhappy enough to hide their behavior, insider attacks are frequently challenging to identify. Finding odd activity connected to insider assaults requires constant observation to ascertain what normal behavior is.
  • Session Hijacking: By gaining the session ID, an adversary hijacks or takes control of a valid user’s session during a cyberattack. Once the criminal has control of the session, they can pretend to be the compromised user and gain access to any assets or systems the user is authorized to use.
  • Issue Related to Encryption: To safeguard digital data, encryption hides the contents of messages and transforms them into ciphertext or codes. This makes sure that hackers and uninvited parties cannot read a message’s data or take private information. Sensitive information that is sent in plaintext with inadequate, absent, or weak encryption runs the risk of being uncovered by a brute-force assault. Sensitive data is always protected during processing, at rest, and in transit thanks to technologies like TripleDES (Data Encryption Standard), Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA), and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
  • DDoS: An attacker launches a DDoS assault by saturating a server with internet traffic using numerous workstations or a botnet. Access to services is hampered, and the website of the organization may crash. Filtering traffic with firewalls, limiting the number of requests a server can handle with rate-limiting, conducting routine risk assessments, and diffusing traffic via traffic distinction are all ways to defend against DDoS attacks.
  • Man in The Middle: A hacker who places themselves between a user and an application is known as a man in the middle (MITM) attack, and they frequently do this by taking advantage of open Wi-Fi networks. So, these also fall under attack vectors in cyber security. Then again, this type of intrusion usually involves the offender pretending to be one of the participants or listening in on the discussion in order to steal important information even if it appears as though a normal exchange had happened.

Attack Vector – Is It Same as Attack Surface?

Though the attack vector and attack surface sound the same, in reality, the concept totally different. 

The attack surface is made up of all points on the network where a hacker might try to access data or systems without authorization. A larger company may have a vast attack surface, with potentially hundreds of attack pathways leaving potentially hundreds of thousands of targeted assets exposed. As a result, protecting an attack surface may require real-time monitoring of hundreds of billions of signals.

Whereas, an attack vector in cyber security is the pathway or entry point that attackers use to infiltrate or breach a network. In fact, certain attack vectors target humans having network access and/or vulnerabilities in overall infrastructure and security.

Hackers who make use of cyber security attack vectors may be professional hacking groups or individuals, angry ex-employees, rival companies looking for a competitive edge, hacktivists or organized political-motivated groups, or organizations supported by actual governments. Thus, it’s crucial to know they exploit these entry points.

How Attack Vectors Are Exploited?

Generally, attack vectors in cyber security are exploited in two ways – Passive attack & Active attack.

Passive Attack

A passive attack is when an attacker searches a system for open ports or security holes in an effort to learn more about their target. Because they don’t alter data or system resources, passive attacks can be challenging to identify. The attacker attempts to compromise the confidentiality of an organization’s data rather than harm its systems.

Active reconnaissance involves the attacker engaging with target systems using techniques like port scans, while passive reconnaissance involves the attacker monitoring a target organization’s systems for vulnerabilities without interacting with them.

Active Attack

An active attack vector is one that seeks to obstruct, harm, or otherwise negatively impact an organization’s system resources or everyday operations. This involves hackers using malware and other scams to target users’ weak passwords, as well as hackers using denial-of-service (DoS) assaults to exploit system flaws.

Masquerade attacks, in which an intruder impersonates a trusted user and steals login information to acquire access privileges to system resources, are a frequent illustration of active attacks. Cybercriminals frequently employ active attack techniques to gather the data required to launch a more extensive cyberattack against an organization. Apart from the above ways, cybercriminals came up with a new leading attack vector – APIs. Businesses use APIs to link services and move data. Serious data breaches frequently have exposed, malfunctioned, or compromised APIs at their core. Thus, Strong API security is required to prevent the exposure of sensitive financial, medical, and personal data.

How to Keep Attack Vectors Safe from Cybercriminals?

Attackers use a variety of strategies to break into corporate networks and compromise IT resources. IT teams must frequently change the tools, procedures, and policies they use to defend against cyberattacks since the specific approaches are constantly evolving.

Here are 8 effective ways to protect attack vectors in cyber security.

  • Strong authentication should be used, and organizations should have password rules in place to make sure that all usernames and passwords are secure and kept in the right places. To add an additional layer of security, MFA ought to be required, at the very least for administrator accounts and sensitive systems.
  • Vulnerability assessment & penetration testing (VAPT) is a technique that enables businesses to find, prioritize, and test security flaws. The penetration tests are typically carried out by an ethical hacker, either as an internal employee or an outside service provider. To evaluate the hackability of a network, application, or computer system, penetration testers mimic attackers’ approaches. 
  • Regular audits — Organizations should carry out tests of their IT systems’ vulnerabilities at least once every three months, with external auditors carrying them out once a year. Organizations can update their security controls and policies by using tests and audits to discover IT resource vulnerabilities. 
  • Cyber security training of employees — Each new hire must receive thorough IT security instruction. For all staff to stay current on security rules and best practices, training should be provided periodically (at least annually).
  • Software, hardware, and firmware upgrades must be installed as soon as they are made available by the IT department. A “push” technique should be used to automatically deliver security updates to field devices.
  • There are many techniques to limit access to sensitive company systems and data, including the implementation of a closed network. Remote access is made possible via cloud-based systems. Businesses with BYOD policies must put measures in place to safeguard their infrastructure while enabling users to connect to the network using their own devices. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can be used as a tactic to limit access to a certain group of users while preventing the disclosure of data to the general Internet.
  • Strong data encryption is essential for protecting data on edge devices like laptops and cellphones, which are portable devices. To reduce the danger of a data compromise, organizations might choose a strong encryption technique like Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). 
  • Implementing physical access controls — While IT infrastructure is typically the target of hacks and data breaches, physical infrastructure can also serve as an attack vector. Attackers are able to breach the physical boundaries of storage facilities, data centers, and servers that house critical information. Access to physical assets such as filing cabinets, field sensors, and branch offices must be secured and monitored by organizations. 


Q- What is an attack vector?

An attack vector is a mechanism or means through which a hacker might compromise the security of a system, network, or application by taking advantage of a weakness in it.

Q- How can I defend my company against potential points of attack?

Implementing security best practices, keeping software and systems current, using strong authentication techniques, educating personnel about security, and utilizing intrusion detection and prevention systems are all ways to protect against attack vectors.

Q- What does a zero-day attack vector mean?

An exploit described as a “zero-day attack vector” makes use of a software or hardware vulnerability that the vendor is not yet aware of, making it challenging to defend against in the absence of patches or updates.

Q- Is it possible to think of physical security as an attack vector?

Indeed, a physical security breach could occur. Unauthorized access to real estate, machinery, or other resources is involved, and this can result in security incidents or data breaches.

Q- Are there any attack vectors that can target mobile devices?

Certainly, there are ways for attacks to target mobile devices. Malicious apps, email scams, and other techniques are available for attackers to target mobile devices in an effort to breach privacy and data.

Q- What effects might an effective attack vector have?

Depending on the type of attack, a successful attack vector can have a wide range of effects. Data breaches, monetary losses, harm to one’s reputation, and legal repercussions for both persons and companies are possible outcomes.

Q- How can I keep up with the most recent threats and attack vectors?

To be updated with the latest cyber threats, you can subscribe to cybersecurity newsletters, read informative blogs, and regularly review reports on recent cyberattacks.

Q- Are some industries more vulnerable to a given attack vector than others?

Indeed, some industries might be more vulnerable to particular types of attacks. For instance, ransomware attacks may target healthcare organizations, whereas malware attacks frequently target financial institutions.