Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting computer systems, networks, applications, and data from digital threats, malicious attacks, and unauthorized access. It encompasses a range of strategies, technologies, and processes designed to safeguard digital environments from evolving cyber risks.
The purpose of cybersecurity is to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information and technology resources in the face of cyber threats, software vulnerabilities, and system weaknesses. To be most effective, however, cybersecurity needs to be proactive. Instead of responding to incidents after they occur, proactive cybersecurity focuses on identifying and addressing vulnerabilities and threats before they can be executed. It is becoming increasingly clear that proactive security can only be possible with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Just as bad actors are embracing AI and applications such as generative AI to enhance their attack campaigns, defenders must employ automated protections through machine learning in order to maintain resilience in an ever-expanding arms race between cybercriminals and security teams.
Achieving security with resiliency and effectively balancing the customer experience are the benchmarks of a positive cybersecurity model, with the understanding that threats (and mitigations) will never stop evolving.
On the other hand, erecting an unbreachable barricade around computing infrastructure and digital assets (e.g., a strict secure posture) is not in itself a successful cybersecurity strategy. Neither is security through obscurity. Security professionals need to accurately assess cybersecurity risk based on likelihood and impact; that is to say, the chance or probability that a specific threat will exploit a specific vulnerability, weighed against the impact or damage that would result if the exploit took place. Cybersecurity is a complex discipline, involving a constantly evolving threat landscape, a wide range of attack vectors, and the need to balance security with usability.
Additionally, security is becoming more business critical as organizations transform digitally, and has largely transformed from an operational cost model to a business enabler and competitive advantage.
Cybersecurity threats are continually evolving as malicious actors develop new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). However, many risks have evolved from the following established forms of cyber threats, or are hybrid (or blended) attacks that combine TTPs for greater malicious impact.
Malware is malicious software, often delivered via email or clickable links in messages and is designed to infect systems and compromise their security. Common types of malware include viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, and increasingly, ransomware.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a system’s data, effectively holding an organization’s data hostage, with the attacker demanding payment (ransom) to unlock the data or provide the decryption key.
Phishing are attacks that involve deceptive email or messages that trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or personal data.
Social engineering attacks involve manipulating behavioral or psychological traits to deceive victims into divulging confidential information, or to take actions or make decisions that compromise security. Phishing and social engineering are often used in combination to manipulate victims and can be quite targeted, such as a phishing email followed by a phone call from someone impersonating a trusted individual (i.e., from a bank or the IT department).
Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks degrade infrastructure by flooding the target resource with traffic, overloading it to the point of inoperability. A denial-of-service (DoS) attack can also be initiated through a specifically crafted message that impairs application performance; for example, a web request that generates a complex SQL query resulting in high CPU usage and degraded system performance. DDoS attacks involve multiple sources or a botnet, which is a network of compromised computers or devices under the control of an attacker who coordinates these multiple sources and launches the attack against the target.
Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks occur when an attacker intercepts communications between two parties without their knowledge or consent, allowing the attacker to eavesdrop on the conversation, steal information, or even manipulate the data being transmitted. MitM attacks can happen in a number of ways: An attacker may intercept wireless communications within a public Wi-Fi network, or may engage in session hijacking, when attackers steal session cookies or tokens to impersonate users and gain unauthorized access to web applications.
Insider threats are security risks posed by individuals within an organization who have access to the organization's systems, data, or networks. These individuals may be current or former employees, contractors, partners, or anyone with legitimate access privileges. Insider threats can be intentional or unintentional and can result in various types of cybersecurity incidents including sabotage, data theft, mishandling of data, and falling for phishing or social engineering attacks.
Web application attacks are malicious activities directed at web applications, websites, and web services, with the aim of exploiting vulnerabilities and compromising their security. App modernization efforts and the resulting evolution of many traditional web apps to API-based systems across hybrid and multi-cloud environments has dramatically increased the threat surface.
There are many risks security teams must consider for web apps and APIs, including:
Following are definitions and descriptions of specialized terms and concepts that relate to cyberattacks.
Zero-day exploit refers to a cybersecurity attack that takes advantage of a software vulnerability or security flaw that has not been disclosed. These exploits occurs before software vendors or developers have had the opportunity to release a patch or fix for the zero-day vulnerability. Zero-day attacks are particularly dangerous because they target systems that could lack mitigation capabilities or visibility into the vulnerability exploit, as there is no available patch or potentially stopgap measures to protect against the attack.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are sophisticated, long-term cyberattacks carried out by organized cybercrime groups or nation-state actors with significant resources and expertise, often for the purpose of espionage, data theft, sabotage, or misinformation that can lead to global instability. APTs are characterized by their persistence and stealth, and these attacks often span an extended period, with the primary goal of maintaining unauthorized access to a target's network or systems while remaining undetected. The APT lifecycle can last for years, beginning with reconnaissance and initial compromise and extending through data collection and exfiltration.
Log Management, which store and manage vast quantities of log and event data. They provide tools for indexing, searching, and archiving this data, making it accessible for analysis and compliance purposes.
Security Event Correlation, which searches data from multiple sources to identify patterns and anomalies that may indicate security threats. This correlation helps in distinguishing normal activities from potential security incidents.
Threat Intelligence, which some SIEM systems offer by integrating third-party, real-time threat feeds to block or detect new types of attack signatures in addition to the system’s ability to identify known threats and indicators of compromise (IoCs).
Authentication and access control are fundamental elements of cybersecurity, helping to ensure that only authorized users can access systems, data, and resources. Implementing best practices in these areas, including the principle of least privilege and zero trust security, is crucial for safeguarding sensitive information and maintaining the integrity of an organization's digital environment.
Authentication and access controls methodologies include:
Implementing network security measures protect against various threats, including cyberattacks, data breaches, and unauthorized access, to help safeguard network infrastructure and digital assets.
Network security measures include the following:
Firewalls. Firewalls are an essential component of cybersecurity that help organizations protect their digital resources, maintain data privacy, and defend against a wide range of cyber threats, including malware, hacking attempts, denial-of-service attacks, and unauthorized access. They are typically deployed at perimeter points, such as between an organization's internal network and the Internet, to control traffic entering and exiting the device or network according to established security rules or policies. However, firewalls typically inspect outbound traffic as users traverse the Internet and lack the proxy and performance capabilities to adequately secure inbound traffic to web apps and APIs. There are multiple types of firewalls, including:
Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) are cybersecurity tools that analyze and assess the integrity of network traffic to identify known attack patterns, abnormal activities, and unauthorized use. When a threat is detected, these systems alert an organization’s security professionals so further action can be taken. It is important to note that IDS has lost popularity due to the advantages of Intrusion Protection Systems (IPS), which can detect and enforce in real-time; in part through efficient signatures. Two types of IDS tools are:
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) establish secure, encrypted connections between a user's remote device and corporate infrastructure, often located in a different geographical location. When a user connects to a VPN, the Internet traffic is routed through an encrypted tunnel, protecting it from potential eavesdroppers or hackers and masking the user's IP address. This enhances online privacy and security, as the data transmitted is unreadable without the decryption key.
VPNs have become an integral part of many organization’s security strategies as they essentially extend the enterprise network perimeter and allow users to securely access corporate applications anywhere. VPNs became essential during the pandemic, as millions of remote workers working from home needed to connect securely to corporate resources over the Internet. VPNs are also commonly used for protecting sensitive information, accessing geo-restricted content, and maintaining anonymity onli
While VPNs provide enhanced security and privacy for online activities, they are not immune to security challenges. Because users typically initiate a VPN connection from a remote endpoint device, these endpoints become both access points and prime targets for attackers. Ensuring that the endpoint is secured before it is granted a remote access connection to the corporate network is necessary to protect the communication and the infrastructure to which it connects.
Strong authentication controls for both users and devices are also necessary to reduce the security risks that VPNs present. Ensure the use of strong passwords and multifactor authentication to authenticate users, and if possible, deploy hardened company-provided devices to remote workers, complete with client certificates and endpoint protection.
Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) and Security Service Edge (SSE) are elements of cloud-based security. CASB is a security policy enforcement point that is placed between enterprise cloud service consumers and cloud service providers to interject enterprise security policies as cloud resources are accessed. CASB solutions offer a range of security benefits that allow enterprises to mitigate risk, enforce policies such as authentication and credential mapping across various applications and devices, prevent sensitive data leakage, and maintain regulatory compliance.
SSE is a network and security architecture that integrates multiple cloud-based security services and Wide Area Network (WAN) capabilities into a cloud-native solution. SSE is designed to provide comprehensive security and network services directly from the cloud, while maintaining enterprise security policies, making it an important component of the modern security landscape.
CASB and SSE are important elements of a zero trust framework, which emphasizes the principle of "never trust, always verify." This means that no user, device, or system should be trusted by default, regardless of their location or network connection. CASB and SSE can enhance zero trust principles by providing additional visibility, control, and security measures for cloud-based resources. CASB and SSE solutions also support strong authentication and identity verification, as well as enforcement of granular access controls based on user roles and permissions, device trustworthiness, and other contextual factors, which are key elements of zero trust principles.
Data encryption is a fundamental component of modern cybersecurity and is used to protect sensitive information in various contexts, including storage and transmission. During the encryption process, algorithms use encryption keys to convert regular data or information (“plaintext”) into code or “ciphertext” to protect it from unauthorized access or use. To reverse the encryption process and convert ciphertext back into plaintext, the recipient (or authorized user) must possess the corresponding decryption key. This ensures that even if someone gains access to the encrypted data, they cannot read or understand it without the appropriate decryption key.
Three primary forms of encryption are:
Patch management plays a critical role in ensuring the security and integrity of computer systems, applications, and networks. Developing policies with clear procedures and schedules can help organizations identify and apply updates promptly to address vulnerabilities, reduce the attack surface, and minimize the risk of exploitation by cybercriminals. This is increasingly important since the number of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) being published is accelerating, and is expected to reach a cadence of 500 new CVEs in a typical week in 2025.
Effective patch management is an ongoing process and includes the following strategies:
Developing and maintaining incident response and recovery plans are critical components of a cybersecurity strategy that helps organizations prepare for, respond to, and recover from cyberattacks and breaches. This strategy should include the following components:
Cybersecurity continues to evolve and adapt to new threats and to meet new challenges. Emerging trends in cybersecurity reflect not just the changing threat landscape but also major advancements in technology. These trends include:
Numerous compliance requirements and regulations establish cybersecurity standards that organizations and government entities must adhere to protect sensitive data and mitigate cyber threats. In addition, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, serves as a national hub for cybersecurity information, and the agency operates a 24/7 situational awareness, analysis, and incident response center. CISA provides a National Cyber Incident Response Plan that delineates the role that private sector entities, state and local governments, and multiple federal agencies play in responding to cybersecurity incidents. CISA also offers Incident Response Training that promotes basic cybersecurity awareness and advocates best practices to help organizations prepare an effective response if a cyber incident occurs, and strategies to prevent incidents from happening in the first place. Major compliance requirements and regulations include:
Increasingly sophisticated cyber threats highlight the need for ongoing security training and certification to keep current with the evolving threat landscape and gain necessary specialized skills. In fact, there is a general shortage of IT security professionals and many academic institutions and training programs struggle to keep up with the demand. Cybersecurity is a complex and multidisciplinary field that encompasses various domains and requires a curiosity mindset, and finding professionals with expertise in all these areas can be difficult.
Perhaps the most highly respected cybersecurity certification is the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which is awarded by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)². The CISSP certification is a globally recognized benchmark for information security professionals, and typically requires at least five years of cumulative work experience and passage of a rigorous exam.
Another leading cybersecurity training and certification organization is EC-Council, which offers a wide range of courses and trainings for professional security positions, including a certification as a Certified Ethical Hacker. This program specializes in teaching how to test the security of computer systems, networks, and applications using the techniques of malicious hackers. By identifying vulnerabilities before cybercriminals can exploit them, ethical hackers help protect sensitive information and critical infrastructure from cyberattacks.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is another leading cybersecurity training and certification organization. CompTIA’s Security+ is a global certification that validates the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions and enables successful candidates to pursue an IT security career.
Awareness of cybersecurity threats and best practices for mitigating them is crucial for protecting your organization’s sensitive information, critical assets, and infrastructure. This knowledge allows you to take proactive steps to protect against these threats and attack methods and put in place effective risk management and incident response plans that can enable your organization to respond quickly and effectively to unplanned events. This can greatly minimize the impact of a cybersecurity incident and speed up the recovery process.
F5 offers a comprehensive suite of cybersecurity offerings that deliver robust protection for apps, APIs, and the digital services they power. These solutions—including WAFs, API security, bot defense, and DDoS mitigation—protect apps and APIs across architectures, clouds, and ecosystem integrations, reducing risk and operational complexity while accelerating digital transformation and reducing total cost of app security. Our security solutions just work—for legacy and modern apps, in data centers, in the cloud, at the edge, in the architecture you have now, and the ones that will support your organization in the years to come.
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