Cyber Attacks and The Motivation Behind Them

In recent years, cyber-attacks have become increasingly common and sophisticated because of the growing reliance on digital technologies and their quick developments. A cyber attack in simpler terms, is a break-in into other’s computers or networks with a specific motive using a wide range of techniques. These specific motives can range anywhere from stealing sensitive information, to causing damage to reputation, or disrupting normal operations of an organization. The motivations behind cyber attacks are as follows:

  • Financial Gain: One of the major driving forces of launching cyber attacks is financial gain. Attackers may target individuals, businesses, or organizations to steal money, banking information, credit card details, or valuable intellectual property. Cyber attacks targeting financial gains include activities like ransomware attacks, banking trojans, and financial fraud schemes.
  • Hacktivism: Put simply, hacktivism is when people use computer hacking skills to send a message or protest about a social or political issue. By using digital tools and activities such as website defacement or data leaks, they may target government websites, corporations, or organizations to promote their causes, or raise awareness about social issues.
  • Cyber Warfare: Cyber warfare refers to using computer technology to attack or defend against other countries or organizations in a conflict, usually by disrupting or disabling the other country’s critical infrastructure, communication networks, or defence systems. Activities under cyber warfare include Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, cyber espionage, and infrastructure sabotage and have significant geopolitical implications.
  • Competitive Advantage: Businesses and competitors sometimes resort to cyber attacks to gain an edge over others. This could mean stealing trade secrets, intellectual property, client lists, or strategic plans to weaken competitors or strengthen their position in the market.
  • Data Theft and Identity Theft: Another critical motivation behind cyber attacks is stealing personal data, such as social security numbers, passwords, and personal identifiable information (PII), to commit identity theft, fraud, or sell stolen data on the dark web. Most common used methods for data thefts are phishing attacks and data breaches.

Other reasons for launching a cyber attack include mischievous or thrill-seeking behaviour of the attackers, disrupting operations, causing damage, and creating chaos.

While the motivation may differ from attack to attack, it is important to understand these attacks, methods through which these attacks occur and ways to prevent such security breaches. This article dives deeper into attack vectors, the routes cyber attackers take to exploit vulnerabilities or weaknesses in security defences.

What is an Attack Vector?

An attack vector refers to the route through which an attacker gains unauthorized access to a computer system, network, or application to launch a cyber attack. Common cyber security attack vectors techniques include phishing emails, malware-infected websites, vulnerabilities in software or hardware, social engineering tactics, and more.

Attack Vector: Explanation with an Analogy

The following analogy explains an attack vector: A burglar trying to break into a rich man’s house. The burglar has different options to enter the house. These include through unlocked doors or windows, posing as a house helper, psychologically deceiving the guards to reveal entry information and so on. Attack vectors are all these ways through which the burglar gains access to the house.

What is an attack vector

How Do Attackers Exploit Attack Vectors?

Like a burglar exploiting various entry routes in the physical space, cyber attackers deploy various kinds of cyber attack vectors to reach their motive. First, they identify a target to launch the attack that will result in significant gains. Once a target is chosen, attackers gather information about the target's systems and defences. They use methods like scanning the network for vulnerabilities, or even purchasing information on the dark web.

Then using the information, attackers identify the most suitable attack vector for their goals. Then by exploiting the chosen attack vector, the attacker attempts to gain unauthorized access to the system. Upon successful entry, they might install malware to steal data or disrupt operations, establishing the path for further attacks.

Attack Vectors Classification Based on Exploitation

  • Active Attack Vectors: Active attack vectors exploit vulnerabilities in systems, networks, or applications directly to gain unauthorized access or cause harm. Major active attack vector examples include malware, SQL injection, ransomware and so on.
  • Passive Attack Vectors: Passive attack vectors involve monitoring and intercepting data transmissions or communications without directly exploiting vulnerabilities. Common examples include phishing, malicious insiders and social engineering.

What are Common Types of Attack Vectors and How can Organizations Defend Against Them?

The attack vectors largely differ in the cyberspace than the above analogy of a physical space. Here are some common types of attack vectors used by cyber attackers:

Compromised Credentials

The most commonly used attack vectors are compromised credentials, which occur when they are exposed to third parties, mainly because of weak passwords. Attackers use various methods such as phishing attacks, or fake login pages to obtain credentials like username and password. According to Google Cloud's 2023 Threat Horizons report, it was found that 86% of breaches involve stolen credentials, and credential issues account for over 60% of compromise factors.

Organizations can defend against this attack vector by implementing strong password policies, multi-factor authentication (MFA), password monitoring solutions, and constant credential monitoring.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attack is an attack in which users are baited by sending realistic messages or emails, aiming to trick recipients into providing sensitive information like login credentials or financial details. In these attacks, the attack vectors are fraudulent emails or messages sent to the targets. According to IBM, phishing is identified as the leading initial attack vector, responsible for 41% of incidents.

To protect against phishing attacks, enterprises can enforce email or spam filters, deploy MFA, security awareness training to employees, and encouraging secure browsing.


Malicious software refer to viruses, worms, trojans, and ransomware can infect systems through various means. These malware gains access to systems through email attachments, malicious websites, or compromised software, making them the attack vectors. As of 2023, over 72% of businesses worldwide were affected alone by ransomware attacks vectors, according to Statista.

To curb malware attacks, organizations must deploy endpoint security solutions, stay updated with patch management, employ network security solutions such as firewalls, enforce strict email and web filtering, network segmentation, data backup and encryption.

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks involve manipulating individuals psychologically to gain access to confidential information. Often, this is carried out through impersonation, pretexting, or exploiting human emotions. The attack vector here is usually deceiving the user through mental tricks. According to Cybersecurity Landscape Q3 2023, social engineering remained a major (37%) attack vector on organizations.

Enterprises can defend against social engineering attacks mostly by extensive security and awareness training for the employees since these attacks are psychological. They must be taught to recognize common signs of social engineering attacks, including unsolicited requests for sensitive information, urgent or suspicious emails, and unusual behaviour from colleagues or outsiders.

Exploiting Vulnerabilities

Attackers search for weaknesses software, networks, or devices, known as vulnerabilities, to gain unauthorized access. Common vulnerabilities include unpatched software, misconfigured systems, or outdated security protocols.

A critical attack vector, exploiting vulnerabilities can be prevented by regular scanning and assessment, ensuring the software, operating systems, and servers are patched, following security best practices for system configuration and staying vigilant of existing and potential vulnerabilities.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal traffic of a website, server, or network by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic. Multiple compromised devices, often part of a botnet, are used to flood a target system or network with excessive traffic, causing it to become unavailable to legitimate users.

Cloudflare automated defences mitigated 8.7 million network-layer DDoS attacks in 2023 alone, an increase of 85% from 2022.

Organizations can protect themselves from DDoS attacks by setting up strong defences. Security measures against DDoS attacks means having sufficient bandwidth for sudden traffic increases, using DDoS protection services to block harmful traffic, and using monitoring tools to monitor suspicious behaviour.

Other attack vectors include man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, insider threats, third party risks, password attacks such as brute force attacks or dictionary attacks, physical attacks and watering hole attacks.

Threat Vector Vs Attack Vector: Key Differences

  Attack Vector Threat Vector
Definition Attack vector meaning: The path or means by which an attacker gains unauthorized access A path or means by which a threat actor exploits vulnerabilities
Point of Focus Action-centric Threat-centric
Scope Covers specific methods or techniques used in attacks Encompasses a broader range of potential threats and scenarios
Purpose Describes how an attack is executed Describes potential ways through which a threat could manifest
Example A phishing email containing a malicious link is a specific attack vector A simple example of a threat vector is a vulnerable web application


How can an Organization Secure its Attack Vectors?

While it's not fully possible to secure attack vectors, organizations implement several measures and strategies for a robust cybersecurity posture. Here are a few ways through which organizations can secure their attack vectors:

  • Identify and Assess Vulnerabilities: The first step in securing attack vectors is being fully aware of vulnerabilities all the time. Organizations can conduct regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify weaknesses in systems, networks, and applications.
  • Network Segmentation: Instead of overviewing network as a whole, organizations can split network into segments or zones based on function. By limiting links between these segments, organizations can reduce the overall impact of a breach.
  • Strong Access Controls: By using strong authentication methods, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), organizations can control access to sensitive data and systems. In addition, they can adopt the principle of least privilege from the concept of zero trust or implement ZTNA solutions for a tighter control.
  • Securing Endpoints: Since endpoints can be highly vulnerable attack vectors, organizations must deploy strong measures such as endpoint security solutions, such as antivirus software, endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools, and mobile device management (MDM) solutions, to protect devices like computers, smartphones, and tablets.
  • Data Encryption: Enterprises can implement robust encryption practices and methods such as secure sockets layer (SSL), transport layer security (TLS), full disk encryption (FDE) across endpoints, networks, databases, and applications, to significantly reduce the risk of attack vectors.
  • Traffic Monitoring and Filtering: Enterprises can deploy firewalls to monitor and filter incoming and outgoing network traffic. Moreover, by Implementing intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), they can detect and respond to potential threats in real time.
  • Education and Train Awareness: Organizations should educate employees about phishing attacks, social engineering tactics, and other common threats. Encourage employees to report suspicious activities promptly. They should be encouraged enough to report any suspicious of attacks in time.

In addition to these measures, organizations can secure attack vectors by regularly updating software and systems, meticulously monitoring and analysing security events, crafting an incident response plan in place.

What is an Attack Surface?

An attack surface is essentially all the possible entry points, vulnerabilities, and avenues that a malicious actor could use to gain unauthorized access to a system, network, or organization. In short, the attack surface is the sum of all the weaknesses an attacker could exploit. The larger the attack surface, the more vulnerable the system is.

Attack Vector Vs Attack Surface Vs Threat Vector

Aspect Attack Vector Attack Surface Threat Vector
Definition Path or method used by attackers to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access Sum of all potential entry points, vulnerabilities, and avenues for attacks Path or method used by threats or attackers to exploit vulnerabilities and compromise security
Focus Specific method or technique used in an attack All possible entry points, interfaces, protocols Potential threats and their methods of attack
Example Phishing emails, malware injection, social engineering and so on Network interfaces, software applications, user interfaces, and so o Insider threats, social engineering, supply chain vulnerabilities, etc.
Perspective Attacker-centric System-centric Threat-centric


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In the 21st century, it is critically essential for organizations to protect themselves against any attack vector. Organizations can make a comprehensive layer security strategy including several innovative products and solutions for Sangfor.

Explore Sangfor's array of products and solutions today and fortify your organization against the evolving threat landscape and attack vectors. Visit us at or contact us.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Most common attack vectors include phishing attacks, malware infections, social engineering tactics, exploiting software vulnerabilities, password attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks.

A Trojan is not an attack vector itself but rather a type of malware. Attackers can use Trojans to deliver and run harmful code on target systems as part of their attack strategy.

Yes, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is an attack vector. DDoS is a cyber attack that floods a system or network with too much traffic to disrupt or disable it.

An attack vector definition is the method or pathway used by cyber attackers to gain unauthorized access to computer systems, networks, or applications. It encompasses various techniques and vulnerabilities exploited by attackers, such as phishing, malware infections, social engineering, exploiting software vulnerabilities, and more.

Threat Actor: A threat actor is someone or a group that poses a threat by doing harmful things like cyber attacks.

Attack Vector: An attack vector is a specific method or way used by attackers to carry out cyber attacks.

An attack vector is a specific method or technique used to exploit a vulnerability. A vulnerability is a weakness in a system or application that a malicious actor exploit.

Zero-day attack vectors exploit vulnerabilities in software or systems, unknown to the vendor or public. Attackers leverage these vulnerabilities before patches or updates are available.

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