A cyberattack is an attempt to undermine or compromise the function of a computer-based system, or attempt to track the online movements of individuals without their permission. Attacks of this type may be undetectable to the end user or network administrator, or lead to such a total disruption of the network that none of the users can perform even the most rudimentary of tasks. Because of the increasing sophistication of these kinds of network attacks, the development of effective software defenses is an ongoing process.
It is important to understand that a cyberattack can be relatively innocuous and not cause any type of damage to equipment or systems. This is the case with the clandestine downloading of spyware onto a server or hard drive without the knowledge or consent of the owner of the equipment. With this type of cyberattack, the main goal is usually to gather information that ranges from tracking the general movements and searches conducted by authorized users to copying and forwarding key documents or information that is saved on the hard drive or server. While the ultimate goal is to capture and transmit information that will help the recipient achieve some sort of financial gain, the spyware runs quietly in the background and is highly unlikely to prevent any of the usual functions of the system from taking place.
However, a cyberattack can be malevolent in its intent. This is true with viruses that are designed to disable the functionality of a network or even a single computer that is connected to the Internet. In situations of this nature, the purpose is not to gather information without anyone noticing, but to create problems for anyone who uses the attacked network or computers connected with that network. The end result can be loss of time and revenue and possibly the disruption of the delivery of goods and services to customers of the company impacted by the attack. Many businesses today take steps to ensure network security is constantly being enhanced to prevent these types of malicious computer attacks.
Attempts by cyberterrorists to interfere with the function of power grids and other means of delivering public services are also classified as cyberattacks. Because attacks of this kind can quickly cripple the infrastructure of a country, they are considered an ideal means of weakening a nation. A strategy utilizing a series of cyberattacks timed to simultaneously disrupt several different key systems can, in theory, render a nation unable to successfully overcome any of the attacks before a great deal of damage has taken place. Fortunately, many nations recognize the very real threat of cyberterrorism and take steps to protect government and public service systems from any type of Internet attack, as well as the manual introduction of software that could disrupt the systems.
Just as governments and corporations must be aware of the potential for a cyberattack to occur, individuals must also take steps to protect their home computers and related equipment from sustaining an attack. A basic preventive measure is to secure high quality anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and update it on a regular basis. End users should also make sure to scan and files or programs that are stored on a CDR or similar remote storage system before loading them onto a hard drive.