PhotoThe denial of service attack that last week briefly blocked access to major web sites was amazingly simple. Hackers used malware to infect millions of internet-connected devices, then ordered them all to access Amazon and other sites at the same time.

A new report from AT&T suggests that attack may have been typical of the kinds of threats businesses are facing. Most of today's cyber-attacks, the report claims, are “known threats.” In other words, protections and protocols should be in place to mitigate them. In many cases, however, they aren't.

Because these attacks are not that complicated, the report warns that anyone from a nation state to a student is capable of bringing down an organization's network, or as we saw last Friday, of tying up a big chunk of the internet.

The AT&T study shows that 90% of companies reported a malware attack in the last year, where infected software infiltrated their network. Also, in the last year, 73% of companies reported at least one distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

Perhaps of greatest concern was that there was a 700% increase in ransomware attacks, where a hacker encrypted a company or organization's files and would not release them until a ransom was paid.

Even when an organization has adequate security procedures, an employee who makes a mistake – clicking on a bad link, for example -- can cause a dangerous breach.

The enemy we know

"The daunting depiction of newly discovered security threats often gets attention from media and business leaders alike. But in fact, most attackers are targeting businesses using forms of attacks we already know about and can help defend against," said Mo Katibeh, senior vice president of Advanced Solutions, AT&T.

That makes it important, he says, for businesses to remain on guard and constantly improve and update core security protections.

Instead of being focused on what new threats might be emerging, the AT&T report suggests organizations should build their security around the threats that are known, since those are the ones they are most likely to encounter.

In addition to keeping systems updated, the authors stress the importance of the human factor. They say employees should receive extensive training in how to avoid security breaches as part of a security culture within an organization.

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