5 Cybersecurity Threats to Know in 2024

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

As technology advances, cybersecurity is more important than ever. Learn about some of the most common threats you may face as a cybersecurity professional.

[Featured image] A cybersecurity analyst researches new cybersecurity threats on a desktop computer in an office.

As digital technologies become more important to the services we rely on every day, so too does strong cybersecurity. But, knowing the importance of these systems, cybercriminals seek to undermine them in an attempt to gain valuable data and sensitive information to commit crimes that can be as lucrative as they are damaging. 

Unsurprisingly, then, cybersecurity is a growing field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for information security analysts – the job category under which many cybersecurity positions fall – is projected to grow by 35 percent between 2021 and 2031 [1]. That’s significantly higher than the only 5 percent average growth the BLS projects for all jobs in the country during the same period. 

In this article, you’ll learn about some of the top threats that cybersecurity professionals face in 2023. You’ll also explore some cost-effective, flexible courses you can take to gain job-relevant skills today. 

What is a threat in cybersecurity?

In cybersecurity, a threat is any kind of action that has the potential to negatively impact an organization’s operations, procedures, systems, or data. Bad actors, such as hackers and scammers, exploit vulnerabilities within a digital security system to gain information, disrupt operations, and commit crimes like fraud and identity theft. 

Common types of cybersecurity threats

Digital systems are integral to the daily operations of organizations and services world wide. As a result, cybercriminals pose a serious threat to organizations who rely on these systems every day. 

Here are some of the threats you might help organizations protect themselves against as a cybersecurity professional: 

1. Malware 

Malware is software used for a malicious purpose, such as to disrupt computer systems, grant unauthorized access to information, or remotely monitor another person’s online behavior. Short for “malicious software,” malware is typically downloaded onto a computer or mobile device by posing as a harmless file or link that can be difficult to recognize as a threat when it appears. As a result, malware attacks are very common. In fact, malware attacks were recorded approximately 5.5 billion times in 2022, according to Statista [2]. 

Malware is an umbrella term that includes many different types of software used for various malicious reasons. Some common types of malware include: 

  • Trojans. This malware, also called a Trojan Horse Virus,  impersonates a legitimate application so that users download it without realizing its true intent.

  • Adware. Adware displays or downloads advertising materials onto a user’s computer or mobile device. While some adware is used for legitimate marketing purposes, others are used for more malicious purposes, like spying on users or stealing their data. 

  • Spyware. This malware installs itself onto computers and mobile devices in order to monitor users’ online behavior and gain sensitive information. Trojans and adware are two common ways that spyware is downloaded on a computer. 

  • Ransomware. This malware encrypts files on a device, effectively making it unusable without decryption. In turn, bad actors then demand a ransom in order for the device to be decrypted.  

2. Phishing 

Phishing is a common type of cyber attack in which a bad actor attempts to trick users into either downloading malware or revealing sensitive information by posing as a legitimate person or organization, such as a friend, co-worker, or bank. 

In a phishing attack, cybercriminals send emails, text messages, or social media posts containing malicious links to their victims, who unwittingly download malware as a result. Scammers often use phishing attacks to gain credit card numbers, bank account information, or social security numbers in order to commit financial crimes or identity theft. 

Phishing attacks are on the rise – and they’re getting more sophisticated too. According to a study by SlashNext, there was a 300-percent increase in the number of phishing attacks from 2019 to 2022 [3]. Increasingly common techniques used by scammers in phishing attacks include targeting victims using mobile devices, deploying well-crafted “zero-hour” malware or malicious URLs that are difficult to identify, and posing as trusted organizations like Microsoft, Google, or Amazon.  

How do you recognize a phishing attack? 

Because they pose as trusted individuals or organizations, phishing attacks can sometimes be difficult to recognize. Nonetheless, there are some tell-tale signs you should look out for, such as messages containing generic greetings that are sent from a trusted acquaintance, unusual requests from an individual or organization asking that you send them sensitive information, and too-good-to-be-true offers that require you to click on an included link. 

You can improve your protection from phishing attacks by using two-factor authentication, using anti-malware software, and backing up all your sensitive data on a secure platform, such as an encrypted portable hard drive. 


3. Man-in-the-middle (MitM) 

Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks occur when a malicious actor inserts themselves in between two parties who believe they’re communicating with one another but who are actually communicating with the attacker. 

Also called “machine-in-the-middle” and “on path” attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks usually involve a cybercriminal first detecting insecure traffic and then sending network users to spoof websites, which they use to collect the user's log-in credentials. Afterward, attackers use the acquired credentials to log in to the real website, where they steal further sensitive data or commit financial crimes like theft. 

Common methods used by cybercriminals in man-in-the-middle attacks include: 

  • HTTPS spoofing: The attacker creates a fake website that resembles a real website, which they then use to collect a user’s information. Also used for phishing attacks. 

  • IP spoofing: The attacker creates an Internet Protocol (IP) packet with a modified source address, which allows them to conceal their identity and impersonate another system. 

  • SSL hijacking: The attacker creates fake certificates for an HTTP site’s domain, which allows them to redirect users to a spoof site that collects their personal information or log-in credentials. 

4. Denial of Service (DoS)

A denial of service (DoS) attack is a type of cyber attack in which a malicious actor seeks to overload a website or system so that it cannot function properly. Typically, DoS attacks work by flooding websites and network servers with fraudulent traffic requests, which results in the site being unable to render its services to legitimate visitors. Common targets of DoS attacks include email servers, websites, and banking accounts. 

DoS attacks that result from the actions of more than one computer are called Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Cybercriminals often use DoS and DDoS attacks to hold an organization’s website hostage for ransom, act as a smoke screen for other kinds of attacks, or to act as a pretext for other real and online crimes. 

5. Injection attacks

Injection attacks are a type of cyber attack in which a malicious actor injects a query or code into a program that allows them to access sensitive data, remotely execute commands, or modify a system. To conduct an injection attack, cybercriminals exploit “injection flaws,” or vulnerabilities within a system that allows it to receive malware or malicious queries that attackers can then use to gain unauthorized access. 

There are several types of injection attacks. Some of the most common include: 

  • Code injection: Bad actors inject code within an application, which are typically vulnerable due to improper data validation. 

  • XML Injection: Bad actors exploit vulnerabilities within extensible markup language (XML) that allows them to access unauthorized data. 

Start learning cybersecurity on Coursera

Cybersecurity professionals ensure that individuals and organizations are safe from the many threats posed by cybercriminals. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in cybersecurity or gaining a deeper understanding of the field, consider taking a flexible, cost-effective Professional Certificate through Coursera today. 

In Google’s Cybersecurity Professional Certificate, you’ll learn in-demand cybersecurity skills that can have you job-ready in less than six months. Over eight courses, you’ll gain hands-on experience with Python, Linux, and SQL, and learn how to protect networks, devices, people, and data from unauthorized access and cyberattacks using Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools. At the end, you’ll even receive an official credential that you can highlight on your resume to indicate your knowledge and job-relevant skills to potential employers. 

Article sources


US BLS. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Information Security Analysts, Job Outlook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm#tab-6.” Accessed July 7, 2023. 

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