By Dr. Andre Slonopas  |  11/22/2023


what is cybersecurity


Cybersecurity involves the securing of sensitive data and virtual environments in the ever-changing digital realm. Having walked the complex corridors of reputable organizations, I have seen cybersecurity specialists' persistent attempts to mitigate cyber dangers. My experiences illustrate the complexity of cybersecurity.


A Personal Cybersecurity Adventure

What in the world is cybersecurity and why is it important? I first pondered these questions on my initial day of on-the-job training at one of the global leaders of the cyber domain. As time went on, I realized that cybersecurity was a dynamic landscape of strategies, processes, and technology that protected networks, information systems, and confidential data from cyber-attacks and unauthorized access.

I realized that cybersecurity regularly changes, and tactics become obsolete in extremely short periods of time. As a result, cybersecurity professionals are charged with not only securing the data initially, but also maintaining security and remaining vigilant and current in their knowledge of the latest trends.

My job involved defending against more complex assaults from dangerous malicious software penetrating information systems to persistent threats stealing important data. Working with a team of cybersecurity specialists, I saw how endpoint and cloud security protect mobile devices and complicated computer networks. I eventually oversaw critical infrastructure security and cyber defense and realized the importance of defending the nation's vital services and assets against cyberattacks.

I have decades of experience in cybersecurity and have dedicated years to negotiating complicated cyber risks and solutions, all of which have given me a profound grasp of cybersecurity in the digital era.

As I reach a career milestone, I want to share my vast knowledge and expertise with the next generation of cyber professionals. I hope my expertise will shed light on the cybersecurity world and inspire a new generation of professionals who are well-equipped and determined to protect our cyberspace against adaptable threats. We can build a safe digital future by raising a generation that can mitigate cyber and security risks and use modern security methodology to prevent digital attacks.

Related: Why It’s Important to Close the Cybersecurity Knowledge Gap


What Do We Mean by Cybersecurity?

When we explore the virtual world, we frequently ask: What is this field of cybersecurity? (Note: it’s common to see it spelled as both one word or two: cybersecurity and cyber security.) Cyber security refers to the discipline of securing the cyber domain. But what exactly does that entail?

By definition, there are many types of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity involves protecting digital systems, networks, and data against unauthorized access and hostile assaults. The security tools that protect proprietary data and personal and professional privacy in the digital age are among the many other types of cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity may seem to be a technological fortress with advanced mobile and endpoint security techniques and technologies to safeguard data and information systems. Its span extends far beyond that definition, however. Cybersecurity includes a broad variety of procedures and tactics used to secure protected data, including personally identifiable information (PII), from cyber thieves.

Many of the standards that drive cybersecurity are developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Although NIST cannot mandate any of the standards that they publish, it is a great reference for novice and experienced cyber security professionals.

Related: Alumni Stories: Protecting the Vulnerable from Cybersecurity Threats


Evolution of the Cyber and Network Security Profession

Cybersecurity experts are developing powerful network, cloud, mobile, and endpoint security tools to mitigate cyber risk. They are essential to addressing cybersecurity challenges, data leak prevention, and infrastructure protection. Malware protection safeguards our computers from harmful software, while application security protects software from cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity has had to adapt to new and evolving threats throughout its history. Simple security precautions worked at first, but as malicious actors got more sophisticated, new cybersecurity technology was needed. Cyber dangers have evolved from phishing to advanced malicious attacks and actors.

Security analysts use artificial intelligence to identify trends and prevent cyber assaults on critical systems. The development of mobile devices has brought new security issues, making mobile security essential to complete security in the digital realm.


The Relevance of Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity matters personally and professionally. It protects sensitive information against data spillage, which may cause financial loss and reputation damage. Professional cybersecurity solutions protect key infrastructure and ensure company continuity in the face of cyber threats.

Cybersecurity protects critical infrastructure and data, which is critical to contemporary society and national security. To prevent national destabilization, homeland security depends on strong cybersecurity frameworks. Every day, we must protect our data from unwanted access, underlining the need for attention and exceptional knowledge to mitigate cyber attacks, including man-in-the-middle attacks and ransomware.

Due to the complexity of today's computer network ecosystems, security must evolve to include identity and access management to avoid information breaches and safeguard critical data from unauthorized access. Cybersecurity experts must remain ahead of bad actors who develop new ways to steal precious data.

In this digital era, let us be mindful of cybersecurity's vital role in our lives. It's both a technical requirement and a safety beacon, helping us navigate the digital world. Cybersecurity experts globally welcome aspiring cyber security champions to create a safe, secure digital future full of potential and significantly reduced cyber risks.


Understanding Cyber Threats

As the digital world grows, knowing cyber dangers is crucial. Cybersecurity is a dynamic discipline that protects guarded data, networks, and information systems against cyberattacks.


Classification of Cyber Threats

Understanding cyber threat categorization is crucial to understanding cybersecurity. Cybercriminals create harmful software to penetrate and destroy computer systems. Malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks are deployed by advanced cyber criminals during these assaults. Protecting systems against these attacks requires a complete cybersecurity posture, including endpoint and cloud security.

Security experts classify cyber threats by their traits and damage. Popular categories include insider threats, where employees steal sensitive data, and supply chain assaults, which target supply chain network weaknesses. Data exposures are a constant concern that require strong data security solutions to defend against known and unexpected threats.


Cyberthreats Include Malware, Phishing, and Ransomware

Further investigation reveals a variety of cyber risks in the digital age. Malware (malicious software) is malicious computer programs that include viruses and worms. This dangerous software can steal data or damage computers.

Phishing attacks include cybercriminals impersonating trustworthy organizations in electronic conversations to gain data. In ransomware attacks, hackers demand a payment to decrypt data.

Denial-of-service attacks, which flood computer networks with traffic, disrupt corporate operations and services. Cybersecurity specialists are always developing new security measures to safeguard sensitive data and preserve security as these threats evolve.


Real-World Examples and Case Studies of Major Cyber Incidents

A few prominent cyber-attack case studies may demonstrate the significance of these challenges. High-profile data compromises and breaches have happened in recent years, with cyber thieves targeting large organizations to steal personally identifiable information (PII), damaging organizations’ financial assets and reputation.

WannaCry, a ransomware cryptoworm, according to Kaspersky, used a Windows vulnerability to encrypt sensitive information and demand Bitcoin from computers worldwide in 2017. This attack demonstrated the need for updated antivirus programs and artificial intelligence in cybersecurity to identify and prevent similar intrusions.

Tech Target notes that cyberattacks like the 2020 SolarWinds cyber attack threaten national security as well as companies. This sophisticated supply chain assault compromised several government agencies and corporations, demonstrating key infrastructure security weaknesses and the need for a rigorous cybersecurity risk assessment methodology.

Protecting data and systems from digital threats is crucial in an ever-changing environment. Cyber dangers may be prevented by emphasizing network security and IT security culture. To prevent increasingly complex threats, robust security architecture must include application security, mobile security, and identity and access management.


Data Breaches

With so many digital links, data breaches are one of the biggest cyber hazards. Increasingly sophisticated attacks to capture PII, financial information, and other sensitive data may lead to data compromises. Cybersecurity involves understanding sensitive information and creating strong security measures to guard against new threats and ensure company continuity after an attack.

Cybersecurity protects computer systems, networks and data against unwanted access and cyberattacks. Data intrusions occur when hackers break into a computer system to steal data or disrupt commerce. Phishing, ransomware, advanced persistent threats, and man-in-the-middle attacks may cause these breaches. Commonly, cybercriminals exploit security architectural flaws for financial gain or national security.


Recent Major Data Breach Case Studies

In 2013, one of the largest data losses in history occurred at Target according to NBC News Cybercriminals broke into Target's network using sophisticated software.

Investigators eventually determined that the entry point was a third-party HVAC provider with weak protection, allowing digital thieves to gain access to Target's computers. Once inside, they quickly spread malware over point-of-sale terminals.

The thieves captured and sent approximately 70 million unsuspecting consumers' credit and debit card credentials during purchases using this strategy. The hack caused Target's sales to plunge, resulting in huge financial losses and sparked an industry-wide reevaluation of supply chain security and interrelated system vulnerabilities. The Target disaster highlighted the need to safeguard an organization's own network, its partners, and third-party providers.

Similarly, Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting companies, suffered a catastrophic hack exposing the private information of 147 million Americans in 2017. Poor application security, notably unpatched open-source software, caused this compromise.

For nearly two months, intruders used this loophole to steal enormous quantities of personal data, including Social Security numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data. This incident caused the departure of senior Equifax executives, a worldwide uproar over data stewardship, and rigorous regulator investigations. The event underscored the significance of proactive cyber security, software upgrades, and system monitoring for organizations globally.

These incidents demonstrate the urgent necessity for endpoint, mobile, and cloud security in critical infrastructure protection for a business, as well as the need to protect against supply chain attacks. These incidents also demonstrate the impact that poor cybersecurity can have on business operations, challenging the loyalty of its customers.

Cyberattacks on healthcare organizations increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Cybersecurity experts had to stop intrusions that crippled health infrastructure and stole patient data.

On the Dark Web, private and medical information protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars per patient. These events highlight the growing importance of cyber risk and the need for robust cybersecurity solutions.


The Effects of Data Breaches on Businesses and Individuals

Personal and organizational data loss causes significant harm. Corporations may face penalties, lawsuits, reputation damage, and commercial disruptions due to malicious attacks and a failure to maintain security. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) imposes steep penalties for data security violations.

Data loss may have serious consequences for people. Cybercriminals may commit identity theft, financial fraud, and other crimes using stolen personal information. Improving cybersecurity is therefore essential to prevent malicious code from compromising systems and secure data.


Data Breach Prevention

Organizations must promote cyber resilience to prevent data leaks and protect against any cyber attack. Key cybersecurity technologies like AI can prevent malicious code attacks, code injects, and insider attacks. A risk assessment methodology that includes identity and access control may also reduce cyber risk.

Maintaining a strong network security protocol is crucial. Security researchers recommend software upgrades, personnel training, and multi-factor authentication to combat cybersecurity attacks. Updated antivirus software and firewalls are the first line of defense against cyberattacks.

Additionally, robust business continuity planning that can ensure operations without interrupting normal business processes is essential. It should include protection from denial of service as well as data protection measures along with enhanced security to help prevent data loss. Security specialists develop ways to defend against known and unknown dangers, safeguarding systems and IT security standards.

Cybersecurity as a profession and cybersecurity experts stand behind each of these components to assist in analyzing common cyber threats and preventing data loss.


The Role of Higher Education in Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity threats and compromising of data systems show that cybersecurity is a quickly evolving industry. As cyber attacks develop new ways of penetration, defending organizations must update their measures to protect themselves.

Educational institutions are crucial to the cybersecurity chess game, and American Public University leads this fight. The University’s cybersecurity department is passionately shaping the next generation of experts. They learn to analyze known and unknown threats, develop effective defenses, and have the practical knowledge of defending networks.

The University’s academic curriculum is broad and dynamic, combining rigorous coursework, practical training, and realistic cyber simulations. They stress the significance of proactive defense and alertness.

Continuous learning and flexibility will be essential as cyber problems grow more complex in the digital age. Institutions like American Public University are leading the way, offering hope. They represent a strong cybersecurity community dedicated to protecting our digital world from current and future threats.


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About the Author
Dr. Andre Slonopas
Dr. Andre Slonopas is an Assistant Department Chair in the Department of Strategic Intelligence. From the University of Virginia, he holds a B.S. in aerospace engineering, a M.S. in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also holds a plethora of relevant certifications, including Certified Information Security Manager (CISM®), Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP®), Certified Information Security Auditor (CISA) and Project Management Professional (PMP®).

CISM is a registered trademark of Information Systems Audit and Control Association, Inc.
CISSP is a registered trademark of International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc.
PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.