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Secure Data Protection

Passive Threats: What You Need to Know

December 15, 2021

5 minutes

Abstract ball surrounded by orange lines representing a network attack | Passive Threats: What You Need to Know

Passive threats to a business’ network are attacks that tend to go unseen but which can have major ramifications, from spying and illegal monitoring to the stealing of data and information.

Learn more about what a passive threat is, its goals, and what businesses can do to protect themselves from these often unseen and unknown cyberattacks.

What is a Passive Threat?

A passive threat is an attack on a network that monitors that network to gather information, data, and possibly scan for vulnerabilities for a later attack.

The purpose of a passive attack will typically be to gain sensitive information like personal info on companies, employees, and customers, or general data about the inner workings and communications within a network.

Passive attacks are almost always reconnaissance based and won’t involve direct action against a network, meaning it has no effect on the system that it penetrates by intention—if a passive attack is spotted then the hacker has failed in going undetected.

The Difference Between an Active and Passive Attack

The difference between active and passive attacks is that an active attack will attempt to modify a data stream or create a false one, thereby taking an active role in manipulating the network in some way.

The aim of a hacker with an active attack is to corrupt or destroy data and possibly the entire network.

A passive attack focuses more on collecting information without modifying anything within the system.

It can be thought more of as eavesdropping. The goal of a passive attack is to collect data for later use.

How Can Passive Threats Affect Your Network Security?

Though they don’t aim to destroy everything and bring down entire systems, passive attacks can still be highly detrimental to businesses that can’t find them and snuff them out with proper network security.

For the most part, a passive attack is looking to find information whether by monitoring outgoing and incoming messaging or by tracking keystrokes to harvest passwords and other information. Once they have this information, bad actors can sell that data to someone with more nefarious plans, or they can use it to plan future attacks.

Related: 5 Factors That Affect the Security of a Network

An unnoticed passive attack can sit in a network for as long as it wants to, gathering more and more private and classified information from businesses, their customers, their employees, and more.

Types of Passive Attacks

Like active threats, passive threats come in a few different forms depending on the attack’s goal.

Here are a few of the most common passive threats that can harm a network:

Traffic Analysis Attacks

Traffic analysis attacks analyze network traffic as it moves between targeted systems.

These attacks identify patterns of communication over a network to understand the identities of users and machines, their locations, and possibly the types of encryptions used on the data.

Release of Message Attacks

Release of message attacks monitor unprotected communications—such as emails, phone calls, IMs, etc.—to discover sensitive or classified information.

Footprinting Attacks

Footprinting attacks aim to gather as much information and data as possible from the target network’s hardware, software, employees, and customers.

Information like IP addresses, domain name system information, employee IDs, payment information, and more are up for grabs.

Eavesdropping Attacks

Eavesdropping attacks listen in on private phone calls or unencrypted messages in order to capture sensitive information from conversations.

How to Protect Your Network from Passive Threats

To protect from passive threats, businesses must have the ability to identify and remediate these threats through dedicated cybersecurity teams, updated software, and cybersecurity techniques and procedures that keep your data secure.

Old technology and “set it and forget it” anti-virus won’t cut it anymore when facing sophisticated attacks from modern cybercriminals.

Here are a few things businesses can do to protect themselves:

  • Utilize Next-Gen Antivirus Software: Next-gen antivirus software uses a combination of technology to identify and eliminate threats in your system. Next-gen antivirus approaches security with a focus on behavior algorithms that examine processes, data, application use, network activity, and user behavior to spot unusual activity that points to threats like passive attacks.

  • Encrypt Data: Encrypting data is a cybersecurity technique that helps to protect data from everyone but the intended recipient or those who hold keys. If intercepted by an unintentional party, the data will look incomprehensible. Encrypting data is a necessary step toward preventing data breaches, especially during data storage and transfer, though it’s not an end-all to complete cybersecurity, just one part of a larger strategy.

  • Have a Dedicated Cybersecurity Team: Having a dedicated team of cybersecurity experts to update your software, train your staff, and manage your overall security procedures is becoming more of a “must-have” for businesses every day.

Bottom Line

A passive threat to a business’ network often lays low and works in the background and, if you don’t have proper cybersecurity measures in place, they can go completely unnoticed for long periods of time, skimming information and monitoring activity for months or even years.

Make sure you have effective antivirus software and encryption and an experienced cybersecurity team behind you to put you in a good position to find, eliminate, and recover from potential passive attacks.

If you’re interested in learning more about how DOT Security can give your business everything it needs to protect itself against these kinds of threats, contact us today to speak with a cybersecurity expert.