Reconnaissance Attacks: What They Are and How to Protect Yourself

person using laptop, reconnaissance cyber attacks

In an increasingly digital world, the threat of cyberattacks looms larger than ever before. Among the various techniques employed by cybercriminals, reconnaissance cyber attacks serve as the first critical step in their malicious endeavors.

What Are Reconnaissance Cyber Attacks?

Reconnaissance cyber attacks are attempts to gather information about a target system or network without the permission or knowledge of the owner.

The goal of these attacks is to find vulnerabilities, weaknesses, or entry points that can be exploited by hackers to launch more damaging attacks.

Types of Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance cyber attacks can be classified into two types: active and passive. Active reconnaissance involves direct interaction with the target, such as sending probes, scanning ports, or contacting employees. Passive reconnaissance involves collecting information from public sources, such as websites, social media, or databases.

Examples of Reconnaissance Cyber Attacks

Some examples of reconnaissance cyber attacks are:

  • Ping probes. Sending packets to a target system to check its availability and response time.
  • Port scanning. Scanning the ports of a target system to identify which services are running and which ones are open or closed.
  • Traceout: Tracing the route of packets from the attacker’s system to the target system to discover intermediate devices and networks.
  • Searching through social media websites. Looking for personal or professional information about employees, customers, or partners of the target organization.
  • Dumpster diving. Searching through physical trash for discarded documents, devices, or media that may contain sensitive information.
  • Calling employees. Posing as a legitimate person or organization to trick employees into revealing confidential information or credentials.
  • Sending emails to employees. Sending phishing emails that contain malicious links or attachments to collect sensitive information or infect the target system with malware.

Most Recent Large-Scale Reconnaissance Cyber Attacks

Reconnaissance cyber attacks are common and widespread in the cyber world. According to a report by Communications of the ACM, almost every day, security firms and mass media report news about successful cyber attacks, which are growing in terms of complexity and volume . Some recent large-scale reconnaissance cyber attacks include:

SolarWinds hack

A sophisticated cyber espionage campaign that compromised the software supply chain of SolarWinds, a company that provides network management tools to thousands of organizations worldwide.

The attackers inserted malicious code into SolarWinds software updates, which allowed them to access the networks of their customers, including government agencies and private companies.

Microsoft Exchange hack

A series of cyberattacks exploited four zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server, a popular email and calendar platform used by millions of organizations worldwide.

The attackers used these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to email accounts and data, install web shells for remote control, and steal sensitive information.

Colonial Pipeline hack

Hackers launched a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States. The attackers encrypted the company’s data and demanded a ransom of $4.4 million.

The attack caused a temporary shutdown of the pipeline, which disrupted the supply of gasoline and other fuels across several states.

How to Protect Yourself from Reconnaissance Cyber Attacks

Reconnaissance cyber attacks pose a serious threat to the security and privacy of individuals and organizations. Therefore, it is important to take preventive measures to protect yourself from these attacks. Some of the best practices are:

  • Keep your systems and software updated with the latest security patches and updates.
  • Use strong passwords and multifactor authentication for your online accounts and devices.
  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links or opening unknown attachments in emails or messages.
  • Be careful about what you share online and who you trust with your information.
  • Use encryption and VPNs to protect your data in transit and at rest.
  • Install antivirus and firewall software on your systems and devices and scan them regularly for malware.
  • Educate yourself and your employees about the common signs and techniques of reconnaissance cyber attacks and how to report them.

Reconnaissance cyber attacks are a serious challenge for cybersecurity professionals and users alike. By understanding what they are, how they work, and how to prevent them, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of these attacks.


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