A cyber attack is any attempt to gain unauthorized access to a computer, computing system or computer network with the intent to cause damage. Cyber attacks aim to disable, disrupt, destroy or control computer systems or to alter, block, delete, manipulate or steal the data held within these systems.
A cyber attack can be launched from anywhere by any individual or group using one or more various attack strategies.
People who carry out cyber attacks are generally regarded as cybercriminals. Often referred to as bad actors, threat actors and hackers, they include individuals who act alone, drawing on their computer skills to design and execute malicious attacks. They can also belong to a criminal syndicate, working with other threat actors to find weaknesses or problems in the computer systems — called vulnerabilities — that can be exploited for criminal gain.
Government-sponsored groups of computer experts also launch cyber attacks. They’re identified as nation-state attackers, and they have been accused of attacking the information technology (IT) infrastructure of other governments, as well as nongovernment entities, such as businesses, nonprofits and utilities.