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What Are the Types of Cyberattacks on Financial Institutions?

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New types of cyberattacks from increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals are an ever-growing threat to financial organizations. The expanding list of cyberattack types on financial institutions means banking and finance companies must be aware of the current cyber crime trends and stay proactive in fighting cyber threats.

How Do Cyber Criminals Gain Access to Computers or a Network?

The main types of cyberattacks on the financial sector typically occur through a cyber criminal gaining access to individual computers or an organization’s network. The most common ways they are able to do this include:

Removable Media

Cyber criminals can gain unauthorized access to corporate data and systems through removable media, such as flash drives and Universal Serial Bus (USB) drives. Hackers can infect removable drives with viruses that, when plugged into a computer, enable them to access sensitive information on that machine and connected networks.

Brute-force Attacks

Many types of financial cyberattacks are the result of brute-force attacks, which use trial and error to guess encryption keys, user logins, or find hidden webpages. Hackers use brute force to go through all possible combinations to make a correct guess.

Web or Email Attacks

Web and email-based attacks remain among the most common threat vectors. Hackers typically use email to spread phishing campaigns and links to spoofed websites, which enable them to steal users’ login credentials.

Unauthorized Use of System Privileges

Many types of cyberattacks on banking and finance organizations happen when hackers gain unauthorized access to their systems. They typically exploit a vulnerability, such as an unused account, then create backdoors into compromised systems. The attacker is then free to access the network, steal data, and potentially increase their privileges to gain access to more sensitive information.

Loss or Theft of Devices

The loss or theft of devices continues to be an issue for financial institutions. In the wrong hands, these devices can leak sensitive corporate information to hackers, who may still be able to access data even if the device has a strong password.

Web Application Attacks

Web-facing applications are popular targets for cyber criminals. Hackers typically use denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and more sophisticated attack vectors like buffer overflowscookie poisoningcross-site scripting (XSS), and Structured Query Language injection (SQLi) to steal critical data and gain access to wider networks.


Hackers use malicious software (malware) to launch various financial services cyberattack types. Malware enables an attacker to gain access to a network and any connected device, steal data, and damage systems. Malware comes in several forms, including spywareTrojansviruses, and worms, and typically results in:

  1. Devices slowing down unexpectedly
  2. Unwanted ads popping up
  3. Loss of disk space
  4. Unusual internet activity


Ransomware is a form of malware that attackers use to hold their victims’ data hostage in exchange for the payment of a fee. Ransomware attacks often start with phishing emails containing malicious attachments. The malware then infects a user’s device and searches for files to encrypt and lock. Other attacks happen through drive-by downloading when the user visits an infected website, which downloads the malware without them knowing. 

Distributed Denial-of-service Attacks (DDoS)

Distributed DoS (DDoS) attacks occur when a cyber criminal floods a company’s server with internet traffic. This prevents users from accessing services and affects the performance of the organization’s websites. DDoS attacks are often carried out by disgruntled employees, hacktivists, or hackers wanting to show off their prowess by exploiting a weakness. 

Others are financially motivated or involve extortion through the spread of ransomware, which makes it crucial for financial organizations to deploy reliable DDoS protection and mitigation tools.

Spam and Phishing

Email-based attacks like spam and phishing remain one of the most popular cyberattack types on financial institutions. Attackers use phishing campaigns to steal sensitive data like account logins, banking account details, and credit card information. Spam and phishing attacks are often financially motivated and can also result in significant data loss. 

Corporate Account Takeover

Corporate account takeovers pose a significant threat to financial institutions. They involve an attacker taking control of an organization’s bank account to steal employees’ passwords and other credentials. This data allows an attacker to initiate fraudulent wire transfers and other transactions. Major banks have suffered significant financial and reputational losses as a result of corporate account takeovers.

Automated Teller Machine Cash Out

Automated teller machines (ATMs) are profitable targets for cyber criminals. Attackers can cash out an ATM by using malware to infect and manipulate the machine.

How Fortinet Can Help in Cybersecurity Awareness

Fortinet—through its powerful suite of security solutions that include FortiGate next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), FortiManager, FortiAnalyzer, FortiNAC, and FortiAP, to name just a few—provides financial organizations with leading protection against common attack vectors, including the top 20 most common types of cyberattacks. To help you create a cyber-aware workforce, Fortinet also conducts cybersecurity training for IT and security professionals, as well as teleworkers.

Discover how Fortinet can protect your financial institution against advanced threats while keeping down costs and maximizing efficiency.