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Computer network exploitation

Computer network exploitation

(also CNE)

Computer network exploitation definition

Computer network exploitation is the act of infiltrating and compromising computer networks, systems, or devices for espionage or cyberattacks.

Various entities conduct CNE, including nation-states, cybercriminals, or advanced persistent threat (APT) groups. Except for cases where authorized entities perform it for legitimate cybersecurity or law enforcement purposes, it’s considered an illegal activity.

See also: keylogger, zero day, remote access trojan, watering hole attack

Examples of computer network exploitation

  • Data breach. An attacker exploits vulnerabilities in a target organization’s network or systems to gain unauthorized access and steal sensitive data (e.g., classified documents, financial records, intellectual property, etc.)
  • Advanced persistent threat (APT). A nation-state or organized cybercriminal group conducts a long-term and stealthy campaign to infiltrate a specific organization or government entity.
  • Keyloggers. An attacker sends a phishing email with an infected attachment. The victim downloads it, which installs a keylogger on their system, allowing the attacker to capture keystrokes and gain access to login credentials.
  • Zero-day exploitation. An attacker identifies and exploits previously unknown software vulnerabilities (known as zero-days) to compromise a target system or network.
  • Remote access trojans (RATs). The attacker plants malicious software on a victim’s system, gaining remote control over the device.
  • Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attack. Attackers intercept and eavesdrop on communications between two parties and may even alter the communications to extract sensitive data or money.
  • Packet sniffing. Attackers gain access to network infrastructure to capture network traffic.
  • Steganography. Attackers hide malicious code or data within seemingly innocuous files or images. When the victim opens these, the hidden payload compromises their system.
  • Watering hole attacks. Attackers compromise an online resource that their intended victims frequently visit. Users who enter the compromised site infect their devices with malware.

Further reading

Ultimate digital security