The contemporary world is rife with digital thieves. They're penetrating the complicated data structures of huge credit-monitoring companies like Equifax, scooping up the personal information of millions of people. They're releasing sensitive customer data to the public from discreet businesses like Ashley Madison and T-Mobile. They're watching webcam feeds of our celebrities without them knowing; they're locking down the systems of public utilities like Colonial; they're even managing to steal thousands of gigabytes of information directly from high-profile government entities like the CIA.

While these stories all make the news, they're also targeting small businesses just like your own and extorting them for thousands and thousands of dollars.

When running a company, it's vital to have a dedicated security team equipped with the most up-to-the-minute security technology on your side to protect you from these malicious cyber threats. But it's not enough to just leave it to somebody else. You have to be up to date on the threats facing your company.

Here are five of the most common ways hackers infiltrate your network:

1. Phishing Scams

Phishing is a cyber attack that uses disguised email as a weapon. The goal is to trick the email recipient into believing that the message is something they want or need — a request from their bank, for instance, or a note from someone in their company — and to click a link or download an attachment.

An excellent example of a phishing scam is the "deactivation scare." It's a lure that often works because nothing scares people more than a deactivation notice claiming your account will be deactivated if you don't follow a convenient link, enter your username and password and take immediate action – probably to update your credit card.

It's easy to ignore these phishes if you don't have an account with the company they claim to represent. But if you do have an account, it's easy to fall for this trick.

2. Social Engineering

Social engineering is a type of "hacking" that uses real people to carry out its schemes rather than intricate lines of code as used in a phishing email. It is usually part of a more significant "con" intending to get the victims to give up usernames or passwords, send money or gift cards, or install malicious software on their devices.

For example, instead of sending a phishing email, a social engineer might call an employee and pose as an IT support person, trying to trick the employee into divulging his/her password, information that will then be used in a future attack.

3. Password Hacking

You may think that your passwords are clever and complicated, filled with exclamation points and random numbers, but it's rarely enough. With information gathered carefully from social engineering or a simple check of your social media accounts, hackers use brute-force attacks to figure out that your password is the family dog's name, followed by your anniversary (for example).

A brute force attack involves 'guessing' usernames and passwords to gain unauthorized access to a system. While some attackers still perform brute force attacks manually, today, almost all brute force attacks are performed by bots. Attackers have lists of commonly used credentials, or real user credentials, obtained via security breaches or the dark web. Bots systematically attack websites, try these lists of credentials, and notify the attacker when they gain access.

4. Fault Injection

Sophisticated hackers scan your business's network or software source code for weak points. Once they locate its weak spots, they will surgically attempt to crash the system by sending through snippets of code created expressly for that purpose. Different commands will do different things, whether they want to deliver a devastating virus, redirect links on your website to malicious Malware or steal and erase vast swathes of information.

5. USB-based Malware Infections

It's possible to come across both unintentional and intentional infections. Unintentional infection might occur when someone plugs an unprotected USB into a poorly safeguarded system in an internet café, an airport, or anywhere with poor public endpoint security (which is about 70% of places). It seems harmless to use this USB to transfer information back to your machine at the office, but you'd be taking a rather substantial risk. The effects of which you may not detect until days or weeks later, and there's no telling what damage has already been done.

Or, at the last conference you attended, someone handed out free branded USB sticks to keep their business top-of-mind. Unfortunately, hackers will sometimes covertly slip a bunch of infected USB sticks into a company's stash. The instant somebody tries to use one, their computer is taken over by ransomware.

So What Can You Do About It?

It's a scary world out there, with virtually everyone left vulnerable to digital attacks. However, knowing the strategies hackers deploy is half the battle. Technological solutions can help rebuff attempts to take advantage of your staff. Still, the best solution is to provide ongoing awareness training and teach your staff to be more skeptical. Remember, this is not just about clicking on links.