By: Silent Quadrant
As the value of data increases, the role cybersecurity plays in maintaining business operations and continuity has grown exponentially. In order for organizations to successfully serve their clients and constituents, they must be able to protect systems and data from compromise. Achieving this level of security requires an understanding of vulnerabilities and the methods threat actors leverage to gain access to a network.
Effectively managing vulnerabilities not only enhances security programs but also helps limit the impact of successful attacks and increases overall resiliency. Having an established vulnerability management process has become a necessity for organizations across all industries. Below we will break down the common types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, as well as provide guidance for identification and management.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities vs. cybersecurity threats
A cybersecurity vulnerability is any weakness within an organization’s information systems, internal controls, or system processes that can be exploited by threat actors. Through points of vulnerability, adversaries are able to gain access to your systems which can lead to a full-scale breach.
Vulnerabilities differ from cyber threats in that they are not introduced on a system, they are there from the beginning. Rarely are cyber vulnerabilities created as a result of actions taken by threat actors, instead, they are generally caused by software flaws or network misconfigurations. Conversely, cyber threats are introduced as a result of an outside event such as an employee downloading malware or a social engineering attack.
Vulnerability management is the process of identifying, classifying, remediating, and mitigating system vulnerabilities. There are three key vulnerability management steps:
Vulnerability identification is the process of locating and noting exploitable gaps within your network and systems. Typically accomplished through the use of vulnerability scanners periodically assessing network systems. The results of the scans are then cross-referenced with known security intelligence databases. To achieve reasonable accuracy, it’s critical that the scanner is properly configured and kept up to date.
After identifying vulnerabilities, the next step is to evaluate the risk they pose to your organization, based on criticality, allowing you to prioritize remediation efforts. This process of evaluation is also critical to compliance efforts to ensure that vulnerabilities are addressed before they can be exploited.
Once a vulnerability’s risk level has been determined and properly prioritized, you need to address it, which includes:
Remediation: Patching the software. This is the preferred treatment of vulnerabilities, as it eliminates risk.
Mitigation: Mitigation involves taking the appropriate steps, based on specific context, to reduce the likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited. Vulnerability mitigation is typically performed as a temporary bridge until a proper patch is available.
Acceptance: Taking no action to address a vulnerability is justified when an organization deems it to have a low and acceptable level of risk. This is also justifiable when the cost of addressing the vulnerability is greater than the cost incurred if it were to be exploited.
Common types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities
When building a vulnerability management program, there are several types of vulnerabilities to be aware of – the six most common are:
1. System misconfigurations
System misconfigurations occur as a result of network assets having settings like default passwords or conflicting security controls which make them vulnerable. Probing networks for system misconfigurations and exploitable gaps is a tactic commonly used by threat actors. As more organizations undergo digital transformations, the likelihood of misconfigurations expands – so it is important to seek out and work with experienced security professionals when implementing new technologies.
2. Unpatched software
Unpatched vulnerabilities can be exploited by threat actors to carry out attacks against systems and networks. Similar to system misconfigurations, cyber adversaries will probe networks for unpatched systems to compromise. To lower this risk, it is imperative to establish a policy-based patch management schedule and ensure that all new software patches are applied as soon as they are released.
3. Missing or weak authorization credentials
Another common tactic used by attackers is brute-forcing into a network or system by guessing user credentials. It is important to educate employees on cybersecurity best practices – including password complexity, password reuse, and multifactor authentication – to protect login information from being easily exploited to gain access to a network.
4. Malicious insider threats
Whether unknowingly or with malicious intent, employees who have access to critical systems can share information that allows cybercriminals to breach a network. Insider threats can be difficult to detect. To assist in combating these threats, consider implementing network access control solutions, as well as network segmentation based on need of access.
5. Missing or poor data encryption
Networks with missing or poor encryption allow attackers to intercept communications between systems, leading to compromise. This can undermine an organization’s cybersecurity compliance efforts, as well as potentially leading to substantial fines from regulatory bodies.
6. Zero-day vulnerabilities
Zero-day threats are specific software vulnerabilities that are known to an adversary but have not yet been widely identified. This means there is no available patch or other remediation since the vulnerability has not yet been reported to the system vendor. Zero-days are extremely dangerous as there is no tangible way to defend against them until after an attack has been carried out. This underscores the importance of continuous network and systems monitoring for Indicators of Behavior (IOB) and Indicators of Compromise (IOC), a critical component of building cybersecurity resilience.
Actively managing cybersecurity vulnerabilities requires ongoing visibility into your internal network and digital ecosystem, continuous assessment of your security solutions, and measurement of your overall digital security maturity. With network complexity rapidly expanding, a deliberate and focused vulnerability management program is an essential component in organizational protection.
Silent Quadrant is a Washington, D.C.-based digital protection agency and consulting practice. Founded in 1993, Silent Quadrant has delivered incomparable digital security, digital transformation, and risk management within the world's most influential government affairs firms, associations, and small and medium size businesses throughout the United States for the past 28 years.