What is Vulnerability in Cyber Security
Updated on 25th Aug, 21 18 Views

The value of data has increased over the years and more and more Cyber Security experts are being employed to maintain enterprise operations. Today, we will discuss vulnerabilities that these professionals have to look out for and handle as part of their job. 

Effectively managing vulnerabilities adds success to the security programs as well as keeps the impact of successful attacks under control with minimum damage. Hence, there is a need for an established vulnerability management system for organizations across all industries. But, before we break down the different cyber security vulnerabilities, let’s learn what vulnerability is.

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What is Vulnerability in Cyber Security?

A vulnerability in cyber security refers to any weakness in an information system, system processes, or internal controls of an organization. These vulnerabilities are targets for lurking cyber criminals and open to exploitation through the points of vulnerability.

These hackers are able to gain illegal access to the systems and data and cause severe damage. Therefore, cybersecurity vulnerabilities are extremely important to monitor for the overall security posture as gaps in a network can result in a full-scale breach of systems in an organization.

 

Examples of Vulnerabilities

Below are some examples of vulnerability:

  • A weakness in a firewall that can lead to malicious hackers getting into a computer network
  • Lack of security cameras
  • Unlocked doors at businesses

All of these are weaknesses that can be used by others to hurt a business or its assets. 

 

How is vulnerability different from a cyber security threat and risk?

Vulnerabilities are not introduced to a system; rather they are there from the beginning. There are not many cases involving cybercrime activities that lead to vulnerabilities. They are typically a result of operating system flaws or network misconfigurations. Cyber threats, on the other hand, are introduced to a system like a virus download or a social engineering attack.

Cyber security risks are generally classified as vulnerabilities, which can lead to confusion as they are not one and the same. Risks are actually the probability and impact of a vulnerability being exploited. If these two factors are low, then the risk is low. It is directly proportional, in which case, the inverse is also true; high probability and impact of vulnerabilities lead to high risks.

The impact of cyberattacks is, generally, tied to the CIA triad of the resource. Some common vulnerabilities pose no risk when the vulnerability has not much value to an organization.

 

When does a vulnerability become exploitable?

A vulnerability, which has at least one definite attack vector is an exploitable vulnerability. Attackers will, for obvious reasons, want to target weaknesses in the system or network that are exploitable. Of course, vulnerability is not something that anyone will want to have, but what you should be more worried about is it being exploitable.

There are cases when something that is vulnerable is not really exploitable. The reasons could be:

  1. Insufficient public information for exploitation by attackers.
  2. Prior authentication or local system access that the attacker may not have
  3. Existing security controls

Strong security practices can prevent many vulnerabilities from becoming exploitable.

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What causes the vulnerability?

There are many causes of Vulnerabilities like:

  1. Complex Systems – ‍Complex systems increase the probability of misconfigurations, flaws, or unintended access.
  2. Familiarity – Attackers may be familiar with common code, operating systems, hardware, and software that lead to known vulnerabilities.
  3. Connectivity – ‍Connected devices are more prone to have vulnerabilities.
  4. Poor Password Management – ‍Weak and reused passwords can lead from one data breach to several.
  5. OS Flaws – ‍Operating systems can have flaws too. Unsecured operating systems by default can give users full access and become a target for viruses and malware.‍
  6. Internet – ‍The internet is full of spyware and adware that can be installed automatically on computers.
  7. Software Bugs – Programmers can sometimes accidentally, leave an exploitable bug in the software.
  8. Unchecked user input – ‍If software or a website assumes that all input is safe, it may run unintended SQL commands.
  9. People – Social engineering is the biggest threat to the majority of organizations. So, humans can be one of the biggest causes of vulnerability.
 

Types of Vulnerabilities

Below are some of the most common types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities:

System Misconfigurations

Network assets that have disparate security controls or vulnerable settings can result in system misconfigurations. Cybercriminals commonly probe networks for system misconfigurations and gaps that look exploitable. Due to the rapid digital transformation, network misconfigurations are on the rise. Therefore, it is important to work with experienced security experts during the implementation of new technologies.

Out-of-date or Unpatched Software

Similar to system misconfigurations, hackers tend to probe networks for unpatched systems that are easy targets. These unpatched vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers to steal sensitive information. To minimize these kinds of risks, it is essential to establish a patch management schedule so that all the latest system patches are implemented as soon as they are released.

Missing or Weak Authorization Credentials

A common tactic that attackers use is to gain access to systems and networks through brute force like guessing employee credentials. That is why it is crucial that employees be educated on the best practices of cybersecurity so that their login credentials are not easily exploited. 

Malicious Insider Threats

Malicious Insider Threats

Whether it’s with malicious intent or unintentionally, employees with access to critical systems sometimes end up sharing information that helps cyber criminals breach the network. Insider threats can be really difficult to trace as all actions will appear legitimate. To help fight against these types of threats, one should invest in network access control solutions, and segment the network according to employee seniority and expertise.

Missing or Poor Data Encryption

It’s easier for attackers to intercept communication between systems and breach a network if it has poor or missing encryption. When there is poor or unencrypted information, cyber adversaries can extract critical information and inject false information onto a server. This can seriously undermine an organization’s efforts towards cyber security compliance and lead to fines from regulatory bodies.

Zero-day Vulnerabilities

Zero-day vulnerabilities are specific software vulnerabilities that the attackers have caught wind of but have not yet been discovered by an organization or user. 

In these cases, there are no available fixes or solutions since the vulnerability is not yet detected or notified by the system vendor. These are especially dangerous as there is no defense against such vulnerabilities until after the attack has happened. Hence, it is important to remain cautious and continuously monitor systems for vulnerabilities to minimize zero-day attacks.

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What is Vulnerability Management?

Vulnerability management is the cyclical practice consisting of identification, classification, remediation, and mitigation of security vulnerabilities. There are three essential elements of vulnerability management viz. vulnerability detection, vulnerability assessment, and remediation. 

Vulnerability Detection

Vulnerability detection includes the following three methods:

  • Vulnerability scanning
  • Penetration testing
  • Google hacking

Cyber Security Vulnerability Scan

As the name suggests, the scan is done to find vulnerabilities in computers, applications, or networks. For this purpose, a scanner (software) is used, which can discover and identify vulnerabilities that arise from misconfiguration and flawed programming within a network. 

Some popular vulnerability scanning tools are SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM), ManageEngine Vulnerability Manager Plus, Rapid7 Nexpose, Acunetix, Probely, TripWire IP 360, etc.

Some popular vulnerability scanning tools

Penetration Testing

Penetration testing or pen testing is the practice of testing an IT asset for security vulnerabilities that an attacker could potentially exploit. Penetration testing can be automated or manual. It can also test security policies, employee security awareness, the ability to identify and respond to security incidents, and adherence to compliance requirements. 

Google Hacking

Google hacking is the use of a search engine to locate security vulnerabilities. This is achieved through advanced search operators in queries that can locate hard-to-find information or data that has been accidentally exposed due to the misconfiguration of cloud services. Mostly these targeted queries are used to locate sensitive information that is not intended for public exposure.

Cyber Security Vulnerability Assessment

Once a vulnerability is detected, it goes through the vulnerability assessment process. What is a vulnerability assessment? It is a process of systematically reviewing security weaknesses in an information system. It highlights whenever a system is prone to any known vulnerabilities as well as classifies the severity levels, and recommends appropriate remediation or mitigation if required.

The assessment process includes:

  • Identify vulnerabilities: Analyzing network scans, firewall logs, pen test results, and vulnerability scan results to find anomalies that might highlight vulnerabilities prone to cyber attacks.
  • Verify vulnerabilities: Decide whether an identified vulnerability could be exploited and classify its severity to understand the level of risk
  • Mitigate vulnerabilities: Come up with appropriate countermeasures and measure their effectiveness if a patch is not available.
  • Remediate vulnerabilities: Update affected software or hardware wherever possible.

There are several types of vulnerability assessments:

  • Network-based assessment: This type of assessment is used to identify potential issues in network security and detect systems that are vulnerable on both wired and wireless networks. 
  • Host-based assessment: Host-based assessment can help locate and identify vulnerabilities in servers, workstations, and other network hosts. It generally assesses open ports and services and makes the configuration settings and the patch management of scanned systems more visible.
  • Wireless network assessment: It involves the scanning of Wi-Fi networks and attack vectors in the infrastructure of a wireless network. It helps validate that a network is securely configured to avoid unauthorized access and can also detect rogue access points.
  • Application assessment: It is the identification of security vulnerabilities in web applications and their source code. This is achieved by implementing automated vulnerability scanning tools on the front-end or analyzing the source code statically or dynamically.
  • Database assessment: The assessment of databases or big data systems for vulnerabilities and misconfiguration, identifying rogue databases or insecure dev/test environments, and classifying sensitive data to improve data security.

Vulnerability management becomes a continuous and repetitive practice because cyber attacks are constantly evolving.

Vulnerability Remediation 

To always be one step ahead of malicious attacks, security professionals need to have a process in place for monitoring and managing the known vulnerabilities. Once a time-consuming and tedious manual job, now it is possible to continuously keep track of an organization’s software inventory with the help of automated tools, and match them against the various security advisories, issue trackers, or databases. 

If the tracking results show that the services and products are relying on risky code, the vulnerable component needs to be located and mitigated effectively and efficiently.

The following remediation steps may seem simple, but without them, organizations may find themselves in a bit of difficulty when fighting against hackers. 

Step 1: Know Your Code – Knowing what you’re working with is crucial and the first step of vulnerability remediation. Continuously monitoring software inventory to be aware of which software components are being used and what needs immediate attention will significantly prevent malicious attacks.

Step 2: Prioritize Your Vulnerabilities – Organizations need to have prioritization policies in place. The risk of the vulnerabilities needs to be evaluated first by going through the system configuration, the likelihood of an occurrence, its impact, and the security measures that are in place.

Step 3: Fix – Once the security vulnerabilities that require immediate attention are known, it is time to map out a timeline and work plan for the fix.

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Conclusion

With networks becoming more and more complex, it has become critical to actively manage cyber security vulnerabilities. To actively manage cyber security vulnerabilities, it is essential to have visibility of internal and third-party network ecosystems. You can learn cyber security to understand more about such vulnerabilities, their impact, and how to fix them.

Make sure to visit Intellipaat’s Cyber Security Community to get your questions answered by experts.

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