Top 5 Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities to Watch For
July 29, 2022
Cybersecurity is a major concern for organizations of all sizes and industries. From the smallest “mom and pop” store to the largest multinational corporations, there are a number of cyber threats that may be targeting them at any given time. However, not all organizations are aware of the cybersecurity vulnerabilities that make it easier for malicious actors to carry out their attacks.
Knowing what your organization’s biggest cybersecurity vulnerabilities are is the first step to preventing a disastrous data breach, extended IT downtime, and other IT issues caused by cybercrime. Let’s discuss what a cybersecurity vulnerability is, some common examples of such vulnerabilities, and what businesses can do to counter specific vulnerabilities.
What Is a Cybersecurity Vulnerability?
One definition of cybersecurity vulnerability offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is: “A flaw or weakness in system security procedures, design, implementation, or internal controls that could be exercised (accidentally triggered or intentionally exploited) and result in a security breach or a violation of the system’s security policy.”
To oversimplify it a bit, a cybersecurity vulnerability is anything in an organization’s IT infrastructure, controls, or procedures that could result in a security incident. The consequences of a security incident could include, but not be limited to:
- Sensitive Data Leaks. In many cyberattacks, the goal of the attacker is to outright steal sensitive information. Sometimes, they want to resell the data to others, at other times, they may use the stolen information to commit fraud themselves. So, when a malicious actor manages to successfully exploit a cybersecurity vulnerability, a common consequence is that the victim’s sensitive data will be leaked and used for fraud.
- Fines and Remediation Expenses. A successful IT security breach requires remediation and repair to stop the breach in progress and prevent future breaches. Additionally, if the organization is found to have insufficient IT security for its industry, then there could be regulatory fines depending on the nature of the breach and the organization’s pre-breach security preparations.
- Unplanned IT Downtime. Some attackers aren’t as interested in stealing information as they are in disrupting an organization’s operations. For example distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are often used against a company’s customer-facing applications to bring the service down. IT failures can have a host of consequences such as lost transactions, reduced productivity, and reputational damage.
- Loss of Reputation. Data breaches, long-term loss of service, and other effects of a successful cyberattack can harm an organization’s reputation. For businesses, the loss of consumer confidence can be a crippling blow as customers actively avoid the business for fear of having their own data compromised. This can be one of the toughest consequences of a data breach to recover from since trust is so difficult to build but so easy to lose.
These are only a few examples of the potential consequences of a failure to protect your IT infrastructure. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities make it easier for malicious actors to succeed in their attempts to breach your defenses. So, it’s important to apply every reasonable safeguard that you can.
Types of IT Security Vulnerabilities
There are many types of vulnerabilities that can exist in an organization’s IT infrastructure. Many are well-known, some might be hidden surprises that nobody has exposed yet, but all of them can prove problematic for organizations looking to prevent data breaches and unplanned downtime.
Some key security vulnerabilities to watch out for include:
1. Undertrained System Users and Insider Attacks
In many organizations, the biggest cybersecurity vulnerability is the organization’s own employees—especially if they aren’t familiar with the cybersecurity risks they face. Even the strongest cybersecurity architecture isn’t proof against an employee falling for a phishing scheme or accidentally sending the wrong file to the wrong email address.
Worse yet is the risk of intentional harm from employees who are motivated to do harm to the organization. For example, an employee who feels that they aren’t being appreciated enough or has just learned that they’re being terminated may be motivated to abuse their access privileges for personal gain or to simply cause harm. One example of abuse would be downloading sensitive files to resell them to the highest bidder, commit identity theft, or embezzle funds from the company.
With legitimate access privileges, it’s often incredibly difficult to stop insider attacks since they already have a way past your network’s perimeter defenses.
2. Hidden Backdoor Programs
Not every security vulnerability in an IT system is accidental. Sometimes, manufacturers may secretly install “backdoor” programs in the devices they make. A backdoor program is a bit of code in a device that allows someone to bypass the device’s security controls to access it and/or the data stored on it.
For example, Huawei Technologies Co, a Chinese business that manufactures computers and other IT devices for sale to businesses and consumers alike, was once alleged to have installed hidden backdoors in Vodafone’s internet router software that gave “Huawei unauthorized access to the carrier’s fixed-line network in Italy, a system that provides internet service to millions of homes and businesses.”
Ostensibly, the backdoors are there to help the manufacturer remotely maintain their devices and troubleshoot them. However, they can be an enormous security risk. If a malicious actor were to discover a manufacturer’s hidden backdoor on one device, they could easily leverage it on other devices to compromise the security of any individual or organization using that manufacturer’s products—especially if the manufacturer fails to patch out the vulnerability in their firmware updates for some reason.
3. Unpatched Software Programs and Devices
While most hardware manufacturers and software developers work hard to catch all of the firmware and software bugs that could become vulnerabilities before the release date, a few issues almost always slip through the cracks. Why? Because modern software and hardware can be incredibly complicated, and it’s difficult to predict the effects of every interaction of different operating systems, programs, and hardware setups.
As new software glitches that could lead to security compromises are reported, developers work to create patches that remediate those glitches. These security updates help to not only keep your IT infrastructure more secure by eliminating vulnerabilities, they can also help to improve software stability and performance by fixing issues.
4. Unknown Security Vulnerabilities/Zero-Day Exploits
As hard as manufacturers and developers work to find and fix security vulnerabilities, there are occasions where a cybersecurity flaw goes completely undetected until it’s abused by a malicious actor.
These unknown security vulnerabilities are also known as “zero-day exploits” in cybersecurity circles. The problem with these vulnerabilities is that it’s incredibly difficult to prepare for them since the exploit is unknown until an attack uses it (an event called a “zero-day attack”). With no foreknowledge of the weakness, it’s hard to gauge what the effects of the exploit will be or how attackers might leverage it.
5. Unknown/Unregistered Devices and Software on the Network
If you don’t know what software and devices your organization uses, how can you ensure that everything is adequately protected? The short answer is: “you can’t.” Having unknown devices or software you aren’t accounting for on your network opens up a risk of leaving those devices and software unpatched.
This is a common problem for organizations that have just completed a major business acquisition or merger as well as organizations with an underdeveloped cybersecurity policy.
Solutions to Common Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities
So, what can you do to resolve some of the most common cybersecurity vulnerabilities that businesses face? There are a few things that organizations of all sizes and industries should do:
- Assemble a Formal IT Security Policy Document. One thing that every organization should create is a formal security policy document detailing the organization’s processes for ensuring security, roles and responsibilities for all internal users (i.e., employees), and what security tools the organization uses to secure its IT network.
- Conduct a Thorough IT Infrastructure Audit. To avoid the risk of having unknown assets on the network, organizations need to conduct a comprehensive audit of all the IT devices they have and the software on each device or that they access through software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. This helps the organization control its IT assets more consistently.
- Install Basic Cybersecurity Controls. Basic cybersecurity controls, such as antivirus/antimalware programs, network firewalls, and secure access controls need to be present to provide the most barebones protection against casual intrusion attempts from external security threats.
- Implement a Policy of Least Privilege. To minimize the impact and risk of an employee compromising the organization’s cybersecurity, it’s important to enact a policy of least privilege for system access. In short, this is a policy where each user only gets access to the bare minimum IT resources that they need to do their job.
- Remove Users as Soon as They Leave the Organization. If an employee leaves the organization—whether voluntarily or involuntarily, their access privileges should be revoked immediately. Otherwise, disgruntled employees could abuse their access privileges to cause harm.
- Leverage a Dedicated Cybersecurity Management Service. For many organizations, adding a team of cybersecurity specialists (or even just general IT engineers) can be prohibitively costly. Hiring a managed service provider (MSP) for IT security helps businesses gain instant access to a dedicated and knowledgeable team for a fraction of the cost of hiring internally. Also, MSPs often have extensive experience in resolving a variety of issues because of their past interactions with other clients.
These are just a few of the things that your organization could do to help minimize their cybersecurity risks. Need help with cybersecurity? Reach out to IT Proactive today to get started!