4 Types of Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

Data Security
November 2, 2021
Cybersecurity involves a lot more than just dealing with a breach or hack after it has happened. A proactive stance involves knowing what types of security vulnerabilities there are in your organization, then creating a plan to identify, evaluate, and treat these before a hack ever occurs.

4 Types of Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities

.. And How to Address Them

Did you know just 14% of small businesses rate their ability to mitigate cyber risks, attacks, and vulnerabilities as “highly effective?” 

Part of this is attributed to the fact that network security vulnerabilities are constantly changing and evolving as those orchestrating these attacks find new and innovative ways to access a business network. 

While this is true, the ability to effectively manage security vulnerabilities helps to enhance network security while limiting the impact of a successful attack. Aside from just stopping attacks, though, it’s important to learn more about cybersecurity, potential network vulnerabilities, and other factors that put your system at risk. 

Keep reading to learn about what these are, how they may impact your business, and what steps you can take to prevent them. 

Network Vulnerabilities

A network vulnerability is a flaw or weakness in the organizational processes, hardware, or software that results in a security breach when impacted by a threat. 

You may experience a nonphysical network vulnerability, which involves data or software, or a physical network vulnerability, which involves the physical protection of an asset, like locking your server in a rack closet. 

Most servers have strong physical security controls since they contain valuable trade secrets and data, or perform all types of revenue-generating functions, such as hosting for eCommerce websites. Whether stored at an off-site data center or a secure room, all servers must be protected using biometric scanners and personalized access cards. 

Before you invest in different security controls, it’s best to conduct a vulnerability risk assessment. With this, you can quantify the cost and acceptable loss of your equipment and its function. Just like with all things related to cybersecurity, it’s necessary to balance resources vs. functionality to ensure the most practical solution. 

It’s important to note that network vulnerabilities can come in many forms. While this is true, some of the most common include:

  • Misconfigured firewalls or operating systems. When this happens, breaches may occur. In some cases, the misconfiguration simply relates to the fact that the default settings have not been changed. 
  • Malware. Malware is any type of malicious software, including worms, viruses, or Trojans, that is installed on a host server or user’s machine.
  • Unpatched or outdated software. With this, the systems running applications are exposed, and in some cases, the entire network. 
  • Social engineering or “Phishing” attacks. With these, users are “fooled” into providing personal information like their username and password. 
  • Credential stuffing attacks. This is when attackers use information they've acquired in a previous breach to continue to break into additional user accounts.

You must address these factors when assessing the security of your systems. If left unchecked, it may lead to more advanced attacks which may prevent you from accessing the network completely. 

Operating System Vulnerabilities

With operating system vulnerabilities, hackers typically exploit to gain access to an asset on the operating system (OS) that is installed or to cause damage in another manner. Some common examples include default superuser accounts that may be present on OS installs or other hidden backdoor programs.

Just like with network vulnerabilities, there are several types of operating system vulnerabilities you may encounter. These include:

  • Remote code execution. Commonly called RCE, this type of vulnerability lets attackers run arbitrary code remotely on vulnerable workstations or servers. 
  • Denial-of-service. Also called DoS, this is a serious threat that makes services, such as Windows and other browsers, unable to function properly. There are two types of DoS attacks:
  • Flood attacks. The system receives excessive requests, causing a significant slowdown and eventual stop.
  • Crash attacks. Work by exploiting vulnerabilities causing a service or system to crash. 
  • Elevation of privilege. Also called EoP or privilege escalation, it allows attackers authorization permissions beyond what had been granted. 
  • Information disclosure. Hackers capture personal information and disclose it. 
  • Spoofing. This is a process that includes impersonating someone by tampering with the authentication processes in place. 

One of the most effective ways to avoid dealing with operating system vulnerabilities is by ensuring that all operating systems are “patched” meaning that new updates, bug fixes, or added security patches from the developers are automatically installed. 

Human Vulnerabilities

People represent one of the main weaknesses of cybersecurity. In fact, human vulnerabilities can cause much more damage and be more costly than any of the other vulnerability types on this list. Even though advanced hacking skills and powerful malware bolster the capabilities of a cyber attacker, it is, in the end, humans that represent the only un-patchable risk in cybersecurity. 

Some of the human vulnerabilities that exist today include:

  • Social engineering. Defined as the art of gaining access to data, systems, or buildings by exploiting human psychology. 

Today, most cyberattacks utilize several social engineering techniques, ranging from phishing to the strategic placement of devices like USB charging outlets or flash drives that access data or upload malware without the user realizing it. 

While the other vulnerabilities discussed here have methods to mitigate the risk, with human error and social engineering, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate the risk entirely. Even though it’s impossible to “patch” people the way you do software, both the private sector and government are working to mitigate the risks related to human vulnerability. 

One of the best ways to do this is by investing in regular cybersecurity or security awareness training. When users are aware of the vulnerabilities and possible manipulation methods, they are more prepared to deal with the situations when they present themselves. 

Process Vulnerabilities

Process vulnerabilities are unique as they are created by specific process controls or the lack of them. Process controls can look different depending on the industry of the organization. This type of vulnerability is certainly the hardest to define and show broad examples of. One example of this would be if an employee followed a process in place which allowed them to create and use a weak password. However, this example may also be considered a human vulnerability. 

The Importance of Investing in Vulnerability Mitigation and Management

Vulnerability management refers to finding, evaluating, treating, and reporting on potential cybersecurity weaknesses in the systems and the software running on them. 

When implemented, along with other security tactics, organizations can find and prevent potential threats, all while reducing their “attack surface” meaning the ways or locations through which an attacker can target. 

   1. Identify Potential Vulnerabilities 

The first step in preventing issues in your systems and network is to identify your vulnerabilities. You can utilize a vulnerability scanner to do this automatically or invest in services like ethical hacking. During these probes, certain things are evaluated, including:

  • Operating system usage
  • System Configuration
  • User accounts
  • Installed software
  • File system structure
  • Open ports

At this point, the information is used to associate the known vulnerabilities in the scanned system. 

Regardless of how you choose to gather this data, it can then be used to create reports and build plans to mitigate the vulnerabilities that are found. 

   2. Evaluate the Vulnerabilities Found

Once vulnerabilities have been identified, they must be evaluated to know how to deal with the risk they pose. You can find different “scores” for vulnerabilities to determine what should be addressed first and what can wait a bit longer. 

However, there are a few other factors to consider when evaluating the vulnerabilities that were discovered. These include:

  • Is the vulnerability a true or a false positive?
  • How challenging would it be to exploit the vulnerability?
  • Could someone exploit the vulnerability from the internet?
  • What would happen to the business if the vulnerability was exploited? 
  • How long has the vulnerability been on the network?

To ensure the vulnerability is a real threat, utilize penetration testing to help you eliminate issues that don’t pose a significant risk to your organization. 

   3. Treat the Vulnerabilities 

After you have validated a vulnerability and deemed it a true risk, the next step is to prioritize the right way to treat it. You will find several methods to utilize when dealing with vulnerabilities. These include:

  • Remediation. Fix or patch a vulnerability, so exploitation is impossible. 
  • Mitigation. Reduce the impact or likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited. Used when full remediation isn’t possible. 
  • Acceptance. If you don’t take action to remediate or mitigate the vulnerability, or if it is deemed to be a low risk, you may accept it is there and prepare to deal with the consequences if a breach occurs. 

Remember, remediation is the best option, as this eliminates the vulnerability completely. However, if this isn’t a plausible solution, you do have other options to consider, just be sure to acknowledge the continued risk of not remediating the issue. 

Taking Steps to Stay Ahead of Cybersecurity Risks

Attackers and threats are constantly evolving, just like organizations are always adding new networks, applications, cloud services, and mobile devices to their environment. When changes are made, new risks occur, as well. This risk is essentially a hole in the network that may allow attackers to enter and leave with your sensitive information and data. 

Because of this, you must take the prevention of vulnerabilities seriously. Failure to do so can lead to significant losses and other issues for any business. Protecting your business or organization from this type of threat requires a solution that will keep up with and adapt to any changes that occur, but also work ahead to predict any upcoming changes that may introduce new risks. If you don’t have these solutions in place, then attackers and other nefarious individuals will be a step ahead of you, putting your business at risk. 

Don’t Wait to Deal with Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities 

Unfortunately, the list of potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities is growing by the day. The best way to avoid becoming a victim is to know what these vulnerabilities are and take the needed steps to mitigate your risk. While this may seem daunting, it is well worth the time and effort required.

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