Network vulnerabilities can leave an organization’s entire IT environment compromised. Sensitive data can be lost or (even worse) stolen by cybercriminals. A data breach can severely harm your company’s reputation and bring substantial financial losses.

Worse, these vulnerabilities are constantly evolving. Hackers have proven methods to infiltrate a seemingly secure network, and they employ various tricks, devices, and information to get the job done. Hence vulnerability scanning and monitoring of your network, to identify and remedy network vulnerabilities before attackers find them, is so important.

What Is a Network Vulnerability?

A network vulnerability is a flaw or weakness in your software, hardware, or organizational processes, which threat actors can then exploit to compromise your security. Network vulnerabilities can be physical or non-physical.

Non-physical network vulnerabilities are related to data and software. For example, if the IT department fails to update operating systems, attackers could install a virus or malware into an outdated operating system which then infects the whole network.

Physical network vulnerabilities relate to security controls that physically protect an asset. These measures include security cameras, locking a server in a rack cabinet, and protecting entry points with key card access.

What Are the Different Types of Network Vulnerabilities?

As mentioned above, network vulnerabilities are often classified as physical or non-physical. We can also define three broad categories of network security vulnerabilities: hardware, software, and human.

Hardware vulnerabilities

Hardware vulnerabilities exist on the physical devices connected to your IT network: desktop workstations, mobile devices, printers, servers, routers, and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices that your business might use. If those devices have outdated operating systems or firmware, or poorly configured security systems, that leaves them vulnerable to attack.

The most important steps to protect yourself from hardware vulnerabilities are (1) implementing security patches for the devices’ software; and (2) physically protecting devices from unauthorized access.

Software vulnerabilities

Virtually every network uses software to run the operating system and applications; that software is also vulnerable to cyber-attacks. All known vulnerabilities in the operating system should be fixed as soon as possible to limit security risks.

The most common application vulnerabilities are buggy, unmanaged, or outdated software programs. Applying appropriate security policies and using up-to-date software solutions can limit exposure to common vulnerabilities in your system.

In addition, software configuration should be done with care. For example, instead of using the default settings (which might be known to attackers already), try changing the name of each administrator account and limiting employees’ access to sensitive data.

Human vulnerabilities

Malicious actors always go after the weakest link — and in many cases, that weakest link is the people who use the network. Despite all your efforts to protect computer systems, people are required to manage those systems, and humans are bound to make mistakes.

An organization is vulnerable to malware, adware, distributed denial-of-service (DDOS), and ransomware attacks when employees use weak passwords, click on links to suspicious websites, and fall prey to phishing attacks. That’s why you should prioritize employee education: so everyone understands the importance of security protection and controls.

How Are Network Vulnerabilities and Network Attacks Different?

Network vulnerabilities are flaws or weaknesses in operating systems, computer networks, hardware, or other digital processes your company uses. If compromised by cyber threats, network vulnerabilities can lead to a data breach. A network vulnerability is an unintentional mistake in system design, business operations, installed software, and network configuration.

A network attack is a specific, deliberate attempt to obtain unauthorized access to a company’s network to steal data or engage in other destructive behavior. It’s intentional and can be active or passive. Network vulnerabilities allow threat actors to launch network attacks.

Cyber criminals and hackers use a variety of tactics to break into your IT systems and exploit your company’s data. We can group those attacks into four broad categories.

  1. Malware attacks. Malware is short-hand for malicious software, such as trojan horses, viruses, and worms that install themselves on a user’s machine or host server.
  2. Social engineering attacks. Phishing attacks and other social engineering methods aim to trick users into providing authentication information such as usernames and passwords. That error gives bad actors a backdoor into the system.
  3. Unpatched or outdated software. Legacy software versions expose IT systems (and potentially the entire network) to known vulnerabilities.
  4. Misconfigured firewalls. A firewall is a buffer between the internet and your internal network, and a misconfigured firewall can inadvertently expose your network.

How to Find Network Vulnerabilities

The easiest way to find vulnerabilities is through specialized scanning tools that detect and pinpoint network devices, open ports, and software within the system. These tools collect data that allows them to identify and evaluate potentially vulnerable points by cross-referencing against an extensive database of known vulnerabilities.

An effective network vulnerability management tool must be resource-efficient and balance comprehensive scanning and network stability. It should also automatically scan for vulnerabilities when new connections or devices are added to the network, assuring ongoing security.

What Is the First Step to Protect Against Network Vulnerability?

The critical first step to safeguard networks against vulnerabilities is to conduct a meticulous security assessment. This involves identifying potential weaknesses, such as outdated software, misconfiguration, or open ports, and promptly implementing measures to address these vulnerabilities. To enhance your network’s resilience against potential security threats, consider establishing strong access controls, regularly updating software and firmware, and deploying effective firewalls and intrusion detection systems.

Safeguard Your Business from Network Vulnerabilities with ZenGRC

Knowing your vulnerabilities is only the beginning. Your compliance and cybersecurity program must undergo ongoing maintenance and review to assure it remains effective over time and is updated to address new and emerging risks.

The ZenGRC simplifies effective IT and cyber risk management by helping you visualize, comprehend, and take action against potential risks. It also automates compliance processes and facilitates communication regarding their effect on your organization’s key objectives.

It provides a single source of truth to document risk assessments, vulnerability scanning and penetration testing results, mitigation activities, and incident response efforts. With ZenGRC, you get real-time insights on evolving security requirements, enabling you to strengthen your security posture and eliminate tedious tasks.

Get a free demo today to see how the ZenGRC Platform can help protect your business from network vulnerabilities.