In 2021, Microsoft patched the Windows Print Spooler remote code execution vulnerability, a weakness in the Microsoft operating system that allowed attackers to execute code with administrator privileges on any computer where the Windows Print Spooler service was active.
This serious OS security exploit, known informally as “Print Nightmare,” left users of Windows 10, Windows Server 2012, and 2016 vulnerable to malicious code, malware, and data breaches on their computers – and even though a fix for this exploit is now available, many computers remain unpatched and exploitable.
Companies face such threats every day as they use modern IT to streamline business processes and manage operations. Hence it’s essential to understand cybersecurity vulnerabilities, so you can protect the company and its stakeholders from threats.
What Is a Cybersecurity Vulnerability?
In the cybersecurity world, “vulnerability” has a precise meaning: it is a weakness in your IT infrastructure. Put another way, a cybersecurity vulnerability is any weakness that attackers can exploit to bypass barriers or protections of an IT system and gain unauthorised access to it.
Vulnerabilities vs. Risks vs. Threats
Vulnerabilities, risks, and threats are closely related, but they are not the same thing. Risks are associated with an event’s probability and potential severity. Threats are forces that generate risk (such as outside hackers or inside fraudsters), and take advantage of vulnerabilities to achieve their purpose. Vulnerabilities are as discussed above.
Why Is It Important to Identify Vulnerabilities in Cybersecurity?
Vulnerabilities in software code are just like weaknesses in the construction of a physical building: they become tempting targets for outsiders to pry open the door or window, and prowl around inside. So vulnerability assessments, where you search your IT systems for known vulnerabilities, are crucial.
Depending on the type of business, you may be required to conduct frequent vulnerability assessments to remain compliant with regulatory obligations or industry standards. For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) all require enterprises to conduct vulnerability assessments regularly to guarantee the protection of customer data.
5 Most Common Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities
To minimize cybersecurity risks and protect against cyber threats, a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) must know and reduce the number of cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the company’s IT ecosystem. So what are the most common cybersecurity vulnerabilities?
Misconfiguration of Firewalls / OS
Today most electronics are programmed with a login screen or security system designed to be customised by users after the initial configuration is complete, so the user can have an easier, more personalised experience with the equipment.
Those default configurations, however, are often protected by simple users and passwords such as “admin” or “12345678.” So when a company leaves those configurations untouched, that can become a vulnerability attackers can exploit.
Another example of this is the Internet of Things, or IoT systems. This technology has brought its own set of vulnerabilities; allowing traffic through IoT devices due to firewall misconfiguration can result in an easy entry point for cyberattacks.
Even though malware is a threat, older malware is also a vulnerability due to its implications after infecting a computer. Let’s explain.
Once a device is infected, malware can create backdoors for new cyberattacks or become a beacon to gain access to other computers, leveraging the privileges of the infected machine and other common vulnerabilities.
This is the key to many ransomware attacks that have affected organizations recently, such as the Conti ransomware. That attack targeted devices previously infected with TrickBot malware to gain access to healthcare organizations’ systems amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So old malware that isn’t identified and removed can become a doorway that new threat actors are happy to exploit.
Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness
Some of the most common vulnerabilities arise from the people using your IT systems.
For example, the use of weak passwords, the absence of strong authentication measures, and lack of knowledge about phishing and other social engineering attacks directly results from ignorance of the dangers to the organization’s overall cybersecurity. So training employees to be security-aware is always important.
Absence of Data Sanitization or Encryption Measures
The failure to encrypt or sanitize data when entering it into an IT system from the end user’s device can leak sensitive data.
For example, SQL injections are cyber attacks that take advantage of search bars and other client-side requests to enter malicious code to access, extract, modify or destroy databases and potentially sensitive information. The absence of measures to prevent this attack can allow criminals to steal data or install malicious software with a more general code injection approach.
The lack of encryption measures can lead to another vulnerability on the client side, allowing cross-site scripting or Man in the Middle (MitM) attacks that can affect the users of a platform or application.
Legacy or Unpatched Software
Failing to install software patches, or using the software beyond its intended service life, is a vulnerability with potentially devastating effects. The good news: It’s easy to prevent these zero-day exploits with routine patching.
When companies don’t install patches frequently or use software that is no longer maintained and updated regularly, they become vulnerable to all future zero-day exploits and to all known exploits that hadn’t been resolved by the time of the last patch.
In addition to the initial case mentioned above, some software vulnerabilities continue to wreak havoc in organizations, such as:
- CVE-2006-1547: Apache Struts ActionForm denial of service
This vulnerability was discovered in 2006 and affected companies by allowing denial of service (DoS) attacks in Java web applications that use the Struts framework.
- CVE-2019-19871: Active Exploitation of Citrix NetScaler
This vulnerability affected Citrix ADC, Citrix Gateway, and NetScaler Gateway users, so criminals can execute malicious code and download malware on affected servers. Fifty-nine percent of cyber attacks in January 2020 directly resulted from this vulnerability.
How to Safeguard Against Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities
Some cybersecurity vulnerabilities are unavoidable; new zero-day exploits (which take advantage of vulnerabilities nobody knew about previously) will always be a surprise to users. Still, with the proper mitigation measures, you can keep cybersecurity risks at a tolerable level.
With the help of patching and vulnerability management software, it is possible to track, manage, and schedule equipment updates within an IT ecosystem and protect devices from known exploits.
With cybersecurity awareness programs and a strong security posture, human-related vulnerabilities can be reduced, and indeed become a vital part of your overall cybersecurity program.
Frequent vulnerability scans are crucial for security teams to identify common system vulnerabilities and patch these structural weaknesses.
Finally, penetration testing is a helpful tool for identifying vulnerabilities and protecting the company from these weaknesses. Pen testing provides a unique, personalized perspective of the organization’s systems and infrastructure and allows processes, methods, and security measures to be adapted in the face of cyberattacks.
ZenGRC Helps Secure Your Business from Vulnerabilities
Because the cybersecurity risk environment evolves constantly, regular vulnerability scanning, assessments, and penetration testing should be standard components of your company’s security assessment plan. Moreover, companies should establish new security measures to handle unforeseen threats or misconfigurations that might compromise your business.
The ZenGRC platform is risk management software that assists you with routine vulnerability assessments and penetration testing. In addition, it gathers documentation, automates procedures, and reduces the need for continual follow-up while tracking special activities.
ZenGRC can also track your compliance status across various frameworks in real-time, including PCI DSS, HIPAA, Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), and many others, telling you where your gaps are and what must be done to close them. That enhances your overall security posture.
This not only makes compliance officers more effective in their roles; it also makes businesses more efficient in their governance and constant monitoring tasks.
Schedule a free demo to explore how ZenGRC can improve your cybersecurity practices.