A vulnerability is a weakness that can cause or contribute to a risk of being exploited by a threat; it is a gap in protection that increases the likelihood that something bad will happen. In the realm of cyber threats, vulnerabilities allow cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to a computer system to run malicious code, install malware, or steal sensitive data.

Known vulnerabilities are registered by MITRE, a cybersecurity nonprofit, as a Common Vulnerability or Exposure (CVE). Each vulnerability is then assigned a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) score, which measures the vulnerability’s risk potential.

Technically speaking, vulnerabilities differ from risks and threats. All, however, are potentially weak links in an organization’s chain of protection, and can lead to a catastrophic incident.

If you think of vulnerability as a “weakness,” think of risk as a “possibility” – that is, an event or condition that, if materialized, could harm a company’s business goals and objectives. A risk is hypothetical; a vulnerability is real.

Threats are forces or objects that could exploit security vulnerabilities (either deliberately or naturally) to cause disruption. A threat can be environmental (earthquake, snowstorm, flood), physical (hardware failure, building issues, people), technical (virus, malware, ransomware, software bug), or another category. It is essential to acknowledge that a threat can exploit a vulnerability.

The role cybersecurity plays in protecting enterprises has grown considerably as the value of data increases and cyber attacks have become more prevalent. Organizations must employ vulnerability management techniques to secure customer and employee data from such attempts. Accomplishing this task requires a thorough understanding of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and the actions malicious actors take to breach firewalls and gain access to a network.

Examples of Security Vulnerabilities

Here are three well-known cybersecurity breaches that represent the types of attacks organizations may encounter.

The Panama Papers Incident

The Panama Papers is a collection of more than 11 million records from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm, leaked to German journalist Bastian Obermayer in 2015.

The incident exposed the financial dealings of many public figures, linking them to terrorists, drug cartels, and tax havens. From the cybersecurity point of view, the leak brought attention to the potential vulnerability and relative ease of hacking into law firms for sensitive data about the firms’ clients.

South Carolina Department of Revenue Hack

A foreign hacker infiltrated the South Carolina Department of Revenue in 2012, stealing 387,000 credit and debit card numbers and 3.6 million Social Security numbers.

The attacker exploited a default password as the means of access. Also, the lack of encryption on some sensitive data fields, including the Social Security numbers, increased the severity of this incident.

Vodafone-Huawei Equipment Backdoor

Vodafone, Europe’s largest phone company, identified hidden backdoors on routers supplied by telecommunications company Huawei Technologies Co. that gave Huawei unauthorized access to the carrier’s fixed-line network in Italy.

This system provides internet service to millions of homes and businesses. The vulnerability was concerning because, if hacked, it could have given cybercriminals direct access to millions of networks.

What Are the Types of Vulnerabilities?

Vulnerabilities typically fall into one of four categories: network, operating system, human, and process. Many vulnerabilities exist within these groups; below are seven of the most common:

System Misconfigurations

Criminals probe networks looking for system misconfigurations to exploit. These can include misconfigured firewalls and operating systems that have default policies enabled.

Outdated or Unpatched Software

Criminals probe networks to find outdated or unpatched software and exploit that to steal valuable, sensitive data.

Weak Authorization Credentials

Attackers commonly employ brute force tactics to guess employee authorization credentials. Weak credentials, including insecure passwords, make their job easy.

Missing or Poor Data Encryption

Encryption makes data unreadable to all but the intended recipient. Networks with missing or poor encryption allow attackers to tap inter-system communications, leading to a data breach.

Zero-day Vulnerabilities

Zero-day threats are specific software vulnerabilities known to the attacker but undisclosed to the organization. Cybersecurity specialists can’t defend against them because they are unaware of these exploits’ existence. Nor is there an available fix, since the vulnerability has yet to be reported.

Software Bugs

Any computer software, application, or operating system is subject to bugs or errors. This is why companies use penetration testing to uncover and patch exploitable known vulnerabilities before connecting them to other systems.

Cross-site Scripting

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a type of client-side injection attack where a malicious script is injected into and run on a real website. The attack begins when a user visits the site containing the code. XSS uses several types of scripting languages, including JavaScript, VBScript, or CSS.

Vulnerability Testing with Reciprocity ROAR

Vulnerability testing, also known as vulnerability assessment or analysis, is a process that aims to identify cybersecurity threats and the risks they pose. Testing is generally conducted via an automated vulnerability scan using tools such as network vulnerability scanners.

The process also involves conducting a detailed analysis of the security vulnerabilities identified by the scanning tool followed by remediation. That remediation can take the form of updating software, installing new security tools, or enhancing security procedures.

Typically, a vulnerability assessment is a one-time project instead of vulnerability management, which is continuous and ongoing.

While a vulnerability assessment isn’t the solution to every cybersecurity problem, it is a primary way to prevent a data breach resulting from cyberattacks.

Regular vulnerability assessments, scanning, and penetration testing should all be routine parts of your company’s security assessment plan because the risk environment changes over time.

Reciprocity ROAR supports routine vulnerability assessments and penetration testing. It collects documentation, streamlines workflows, and eliminates the need for constant follow-up while tracing outstanding tasks.

It lets organizations focus on the fundamental issues of risk management and compliance while eliminating the tiresome tasks that often make the process burdensome.

Schedule a free demo to learn how the Reciprocity ROAR platform can improve your vulnerability assessment and penetration testing strategies.