As the value of data has grown managing vulnerabilities effectively is essential for the success of your organizations’ security and minimizing the impact of successful attacks. But: What are those vulnerabilities, anyway? Eddy Willems explains.
As the value of data has grown managing vulnerabilities effectively is essential for the success of your organizations’ security and minimizing the impact of successful attacks. Before we delve into specific types of vulnerabilities, it's important to understand what they are. A vulnerability in cyber security refers to any weakness or gap in an information system or process of an organization that can be exploited by cybercriminals to compromise the confidentiality, Integrity or availability of data, either at rest or in transit.
Vulnerability, threat, and risk are all related but distinct concepts in the field of cyber security. Vulnerabilities are inherent weaknesses in a system or network that can be exploited by cybercriminals. They are not typically caused by external factors such as malware or social engineering attacks. Threats, on the other hand, are external factors that can exploit vulnerabilities and cause harm to a system. The term „risk“, meanwhile, refers to the likelihood and potential impact of a vulnerability being exploited by a threat. There is also often a time factor associated with risks, i.e. the chance of a negative event occurring increases over time, especially if no remedial action is taken.
A vulnerability with a low probability of being exploited and low potential impact would result in a low risk, while a vulnerability with a high probability of being exploited and high potential impact would result in a high risk. It is important to note that not all vulnerabilities pose a risk to an organization, if the vulnerability has no value to an attacker. To be considered exploitable, a vulnerability must have at least one attack vector. However, even if a vulnerability exists, it may not be exploitable if there is insufficient information available to attackers or local system access is required or even existing security controls are in place. Strong security practices can help prevent many vulnerabilities from becoming exploitable. To give an example: If a vulnerability causes a customer facing application to restart, without divulging any meaningful information and without affecting performance, the impact of the vulnerability is comparatively minimal. The risk is also significantly lower, if a hypothetical attacker would need both physical access to the affected system and administrative privileges.
There are various factors that can contribute to the creation of vulnerabilities in a system, including:
There are many types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities that organizations should be aware of, including:
Vulnerability management is the process of identifying, remediating and mitigating security vulnerabilities in a system. It is a practice that involves three key elements: vulnerability detection, assessment and remediation.
Vulnerability Detection: This includes using various methods such as vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, and Google hacking to locate and identify vulnerabilities in computers, applications, or networks. Vulnerability scanning involves using specialized software to discover and identify vulnerabilities that arise from misconfiguration within a network. Penetration testing involves testing an IT asset such as a website, VPN connector, or a set of internal systems for security vulnerabilities that an attacker could potentially exploit. Google hacking involves using advanced search operators in search engine queries to locate hard-to-find information or data that has been accidentally exposed due to misconfiguration of cloud services.
Vulnerability Assessment: Once a vulnerability is detected, it goes through the vulnerability assessment process, which involves systematically reviewing the impact of any discovered security weaknesses in the context of the business environment. The assessment process includes identifying vulnerabilities by analyzing network scans, firewall logs, pen test results, and vulnerability scan results, verifying vulnerabilities to decide whether they could be exploited and classifying their severity level, mitigating vulnerabilities by coming up with appropriate countermeasures and measuring their effectiveness, and remediating vulnerabilities by updating affected software or hardware where possible. There are several types of vulnerability assessments such as network-based, host-based, wireless network, application, and database assessment.
Vulnerability remediation is the process of addressing and mitigating known vulnerabilities in a system to prevent malicious attacks. This includes monitoring and managing the organization's software inventory using automated tools, matching them against security advisories, issue trackers, or databases, and locating and mitigating vulnerable components effectively and efficiently. To ensure effective vulnerability remediation, security professionals should follow these steps:
It is essential to have an active approach to managing cybersecurity vulnerabilities. This includes having visibility of internal and third-party network ecosystems and understanding their potential weak point and vulnerabilities, their impact, and how to mitigate and fix them. It is also essential that vulnerabilities need to be patched ASAP depending on their respective criticality. The latter is a challenge which is still underestimated by a lot of companies and organizations, as recent reports about an old and highly critical security flaw in VMWare ESXi have demonstrated.