Every other day, a new cybersecurity breach compromising common or 0-day vulnerability is reported. The rapid shift of digital businesses and remote work opened a whole arena for cyber attacks and increased the demand for solid defences. But, to stay ahead of adversaries, it is critical that you know what cyber security vulnerabilities are after to.
The first line of defence starts with understanding the weak point that lacks a shield, and for this, you need to understand what vulnerable access point can be beneficial for the adversaries or attackers.
Cyber criminals are always searching for vulnerabilities that could help them enter their targeted victim’s cyber sphere. Therefore, knowing how can you be breached is the only mean that help implements the protection where it is needed and eventually influence the business growth with a sound and resilient cyber security posture.
To build a better defensive position, you must be aware of the attack trend and vector that cyber criminals use the most. This blog post aims to cover the same. We will be sharing insight into the cyber security vulnerabilities, such as what role it plays in a cyber attack, why it is essential to know about critical flaws, how they facilitate attackers in launching an attack against any business, and much more, which confuses a majority of the individual.
What are cyber security vulnerabilities?
Cyber security vulnerability is a weakness in critical or non-critical assets that could be exploited. It leverages by the bad actors in winning unauthorised access to sensitive data and ends in data exposure, asset compromise, data theft and similar activities.
NIST defines vulnerability as “Weakness in an information system, system security procedures, internal controls, or implementation that could be exploited or triggered by a threat source.”
Every other framework and standards have their version of cybersecurity vulnerability definition. Still, in essence, its meaning remains the same, i.e., a vulnerability in security is any flaw that could help cyber criminals in compromising securities.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities can be exploited in multiple ways. There is no one procedure that defines vulnerability exploitation; on a higher level, the basic steps may remain the same, but it varies with the system, network or application implementation and integration. They are often exploited with a minor effort and sometimes by chaining up multiple flaws with each other.
Similarly, their severity level varies according to the present defensive controls over the business IT infrastructure.
Vulnerabilities can have a disastrous consequence on the business if they are unpatched for an extended period. It dramatically impacts assets and put them at high risk of a data breach, supply chain attack, 0-day attack, which results in data exposure, loss of customer trust, bad business reputation, and small to substantial regulatory penalties.
What is the difference between vulnerability and risk?
Individuals often classify cyber vulnerabilities and risk the same. Nevertheless, they are proportional to each other but are not the same thing. Risk is the possibility of a vulnerability being exploited. It is calculated by the potential impact of the exploitable vulnerability, ranging from low, high, important, and critical. But, still, some vulnerabilities have no risk; therefore, assuming vulnerabilities and risks alike is wrong.
What are the main types of vulnerability in cyber security?
With the advanced cyber attack techniques and evolving cyber threat landscape, the types of vulnerabilities are growing huge each passing day. In such circumstances, this is difficult to classify them as main vulnerabilities. However, for the last few months following of the vulnerabilities are reported in multiple cyber attacks. Those are:
Buffer overflow is a software security flaw that is usually hard to discover and exploit. However, it is present in the web and application server that assists the website static and dynamic features and usually imposes a risk to the server products and web applications that use libraries.
The buffer flow vulnerability arises when the data volume exceeds the memory buffer storage capacity and eventually overwrites the data in the adjacent memory locations. The successful exploitation of it allows the attacker to corrupt the execution stack and execute arbitrary code to the web application, leading to completely taking over the machine.
SQL injection is another common vulnerability among the data-driven web application that utilises the client-side user input to alter the application’s database data and functionalities. The SQL injection vulnerability occurs due to a lack of input validation and data sanitisation.
An attacker can compromise the vulnerability by injecting malicious SQL queries in the user input field. The successful exploitation of the flaw enables the attacker to interfere with the database, extract sensitive information as well as complete takeover the database and application server.
Misconfiguration flaws are found in multiple assets, including web application, server, database, framework, application server, network service platform, virtual machines, container, storage, and other application stacks. It occurs due to misconfigured devices, default credentials, unnecessary services, legacy options, insecure storage, etc.
An attacker finding such misconfigured files or system can gain unauthorised access, temper data, credentials, change settings and escalate privileges.
Despite being in an era full of technological marvel, the weak credential is still the most common flaw that leverages attackers in gaining unauthorised access to the computer system, operating systems, applications, etc. The most prominent example of a weak credential is the SolarWind attack in late 2020, which helped the attacker obtain persistence and lead to a vast supply chain attack all over the world.
Lack of solid password policy, default password and reusable credential are the primary sources of this vulnerability that enables bad actors to access targeted device.
Cross-sites scripting, famous as XSS, is another common and most exploited web application vulnerability that arises because of untrusted data submission and unvalidated user input through web pages. By leveraging the flaw, attackers inject malicious scripts, which helps them hijack cookies, active sessions, users’ sensitive information, and other web application features, including website defacement, website redirection, and other cyber breaches.
Insecure coding practices
Insecure coding practices contribute to an overall flawed application and make them susceptible to multiple cyber attack vectors. Secure coding practice works as foundational protection for applications or software, and if it lacks, it just turns the same security upside down. The rich-featured application with wrong codes allows an attacker to inject bugs, temper the functionalities and hijack the software itself.
Just like the human body needs good hygiene to make the blood cell immune to bacterias, similarly, your application needs good cyber hygiene in the form of secure scripts to perform its functions. For example, on an actual SQL injection, cross site scripting (XSS), cross-site request forgery (CSRF), broken authentication, weak cryptogram, and much more weaknesses only occur due to lack of good security hygiene.
Lack of access control
This is among the most reported security flaw in recent time. Lack of access control arises due to mismanagement of sensitive accounts. Most organisations fail to supervise their super account or administrative account, which leads to unauthorised and unauthenticated access. Such vulnerabilities also allow an attacker to exploit other security weaknesses.
In many cases, attackers gain access to any of the employee account through phishing attack which helps them escalating their privileges through those accounts and lack of role-based or attribution based access control. Hence, as a result, the attacker finds an open path to other accounts. Consequently, he/she can modify data, install malicious software, temper settings, and achieve his desired purposes.
Insecure network services
With all application and system-level flaws, network security vulnerabilities are also an important aspect that helps launch cyber attacks. Application or communication running over the unprotected wireless features such as unencrypted data transmission, broken or open network access, lack of TLS, open ports, etc., also facilitate attackers in launching Man in the middle attack (MITM).
In the chaos of technical cyber and software vulnerabilities, companies often forget to pay attention to the human element, which is highly vulnerable than any other flaws. Human vulnerabilities in cybersecurity refer to the lack of security awareness and security controlled decisions performed by the employees and other individuals. Compared to the technical security controls, the human mindset is easily exploitable through emotions, greed, offers.
With the successful social exploitation, the attacker readily compromises computer security and system vulnerabilities; gains access to sensitive data, operating systems, bypass security limitations, perform suspicious activities to fulfil his goal. Social engineering, phishing attacks, and other deceptive techniques are the core reason for active human flaw or weakness exploitation.
Lack of rate-limiting
Rate limiting works as a speed breaker in the modern application, and in the absence, attackers got the accessible path to bombard the application with suspicious requests. Rate limiting specifically comes under the API security vulnerability. The concept behind is to have a limited amount of request processing, so the resource does not get overload with traffic request and response nor the attacker gets the opportunity to attack again.
Appropriate implementation of the rate-limiting factor allows the web application to stand firm against DDoS attacks, brute-forcing, unauthorised access, and other automated bot attacks.
What is zero-day (0-day) vulnerability?
Zero-day vulnerabilities indicate the fact that the company or developer have the zero-day to fix the flaw. 0-day or zero-day can be a computer system, operating system, software vulnerabilities that are often unknown to the software vendor and often known to them, but their patches or hotfixes are not in place to remediate their risks.
Zero-day vulnerability nowadays is the most exploited vulnerability; Microsoft Exchange server is another most prominent example of zero-day exploits in which cyber criminals abused the software vulnerability before the patches were released.
These are some of the most abused security vulnerabilities that have been reported in the last few months. The list still goes on and on with many other vulnerabilities such as file traversal, open redirection, broken algorithm, missing authorisation and authentication, cross-site request forgery (CSRF), improper data validation, insecure coding practices and much more.
All of such vulnerabilities are important and need timely mitigation because keeping them unpatched is more like an open invitation to cyber criminals. With multiple cybersecurity assessments, businesses can quickly identify flaws or weaknesses and easily mitigate them through suitable vulnerability and risk management processes. One of the primary methods for identifying security weaknesses is vulnerability assessment.
What is vulnerability assessment in cyber security?
The cybersecurity industry offers a wide range of security assessments, and vulnerability assessment is one of them. It is a testing methodology to gain risk insight affecting the IT infrastructure and cyber arena of businesses.
Vulnerability Assessment is also referred to as vulnerability testing, scanning and helps to identify, classify, and quantify the potential risk that affects the servers, operating systems, application, network, computer system, and other critical IT assets and environment.
Vulnerability scanning or assessment is done by automated tools which scan the targeted devices or environment against the known vulnerabilities signatures.
The scanners are used in a combined approach of open-source and commercial tools to detect flaws that arise due to misconfigured devices, bad coding practices, or weak system security controls.
It is done through two approaches, those are:
This vulnerability scanning refers to the assessment done by the white-box technique. In it, the scanner has granted the device credential and access to some of the information to test the targeted environment with the internal knowledge. Thus, the authenticated scan greatly helps detect accurate and precise flaws, misconfiguration issues, unpatched vulnerabilities, etc.
This is a black-box scanning method in which the scanner has no prior information about the targeted environment. The purpose of this scan is to validate the security posture of the device, system, etc., from the attacker perspective. Due to no internal information, this method generates many false positives but greatly assets in finding possible weaknesses.
Vulnerability assessment processes
The vulnerability assessment process comprises of four main stages, those are:
This is the initial stage of the vulnerability assessment in which the target is studied. Here, the targeted environment or device is investigated thoroughly to grasp the understanding such as programs in use, the operating system it runs, assets connection, etc. This is the primary step that helps analyse the vulnerabilities for the following stages.
In this stage, the automated scan identifies the vulnerabilities present in the assets or targeted environment.
Once the scan is completed, and results are derived, each obtained vulnerability is analysed according to their potential damage in the case being exploited and the possibility of occurrence.
The last stage documents all the identified vulnerabilities with respect to their impact, risk, likelihood, and remediation processes.
What is vulnerability management?
Vulnerability management is a process of classifying, remediating and mitigating the risk associated with the identified vulnerabilities. Once the vulnerability is identified, which can be done through various cyber security assessments such as penetration testing, vulnerabilities assessment, red teaming, social engineering, etc.
It is an ongoing process and done with all cybersecurity testing to ensure risks are continuously monitored and remediated. Once flaws are distinguished, they undergo the following cycle.
Here, the found security weaknesses are investigated to determine whether they can be exploited or not. If someone exploits, its severity and impact are classified.
Now the flaws have been identified and verified, and you have known their impact, it is time to lower the risk by implementing countermeasures, precautions, patches. In case the patch or hotfix can not be available, the alternative is designed at this stage to reduce the risk and attack surface.
After the mitigation is planed, the countermeasure is implemented, patches are designed, it is time to release them to secure the product end assure that customers or users are secure against the identified vulnerabilities.
What are vulnerability databases?
A vulnerability database platform collects and maintains computer security vulnerabilities information identified in the cyber security breach. There are multiple vulnerability databases such as the open source vulnerability database (OSVDB), ISS X-Force database, and many other. However, MITRE is one of the most preferred and largest running vulnerability database platforms known as Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) that collects security weaknesses.
The database assigns the unique identifier to each vulnerability along with the standard vulnerability scoring system (CVSS).
In addition, the database describes the impact and potential risk of each identified vulnerability shares the workaround to mitigate the associated risks that the flaw could impose on your application, operating system, network, and overall business.
The primary benefit of the vulnerability database is that it works as a foundation for many automated vulnerability scanners and allows the organisation to develop a roadmap to create, prioritise, and execute patches to rectify the critical flaws.
Cyber security is the primary concern for every business today. However, according to the survey, only 15% of medium to large enterprises undertake the vulnerability assessment and 34% of the same nature businesses conduct relevant cyber security assessment, which with no doubt is quite alarming. Moreover, like technology changing its shapes, stepping into a more advanced world, the cyber threat is also changing its individuality and becoming more sophisticated than ever.
The only way to stay ahead with cyber threats is to armour your business with security precautions so that you are always prepared to defend yourself and be aware of your weak position. In addition, the security armour such as vulnerability scanning and mitigation plays an active role to encounter defects in your defensive side.
Sometimes as minor misconfigured file collapses whole security position and place the business in the limelight for regulatory penalties, often bankrupt the businesses too. We are sure these kinds of consequences won’t be good for you, so it is essential to learn about the attack and threat as much as you can and promptly mitigate them to close the open path.
Get in touch with us for a healthy discussion around your business goals and the security risk that comes with them. We offer a complete suite of vulnerability assessments for every type of business and application. We do not just run tools and report the results; instead, we assess the assets with business context and feed all your identified vulnerabilities into a risk mitigation process to be aware and secure of all business risks.
Shahrukh, is a passionate cyber security analyst and researcher who loves to write technical blogs on different cyber security topics. He holds a Masters degree in Information Security, an OSCP and has a strong technical skillset in offensive security.