7 Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities and How To Mitigate Risk

Every organization’s IT environment is complex, but your environment is unique to you. Your system and network architectures, security control implementations, and monitoring work cohesively to mitigate risk.

However, protecting your organization from malicious actors is increasingly difficult. If you feel like security researchers announce a new vulnerability every day, you’re both right and wrong. They are reporting every day, but they’re reporting more than one.

According to research, the National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) National Vulnerability Database (NVD) logged an average of 50 common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) daily in 2021. Keeping up with these reports can feel overwhelming.

To implement effective risk mitigation strategies, you need to understand the types of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Understanding Security Vulnerabilities

Security vulnerabilities are weaknesses in devices, applications, operating systems, and processes that malicious actors can exploit. When they detect a vulnerability by scanning your systems and networks, they use it to gain unauthorized access during an attack.

According to the 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, vulnerability exploits accounted for 7% of attacks. However, it’s also essential to look deeper into the information. The report looked at four types of companies and the median number of vulnerabilities per host, finding that companies:

  • Actively trying to be secure had 25 hosts with vulnerabilities
  • Disclosing a ransomware attack had just under 50 hosts with vulnerabilities
  • Experiencing a data breach had 50 hosts with vulnerabilities
  • Chosen at random had over 100 hosts with vulnerabilities

Security vulnerabilities can be embedded in:

  • Software, including third-party components using code repositories
  • Web applications
  • Operating systems
  • Firmware, including network and Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Processes, such as password policies

As your attack surface expands with more devices, users, and applications, tracking vulnerabilities and mitigating risk becomes all-consuming. For example, an insecure system component can lead to threats like SQL injections, open redirects, and cross-site scripting.

Types of Security Vulnerabilities

Since security vulnerabilities can be a broad category, you should understand their differences, treatments, and ways to detect threats exploiting them.

Network Vulnerabilities

Securing your networks is fundamental to protecting sensitive data in a digitally transformed world. Network vulnerabilities come in different forms, so you should understand some key types.

System Misconfigurations

Misconfigurations are one of the most common network vulnerabilities. For example, if you misconfigure a firewall allowing traffic to a database, malicious actors may be able to evade detection when accessing the service. If your network assets have different security controls or vulnerable settings, attackers can exploit them to gain unauthorized access.

Poor Encryption

Encryption protects data on your network, even if attackers gain access. However, you also need to have the right type of encryption. For example, attackers can exploit TLS 1.0 encryption or an RC4 encryption algorithm.

Software and Operating System Vulnerabilities

Endpoint security often focuses on software and system vulnerabilities. Every device that connects to your network poses a risk, especially if it doesn’t have secure configurations.

Zero Day Vulnerabilities

These are the “as-yet-unknown problems” that don’t have vendor-supplied updates. When security researchers discover a zero-day, they first notify the vendor so the company can work on fixing the problem. When attackers find them, they simply start exploiting them. Monitoring threat intelligence and news reports can help you learn about these as soon as possible.

Insecure Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)

Applications share data using APIs, making them critical to business operations. Attackers can exploit an API’s business logic flaw to manipulate the legitimate functionality. For example, attackers can exploit broken validation to steal or change data.

Operating Systems

Malicious actors actively look for operating system (OS) vulnerabilities because it’s easier to evade detection. Threat actors typically look for an OS vulnerability that enables them to gain root access to the device. Then, the attackers can replace legitimate applications with malware, spreading it to other devices across the network.

Firmware

Firmware controls a hardware’s low-level operations, residing on things like network or IoT devices. For example, attackers can use a firmware vulnerability on a network device to change router and access point settings. Firmware vulnerabilities are difficult to detect, requiring you to monitor a manufacturer’s notifications.

Web Applications

Since web applications are built on code and face the public internet, attackers can exploit them more easily. For example, attackers can use injection flaws to change, delete, or download data.

How to Mitigate Cybersecurity Vulnerability Risk

Treating all vulnerabilities as equally important becomes untenable and increases cybersecurity risk. Implementing a strong vulnerability management program can help you efficiently and effectively allocate resources to mitigate risk.

Discover and Identify Critical Assets

Knowing what’s connected to your networks is important. However, to mitigate risks, you need to understand the assets that impact your business the most.

As part of establishing and maintaining an asset inventory, you need to identify and continuously detect all:

  • Devices
  • Digital assets, including containers and virtual machines
  • Software and applications
  • Hardware

After discovering assets, you need to know how each one impacts your business. Your critical assets are the ones where downtime or an attack would cause significant financial or operational damage.

To define these critical assets, you need to aggregate and correlate data like:

  • User access
  • Network traffic
  • Cloud logs

Often, you’ll find that the connections between assets impact their criticality. A database that may not seem important might drive a revenue-generating application. In that case, the database becomes a critical asset, as well.

Scan for Vulnerabilities

You must continuously scan for new vulnerabilities in dynamic cloud environments. To address all vulnerabilities, you may need a collection of tools that help you understand everything from devices to web application misconfigurations.

Some examples of vulnerability scanners that you might want to implement include:

  • Port scanners
  • Web application vulnerability scanners
  • Network vulnerability scanners
  • Database scanners
  • Source code vulnerability scanners
  • Cloud vulnerability scanners
  • Endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools

Prioritize Remediation

Efficiently prioritizing vulnerabilities enables you to focus your resources on the weaknesses that have the potential to harm your business the most. Just like not all assets are equally important, not all vulnerabilities are equally critical. To determine whether you want to accept, mitigate risk, or remediate a vulnerability, you need to understand it and the impacted asset.

When reviewing the vulnerability, you need visibility into:

  • Severity
  • Exploitability
  • Commonality across your technology stack

Then, you need to review the potential business impact on your organization. This means looking at your critical assets and all those connected to them.

For example, you may decide to accept a vulnerability on a device with a high severity CVE if it remains unconnected to the internet. Since attackers can’t exploit it easily, the vulnerability’s impact on your organization is low.

Meanwhile, you might want to prioritize a medium severity CVE on a database if it’s public-internet-facing and connected to a critical asset. Since attackers can exploit the vulnerability and use the database to attack the critical asset, this would have a more significant business impact.

Track Progress

Tracking progress gives you insight into your vulnerability management program’s effectiveness. To ensure that you have the staffing and tooling needed, you should be tracking key performance metrics like:

  • Number of assets
  • Frequency of vulnerability scans
  • Assets with detected vulnerabilities
  • Time to mitigate risk or remediate the vulnerability

Further, senior leadership needs to know these metrics to prove governance as part of its compliance requirements.

Key Caliber: Business Impact Scoring to Mitigate Risk

Vulnerability management and security teams struggle to keep up with new vulnerabilities and the attacks that exploit them. No organization can remediate all vulnerabilities immediately, especially since many are embedded in third-party software and components. Critical asset identification drives your entire vulnerability risk management program, so getting that right enables you to prioritize, remediate, and report more effectively.

Key Caliber’s business impact analytics automate the critical asset identification process. Our analytics correlate internal data, like network usage, with external data, like data breach costs across industries. This enables you to make data-driven decisions to define your critical assets, including visibility into connections between assets.

Our platform enables you to create a data-driven, risk-based approach to managing cybersecurity vulnerabilities by providing your teams with the information needed for effective prioritization.

To see how Key Caliber can help you, schedule a demo today!