Your Best Bet Against Threat Actors? A Vulnerability Management System
Cybercrime and cyber insecurity now rank among the most severe global risks over the next decade. The World Economic Forum’s 2023 ranking marked the first time these threats entered the top 10. While the implications are global, the battle to stay ahead of malicious actors is not isolated to state actors and large corporations.
As we pointed out in this post — MOVEIt, LastPass, and Other Breaches Prove Need for Proactive Cybersecurity — some of the most devastating breaches of late happened as a result of unpatched vulnerabilities that can affect all businesses of all sizes. To protect your MSP as well as your clients, it pays to be aware of the areas most commonly exploited by threat actors and the role of a vulnerability management system in mitigating risk.
How a vulnerability management system is your best defense against common exploits
1. Unpatched Software and Applications:
- Exploitation: The devastating LastPass breach underscored the importance of leaving nothing in your IT environment to chance. An unpatched version of Plex Media Server on the home computer of a DevOps engineer proved enough to set the breach in motion. A Plex spokesperson noted in PC Magazine, “Unfortunately, the LastPass employee never upgraded their software to activate the patch. For reference, the version that addressed this exploit was roughly 75 versions ago.”
- Solution: A vulnerability management system is designed to continuously scan and identify outdated software and applications in the IT environment. It automatically flags software that requires updates or patches, prioritizing them based on the severity of potential vulnerabilities. By keeping track of software versions and ensuring timely updates, this system helps close gaps that could be exploited by cybercriminals. It can also help in identifying and phasing out end-of-life software that no longer receives security updates, thus reducing the attack surface.
2. Weak Network Security:
- Exploitation: The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency notes: “Cyber actors routinely exploit poor security configurations (either misconfigured or left unsecured), weak controls, and other poor cyber hygiene practices to gain initial access or as part of other tactics to compromise a victim’s system.
- Solution: In this area, a vulnerability management system conducts comprehensive network scans to detect and report on misconfigurations, exposed services, and weak spots in the network infrastructure. The system also analyzes network security configurations against best practices and alerts administrators to potential vulnerabilities or breaches in network defenses. By implementing effective network segmentation and regularly reviewing firewall rules and network access controls, it ensures everything is up-to-date and aligns with the evolving threat landscape.
3. Compromised Credentials and Weak Authentication:
- Exploitation: Cybercriminals frequently target user credentials, often through phishing attacks or by exploiting weak passwords. Once obtained, these credentials can be used to access sensitive systems and data. The 2012 hack of LinkedIn, for instance, caused issues for years as the stolen encrypted passwords of 117 million accounts ended up for sale on the dark web. As the passwords had initially been stored as unsalted SHA-1 hashes, they were easily cracked.
- Solution: Vulnerability management systems scan and identify systems that lack strong authentication processes or are susceptible to credential theft. The system can enforce policies like strong password requirements and the implementation of multi-factor authentication. It often includes educational components that raise awareness about social engineering and phishing tactics, thus helping to prevent credential compromise from the human angle.
4. Endpoints (Computers, Mobile Devices):
- Exploitation: Endpoints are often targeted as they can be the weakest link in the security chain. This includes exploiting vulnerabilities in outdated operating systems, unsecured personal devices, or poorly secured IoT devices. The 2020 SolarWinds hack is a classic example of an endpoint attack. In this case, the attackers were able to gain access to customer networks by targeting a software update that was installed on many endpoints.
- Solution: With the help of a vulnerability management system, you can continuously monitor endpoints for any signs of outdated operating systems, missing patches, or other security weaknesses. The deployment of patches and updates across a multitude of devices further boosts your security posture. In BYOD (bring your own device) and IoT environments, this type of a system helps enforce compliance with security policies, ensuring that personal and interconnected devices do not become gateways for cyber threats.
5. Web Applications:
- Exploitation: Many attacks target web applications using techniques like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other exploits that leverage input validation flaws, outdated components, or misconfigurations. In 2019, Epic Games closed a trio of serious vulnerabilities, including an SQL injection vulnerability on an old Fortnite subdomain. If exploited, attackers could have gained access to millions of user credentials simply by tricking them into clicking a link.
- Solution: Vulnerability management systems are particularly effective in protecting web applications. They perform specialized scans to detect common vulnerabilities like SQL injections, XSS, and other application-level security flaws. By identifying such vulnerabilities, these systems allow your developers and administrators to rectify issues before they can be exploited. Additionally, best practices often involve the use of web application firewalls and the implementation of secure coding practices, further reinforcing the defense against web-based attacks.
By focusing on these critical areas and employing a robust vulnerability management system, organizations can significantly reduce their risk of cyber attacks.
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