10 Common Network Vulnerabilities and How to Prevent Them
Most Companies Are Affected by Vulnerabilities on Their Network Perimeter. Do You Know How to Secure Your Assets?
Did you know that most companies are affected by high-risk network vulnerabilities?
In this article, I will go over the definition of a network vulnerability, as well as the most common types that businesses have to deal with. So, if you want to find out what they are and what makes them particularly dangerous for your enterprise, keep reading.
As always, stay tuned until the end for some actionable advice on how to protect your enterprise and its assets against network vulnerabilities.
What is a Network Vulnerability?
As per the ISO/IEC 27005 set of standards, vulnerabilities can be classified according to the type of asset they belong to. Thus, your enterprise can deal with:
- software vulnerabilities,
- hardware vulnerabilities,
- personnel vulnerabilities,
- organizational vulnerabilities,
- or network vulnerabilities.
A network vulnerability is a weakness in a system or its design that could be exploited by an attacker to breach a company’s security and set off a cyberattack. Depending on where said weakness is located, we can classify network vulnerabilities into two categories: internal and external.
An internal network vulnerability is usually caused by misconfigurations, bugs, poorly written code, or even employees. External network vulnerabilities are represented by the devices or platforms a company uses daily.
10 Common Types of Network Vulnerabilities
#1 Vulnerable Mobile Devices
Mobile devices are present in the cyber-environment of any company, be it on-premise or remote. Employees either bring them with them to the office or use them for their work as part of the company’s BYOD policy. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which smartphones and tablets can become network vulnerabilities.
A common issue with mobile devices relates to physical theft. When an employee connects their phone or tablet to the corporate network and uses them to access sensitive data, this opens up a world of possibilities for cyberattackers. Thus, stealing such devices is an opportunity some malicious actors will take. Some might even resort to using a more intricate strategy based on lookalike apps that trick the user into disclosing private information.
#2 Exposed IoT Devices
The Internet of Things consists of interrelated computing devices with the ability to transfer data within a network, but are outside the spectrum of what we generally consider as part of the system. An on-premise office makes no exception, as many companies have IoT devices such as smart thermostats, surveillance cameras, or even refrigerators.
The situation becomes even more complicated when the enterprise operates remotely. Your employees can have a variety of IoT devices in their homes, and they can be as small as a smartwatch or as large as an oven. Their commonplace nature is why they are often overlooked as potential network vulnerabilities, but the truth is that IoT security is essential to the digital safety of an enterprise.
#3 USB Flash Drives
While USB flash drives might seem completely benign, if not a bit pedestrian, they can contain malicious files that auto-install once the device is plugged into a computer or laptop. Many high-scale cyberattacks, such as the 2008 cyberattack against the United States Department of Defense, were triggered by this practice.
Fortunately, the presence of this type of device in the modern cloud-connected office has become nearly obsolete. Therefore, if you ever spot a wild USB flash drive connected to a device in your workspace, then it might be safe to assume it should be removed immediately. Check with your colleagues before doing so, however. While it’s true that most of us keep backups in the cloud, you can never know for sure if someone decided to go old-school or not.
#4 Misconfigured Firewalls
After the border router, the firewall is the next line of defense your data has against malicious third parties looking to exploit a network vulnerability. A powerful network security system that blocks unauthorized access to a computer or network, it is used by many organizations and individuals as part of their overall security strategy to protect their data and devices against Internet-based attacks.
This is why a misconfigured firewall can prove fatal for the digital integrity of an organization. This type of situation is usually caused by an error of the network administrator, such as in the case of the 2019 Capital One breach. However, the root of the problem can also be improper firewall patching or management.
#5 Single-Factor Authentication
Single-factor authentication (SFA) is a method of authentication that relies on only one factor to verify the identity of the user. This method is usually used for authentication in online banking, social media, and other services. The most common form of SFA is username and password.
However, the risks associated with single-factor authentication are that it can be bypassed by a malicious actor who has compromised a password or found out what it is from some other means. Two-factor authentication, on the other hand, requires two items to authenticate the user and therefore provides more security than single-factor authentication.
#6 Inadequate Passwords
A lot of employees create inadequate passwords because they overlook or are not aware of the associated security risk. Unfortunately, this can become a huge issue because hackers can easily break into work accounts and steal private information, giving them an accessible gateway into the company network. A strong password is your enterprise’s first line of defense against a cyberattack, which is why having one that is impossible to crack is essential.
#7 Poorly Configured Wi-Fi
Both the modern office and remote workers rely heavily on the use of Wi-Fi internet connections, as they allow for devices to access the Web without any wiring. However, a poorly configured router or even one that hasn’t been updated from its default factory settings can become a network vulnerability very quickly, allowing cyberattackers entry into your corporate system.
A secure Wi-Fi connection can be achieved by using WPA2 encryption, changing the default password and using a strong password, changing the name of the network from its default, and disabling unknown devices from accessing your network.
#8 Unsecured Email Services
Email services are frequently used by businesses to send and receive data. Naturally, this sometimes involves confidential communications containing financial data that become walking targets on these platforms due to practices such as social engineering, malspam, and phishing.
Hackers often exploit email services to create a gateway into the company network, which leaves it vulnerable to an attack. Besides hunting for private data and intercepting messages, they also create clever campaigns that convince employees to give out their login information or become unknowing malware spreaders within the system.
#9 Outdated Software
In the past, software companies would often release a new version of their software every few years. This was done to introduce new features and improve the user experience. However, in recent years, software companies have been releasing new versions of their software more frequently. This is done to fix bugs and security vulnerabilities that are found after the release of a newer version.
Failing to install critical updates can thus become a security liability for your enterprise. The issue with unpatched software is that it leaves the system vulnerable to cyberattacks. Hackers know about these vulnerabilities and use them to steal data or infect a system, which is why you should ensure that all applications are up to date.
#10 Insider Threat
Sometimes, a cybersecurity incident isn’t caused by a flaw in architecture, a poorly written line of code, improperly configured software, or even unpatched applications. Every now and then, the true culprits are the people in your organization. Insider threat is by far the most dangerous network vulnerability due to the human factor behind it. Employees themselves can become a liability to your enterprise’s digital wellbeing, either inadvertently or intentionally.
Why Are Network Vulnerabilities Dangerous?
Network perimeter vulnerabilities can hide in plain sight, within a seemingly innocent asset. This is particularly what makes them so dangerous. What is more, many companies have at least one such weak point in their organizational structure and might not even know it.
Research cited by Help Net Security has shown that the security of 84% of organizations in IT, finance, retail, manufacturing, government, advertising, and telecom is compromised by one or several high-risk network perimeter vulnerabilities.
What is more, 10% of the identified vulnerabilities have publicly available exploits that cyber attackers can abuse. Additionally, 58% out of the 3,514 hosts that were scanned during the study presents these openly available weak spots. Examined endpoints include network devices, servers, and workstations.
Perhaps the most devastating aspect of a network vulnerability is that hackers will often use it to deploy malware, ransomware, spyware, Trojan, worms, and other types of malicious code on company endpoints and other devices connected to the system. Unfortunately, cyberattacks are not a one-step operation. In 2021, our cybersecurity tools registered over 10 million infection attempts, part of which targeted the network level and were delivered through more cunning means, such as email.
For more relevant data on the cyberattack surface over the past year and the types of malicious code, hackers might deliver through a vulnerability in your network, you can check out the 2021 Heimdal Threat Report.
How to Prevent Network Vulnerabilities
The first step in preventing network vulnerabilities is performing a vulnerability risk assessment, a mandatory starting point of any successful cybersecurity strategy. During this process, a company identifies its security risks and decides whether to remove them or roll with them.
Performing a vulnerability risk assessment also allows you to set priorities for remediation. Chances are that you will need to close these gaps in security one weakness at a time, which means that you should ideally know what needs to be dealt with and when.
Dealing with outdated software is the most important step in vulnerability remediation. The aforementioned research cited by Help Net Security has found that 47% of network perimeter vulnerabilities can be corrected by installing the latest software versions. That’s almost half of them.
What is more, 42% of them used software that had reached its end of life and received no security from the developer. The oldest identified vulnerability was from 16 years ago. Additionally, every single company involved in the study had an issue with keeping its assets up to date. But why does this happen, considering the importance patching holds in the ecosystem of IT security? The answer is surprisingly simple: because it’s disruptive and time-consuming.
This is where Heimdal Security steps in. The Heimdal Patch & Asset Management automatic software updater is specifically designed to facilitate the process of vulnerability management through optimized and reliable patch deployment.
Heimdal Patch & Asset Management allows you to define policies for software installation and patch distribution. The module is managed under Heimdal’s Unified Threat Dashboard (UTD), allowing you to set schedules and other parameters for updates so that interruptions are minimized and efficiency is maximized.
Heimdal Patch & Asset Management Software
Network vulnerabilities are a dangerous liability for your company, especially considering how widespread and undetectable they are. Therefore, having a proper cybersecurity strategy that starts with risk assessment and continues with software patching and additional cybersecurity tools is essential for the well-being of any organization.