What Is Vulnerability in Cybersecurity?

by Marty Aquino
What Is Vulnerability in Cybersecurity?

Your cybersecurity is invulnerable. It says it in the name… Right? Not so fast. Even the toughest safes have to be handled correctly to prove effective. Whenever you put a level of security on anything, there’s someone, or even a team of someones or malwares coded with bad intent, specifically trained to seek out your system’s weakest points. “Put your stethoscope over the lock as if it were a heart. As you turn the dial, try to feel and hear the notches lining up on the series of interlocking wheels inside,” said Francesco Therisod, a professional safecracker with decades of safecracking experience.

Your cybersecurity is the safe for your very precious and potentially irreplaceable information. However, there are several overlooked vulnerabilities in cybersecurity that you should consider addressing before truly knowing your data is as secure as it can be. Cybercrime is growing in scope, size and effectiveness:

Identifying and assessing vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for your organization.

Top Vulnerabilities in Cybersecurity

The nonprofit foundation Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) updates its list of top application security risks, including some of the top vulnerabilities in cybersecurity:

1. Broken Access Control

According to OWASP, access control is a top vulnerability. An overwhelming 94% of applications tested had broken access control risks. Access controls help prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to your sensitive, protected data. For example, changing parameter values or force browsing to URLs because of application logic faults — bypassing your access control checks. Cybercriminals attempt to change your parameter values by attacking or manipulating parameters between the client and the server in order to change your credentials or sensitive data. Forced browsing is a brute force attack that targets weakly protected or unprotected apps and sites allowing the bad actor to access resources that your application does not reference, but can still retrieve. A forced browsing attack searches for adjacent data including old configurations, older backups and temporary files -in order to find, and ultimately use, your more sensitive data contained within. Broken access control had more application occurrences related to the 34 Common Weakness Enumerations (CWEs) than any other category.

Potential Solution

Implement “deny by default” protocols, excepting public resources. Implement access control mechanisms once and reuse them throughout the application. Limit users that can create, read and update records to the bare minimum.

2. Security Misconfigurations

As software solutions continue to evolve into more custom configurations, so too does the probability of misconfigurations. This is becoming more common with the widespread adoption of the cloud being used as a development environment. According to OWASP, there were over 200,000 detected instances of security misconfigurations in web apps, in 2021. Security misconfigurations, as a category, was ranked as an OWASP Top Ten application security risk. Examples include: not changing default passwords, leaving cloud storage buckets open, etc.

Potential Solution

Create a system that implements a repeatable hardening process to deploy another environment that is commensurately locked down. Review and update your configurations to ensure that all patches are deployed as per your preferred patch management process.

3. Old and Outdated Software

Many web-based applications use external libraries and frameworks that use both front-end and back-end functionality. This primary issue is that any of those components are subject to being out of date and therefore vulnerable to exploitation by bad actors. The OWASP Top 10 Community Survey ranked this vulnerability as No. 2. OWASP specifically cited: “You are likely vulnerable…

If you do not know the versions of all components you use (both client-side and server-side).”

Potential Solution

Delete unused dependencies, unnecessary components, documentation and data. Complete regular inventories of client- and server-side components, including frameworks, libraries and their various dependencies.

4. Cryptographic Failures

Cryptographic failures include the spectrum of not-quite-complete encryption, from bad implementation to a complete lack of encryption. This is particularly high risk given that any deficiency here could lead to a catastrophic leak of sensitive data — likely causing significant reputational damage and noncompliance risks. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach is over $4 million per occurrence.

Potential Solution

Prioritize all data processed, stored or transmitted by your applications. Then stack rank according to privacy laws, compliance regulations and your organization’s specific protocols. Consider not storing sensitive information unnecessarily, or using PCI DSS compliant tokenization or truncation.

5. Built-In Design Flaws

This is a new category for the OWASP top vulnerabilities of 2021. Sometimes the security risks are unknowingly built into the original architecture. The result is no matter how perfect the execution of security protocols and cybersecurity layers implemented, the built-in weaknesses will still exist.

Potential Solution

A key countermeasure would be to enlist a trusted partner to conduct thorough threat-modeling to identify key threats and risks to your system.

6. ID and Authentication Failures

Even if your users are authenticated, identification failures remain a recurring top vulnerability, according to OWASP. ID vulnerabilities include weak passwords, not setting validity periods for session IDs, and not rate-limiting login attempts against automated attacks. Human error can be mitigated but never ruled out without implementing specifically designed solutions.

Potential Solution

Implement strong multifactor authentication in your apps, and develop protocols to ensure that your users’ password complexity and refreshing policies are up to date.

Risk Assessment Required

How do you know if you need to implement any of the above solutions? How do you know if you even have any of the above vulnerabilities? Odds are, especially over time, that nearly every organization can benefit from a detailed risk assessment from a strong and seasoned partner. Cybersecurity risk assessments help you efficiently prioritize your most sensitive data and which security upgrade actions to take in order of importance. In some industries, cybersecurity risk assessments are mandatory — in which case, a seasoned third party is required.

Oftentimes, the best results are achieved by trusted third parties partly because of the “self-diagnosis” validity problem: “One of the greatest dangers of self-diagnosis in psychological syndromes is that you may miss a medical disease that masquerades as a psychiatric syndrome. Thus, if you have panic disorder, you may miss the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or an irregular heartbeat,” according to Srini Pillay, M.D., member of the by-invitation-only Group for Advancement in Psychiatry. In other words, as it relates to your cybersecurity, you need a mirror to see yourself clearly. Your trusted partner is that mirror. Contact The Migus Group to get your assessment today.

Marty Aquino has been a passionate writer on venture capital, technology, forecasting, risk mitigation, wealth and entrepreneurial topics since 2009. He is the founder of Carbonwolf Energy, a venture capital firm specializing in world-changing and status-quo-defying technologies and people.